The Meal Prep Strategy That Will Change Your Eating Habits
by Molly Sims
The biggest key to eating healthy is planning and preparation. (These are the keys to most things in life, don’t you think?). Ultimately, we will eat what is in front of us— the good, the bad, and the Krispy Kremes. If you are zipping around all day and you haven’t planned out healthy meals in advance, chances are you will find yourself at the drive-thru with your kids or eating something packaged or processed. Lots of salt, sugar, additives, and other not- so- nice stuff is hidden in fast food and packaged convenience foods. I am not judging, because once upon a time I was that girl with only the following in her kitchen: Wine. Yogurt. Turkey wraps. Fat- free hot chocolate. Crackers.
After a lot of trial and error, and training with Chef Michael, I’ve come up with a shopping and food- prep strategy that works brilliantly, at least it has so far! While meal planning might take more time when you first get started, it saves time overall— and before long you’ll have it down to a science. No more decision making before each and every meal. No more multiple trips a week to the grocery store. By planning, shopping smartly, cooking in bulk, and in advance, you will save so much time and effort down the line.
For easy, everyday lunches and dinners, I don’t waste time planning a whole bunch of different menus. Instead, before the start of each week, I follow what I call my 2/2/2 +1 strategy. This allows me to cook all my dishes for the week ahead of time, and I store my entrees, sides, and salads in large glass storage containers, tightly sealed with a few slices of lemon inside to keep the food fresh. This strategy is the brainchild of our home chef, Michael, and it’s a godsend. It’s economical, it means I only have to cook on average two nights a week, and I never find myself staring blankly into the freezer, fridge, and pantry!
WHAT IS THE 2/2/2 + 1 STRATEGY?
2 Protein Dishes
2 Veggie/Grain Sides
1 “Top It Off” Dish (a one-pot meal, casserole, stew, or very simple dish)
HOW DOES IT WORK?
On Saturday or Sunday:
I choose 2 Protein Dishes, 2 Salads, and 2 Veggie/Grain Sides from my recipe arsenal (see dishes below).
I shop for groceries, and then I cook all my dishes, which I will mix and match throughout the week. (I tend to cook and shop on Saturday since I like to chill out on Sunday, but it can change week to week based on our schedule.)
On Wednesday or Thursday:
I prepare my +1 “Top It Off” dish. My slow cooker is my best friend on “Top It Off” days, and I’ll often choose to make a simple one-pot meal, stew, or casserole— anything that doesn’t require a ton of prep or cleanup.
I try to use ingredients that I already have in the fridge or freezer from my Saturday/ Sunday shop so that I don’t have to.
On the following Friday and Saturday:
This strategy usually gets us through the week because we like to order in on Friday and often eat out on Saturday with friends or as a family.
In our house, as much as is humanly possible, Brooks, Scarlett, and Grey eat what Scott and I eat. No special meals for picky kiddos! So I have to keep this in mind when selecting recipes and choosing sides. A healthy version of mac and cheese does make an appearance most weeks as a side, because I know the kids love it! Day to day, I want no- brainer recipes that are nutritious, quick to whip up (no more than 30 minutes) and limited clean up (duh!), and that we can enjoy together. When we have guests, I’ll bust out a more complicated recipe, but in our house, everyday family meals must be:
Easy to cook and assemble and not require too many ingredients.
Healthy and nutritious. Gotta build healthy bodies and brains.
Yummy to the tummy. Goes without saying.
Easy to clean up. Not getting a million dishes dirty is an important time saver!
Simple and not require a bunch of high- tech kitchenware or appliances.
Great as leftovers. Um, yeah, momma. Saves sanity and time.
Kid-friendly (as mentioned, the kids generally eat what we eat).
Able to be prepped in advance and mixed and matched.
2 / 2 / 2 + 1 MENU IDEAS
We usually go with a fish and a poultry dish, or sometimes I’ll switch in a plant-based protein (tofu, beans, quinoa). We aren’t big meat eaters, so once or twice a month we’ll do a dish with red meat. Here are some of our favorite protein dishes, which might serve to inspire your weekly menu.
Oven Poached Salmon with Lemon and Dill
Salt and Pepper Cod
Spicy Turkey Meatballs or Patties
Herb- with Lemon and Basil Relish
Baked Chicken with Fava Beans
Roasted Garlic, and Fresh Parsley
Pounded Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Sauce
Lentil, Wild Rice and Vegetable Soup
Triple Green Soup (made with our veggies from the garden)
Our favorite weekly salads tend to be a Caesar- style salad made with kale or a traditional and simple Greek salad. Of course, my and Scott’s all-time fave is inspired by the chopped turkey salad from La Scala in Beverly Hills. It’s just perfect. When it comes to salads, I always consider what is seasonal and therefore most scrumptious. Here are some salad suggestions to get your mouth watering:
Salad with Market Greens and Herbs in a Creamy Avocado Vinaigrette
Spinach Salad with Melon and Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
California Slaw with Savoy Cabbage, Fennel, Citrus, Radishes, Toasted Pistachios, and Goat Cheese
Chopped Kale Salad with Dried Cherries, Almonds, and Smoked Mozzarella
Shaved Jicama and Carrot Salad with Date Vinaigrette
Garden Chopped Salad (with anything and everything!)
Farro Salad with Sugar Snap Peas, Mint, and Parmesan
Wheat Berry Salad with Walnuts, Asparagus, and Radishes
Quinoa Salad with Sweet Potato, Lime, and Chiles
Chopped Turkey Salad with Italian Vinaigrette
VEGGIES/ GRAIN SIDES:
I always do one vegetable and one-grain side (incorporating a healthy grain like quinoa, brown rice, or a whole wheat mac and cheese). Here are our go- tos:
Sautéed Spinach with Salt and Pepper
Steamed Broccoli with Garlic and Lemon
Sautéed Green Beans with Chile Flakes and Garlic (Can you tell I love garlic?)
Baked Spaghetti Squash
Slow Roasted Caramelized Cauliflower
Pan-Roasted Zucchini Slices
Roasted Yukon Gold Potato Wedges with Rosemary
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Fresh Herbs
Brown or Tomato Rice with Sesame Seeds
Seasonal Vegetable Pasta
Healthy Whole Wheat Mac and Cheese
Roasted Root Vegetable Medley (my all-time fave!)
+1 “TOP IT OFF” DISHES
The only rule here is that these have got to be easy! My favorites:
Whole Wheat Vegetarian Lasagna
Pad Thai Noodles with Tofu or Shrimp
Five- Bean Soup
Molly’s Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives and Lemon (recipe coming soon 😉