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Eat Well Apr. 14. 2020
Cooking

How to Make Healthy and Easy Meals All Week Without Needing a Lot of Time

Apr. 14. 2020
Cooking
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of NS and Creator of The Method

Knowing how to quickly prepare healthy and easy meals is key for being consistent with your healthy eating habits.

But sometimes meal prepping can be really time-consuming if you’re making a lot of recipes each week or it can become repetitive if you’re using the same basic ingredients.

And cooking everything from scratch, even if it’s a simple meal, may still be a little too much work after a busy day.

So I use a hybrid approach that makes it easier to cook healthy and easy meals in about 15 minutes! (Seriously, most of my meals take 15 minutes to make!) 

And, you don’t have to eat the same meal multiple times throughout the week!

I’m going to walk you through my entire process for making healthy and easy meals that you can make all week without getting bored. 

Using Meal Components to Make Cooking Easy and Fun

Meal components are interchangeable food items that go with everything else you cook — basically, it’s a meal planning mix and match.

If you’re familiar with meal planning or it’s already part of your life, then I’m sure you’ve seen some meal planning systems out there that rely on making full recipes or adding tons of things to one meal prep container to make a meal, right?

And sometimes that can create food fatigue or take hours of your weekend to prepare multiple recipes. 

You’ve not only just wasted money (most likely), but unfortunately, you’ve probably wasted your time from cooking, your energy, and have a higher chance of increasing food waste.

With what you’ll learn in this post, rather than batch cooking an entire meal you’re going to batch cook different ingredients — or meal components.

Batch cooking meal components and storing them solo in the fridge to use later in any recipe you like is key to making batch cooking work for you and for others in your household.

And an added bonus? This makes it easier for people with different tastes and food preferences to eat together. For example, my husband Jesse enjoys chicken every now and then, but I don’t eat meat. So on the weeks, he’s in the mood for that, we simply batch cook both the plant-based protein components and the animal-based protein components. Both of us can enjoy what we want, but don’t have to make two totally separate meals!

Throughout the week, you can mix and match these components to change up the flavor profile and give you an entirely new meal without more work! 

Let’s break this down step-by-step with the easy meal prep ideas you can use!

How to Make Quick, Easy and Nutrient-Dense Meals 

Before we dive into exactly what the easy meal prep ideas are, it’s important to have a general understanding of what to include in your meals to make sure you’re getting all of your vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that will keep you full, support your digestion, and provide you with stable energy throughout the day. 

Each meal should be a Foundational Five Nourish Meal

The Foundational Five is the guideline I use to ensure you’re getting the right mix of nutrients on your plate. 

It has five elements to it — protein, healthy fat, starchy carbohydrates, non-starchy carbohydrates, and a flavor factor. Each of these elements plays a role in what your body needs to function and feel its best. My nutrition philosophy is eating an abundance of plant-based, whole foods, so most of the suggestions below are plant-based and gluten-free, but can always be adjusted for your lifestyle and taste preferences. 

We’ll batch cook a few ingredients for each of these elements so you can have all of the ingredients to make your meals a Foundational Five.

1. Pick 2-3 Proteins for the Week

First, you’ll want to batch cook a few proteins that you can use throughout the week. 

There are quite a few plant-based protein options out there, but some of our favorites include spirulina, hemp seeds, nuts, lentils, nutritional yeast, seeds, beans, tempeh, tofu, and edamame.

If you consume animal proteins, be conscious of the source, how the animal was raised, treated, and the quality of the protein. 

All of my recipes, whether they have a plant-based protein or animal-protein can easily be swapped for the protein of your choice. If you don’t enjoy tempeh for example, you can use the recipe for tofu or chicken instead. 

If you have a household with some plant-based eaters and some meat-eaters, this also makes it easy for everyone to eat as much of the same meal as possible and just have the protein of their choice.

The Best Cooked Tofu

  • This takes less than 5 minutes to prepare and you just put it right into the oven to bake! Super simple!

Buffalo Tempeh

  • We love this recipe to add a little bit of heat to a Foundational Five Nourish Bowl.

Baked Citrus Tempeh

  • This is a go-to for a light and fresh taste to add into Foundational Five Nourish Bowls or Salads. 

Lemony Chickpea Salad 

  • This super easy recipe is so versatile — it can be served hot or cold, on top of a salad or nourish bowl or as a side dish.

The Easiest Black Beans Recipe

  • Giving a simple protein just a little bit of a flavor enhancement goes such a long way!

Maple Miso Glazed Salmon

  • If you still eat some animal protein, wild-caught salmon is packed with healthy fats and all you have to do is whip up a simple sauce and put the salmon into the oven.

2. Pick a Few Healthy Fat Options 

Healthy fats to include in your meals include things like nuts, seeds, avocados, oils, ghee, oil-based salad dressings, and tahini. 

Bonus: many of these you don’t even need to prep! 

You simply need to make sure you have them on hand to toss onto your meal.

But there are a few things you can do to dress these ingredients up and have them not only provide you with healthy fats but also provide a flavor factor to your dish. 

Spicy Tahini Sauce  

  • Drizzle on top or marinate and cook your veggies directly in it!

Simple Seed Mix

  • Make a big batch of this to sprinkle on top of Foundational Five salads, smoothies, or nourish bowls! Bonus — adds crunch textures to give your meal even more variety. 

Make Your Own Salad Dressing

  • I typically make one or two batches of salad dressings for the week to top on anything from salads to nourish bowls! 

3. Make 1 or 2 Starchy Carbohydrates

The next part of a balanced, Foundational Five Nourish Meal is starchy carbohydrates because they give you energy for your body to use throughout the day!

This includes things like gluten-free bread, beans, legumes, grains, oats, sweet potatoes, and bananas to name a few. 

I recommend having 1 or 2 starchy carbohydrate options prepped.

Here are a few easy meal prep ideas for your starchy-carbohydrates.

Simple Grains

  • You can cook grains plain and add the flavor factor to them later on if you want the flexibility to change the flavor throughout the week

Roasted Sweet Potato Mash

  • We love using sweet potatoes to change it up from grains, and this is a go-to recipe that you can make a big batch of for the week. 

Basil Pesto Potato Salad 

  • This is another one that can be served hot or cold, giving it an added layer of versatility. Bonus: make extra pesto to use on pasta, protein, or other veggies too! 

Mango Wild Harvest Rice

  • If you want to dress up your grains a little bit, this is a simple recipe that gives a lot of extra flavor to wild rice. 

4. Prepare an Abundance of Non-Starchy Carbohydrates

Be generous with your non-starchy carbohydrates! You can really pack these on as much as you’d like!

These types of carbohydrates include cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, red bell peppers, eggplant, kale, spinach, romaine, tomato, celery, garlic, carrots, and beets.

One tip here: if you’re eating it fresh, you may consider chopping it on your meal prep day, so it’s ready to grab and go instead of needing to do the chopping the day of. With salad greens for example, I like having a big container of lettuce that’s already washed and cut and stored in an air-tight container. That just removes one more step when I go to make a meal. 

These are some of the simple ways we batch cook a ton of veggies!

Easy Sheet Pan Carrots  and The Best Roasted Broccoli You’ll Ever Need

  • These two sheet pan recipes are must-trys! Not only can you cook a lot at once with a sheet pan, but it allows you to cook multiple things at once because you can throw these in the oven while your grains are in a pot on the stove and you’re cooking your proteins. 

Easiest Crunchy Coleslaw

  • Texture is a really great way to change up a meal. Use this as a side, topped on veggie burgers, or mixed within a big salad for extra crunch.

Easy Pickled Cucumbers or Red Onion  

  • This simple recipe allows you to create your own fermented veggies that add a crunchy, crisp and satisfying flavor to your meals!

5. Choose 2 or 3 Flavor Factors

Sometimes easy meal prep can often meal boring meal prep! But that’s not the case here! I’m all about creating meals that are both nourishing and delicious. 

The flavor factor is things like your dressing, sauces, spices, and seasoning.

What my members of The Method Membership love most about using meal components is that it makes eating healthy both nutritious and delicious. No more boring and bland meals on repeat all week.

Having 2-3 flavor factors in mind that you’ll use throughout the week is a great way to change up the flavor of the batched ingredients and also get additional nutrients!

Here are a few easy meal prep ideas for the flavor factor that you can batch cook your protein or veggies in, make on the side, or prepare the day-of.

Maple Miso Glaze 

  • This glaze is perfect for cooking any of your proteins. 

Pad Thai Peanut Sauce

  • It’s all about variety with these meal components, and this is a sauce that you might not typically use as much as something like pesto or tomato sauce, which is more common. 

Make Your Own Salad Dressing

  • I typically make one or two batches of salad dressings for the week to top on anything from salads to nourish bowls! If you want a specific recipe to follow, try my Green Goddess Dressing.

How to Put These Easy Meal Prep Ideas Together 

By now, you’ll have a variety of Meal Components that you can mix and match throughout the week. 

So what does this actually look like? 

I often make tempeh and tofu, quinoa, roasted veggies, and homemade dressing. 

On Monday for lunch, I may add a Foundational Five Nourish bowl with baked citrus tempeh, a lot of fresh greens, quinoa, roasted veggies, with a lemon tahini sauce. 

I can then use those same ingredients for lunch the next day, but switch out the dressing and another component and that completely changed up the meal!

Throughout the week, you simply repeat this process, swapping out one or two meal components for another, always making sure you still have the Foundational Five on your plate. 

It’s really that easy!

Meal prep can become so much easier when you don’t have to think about creating full meal recipes for the whole week. Plus prepping in this way ensures you’re changing up your meals throughout the week, which not only allows you to enjoy new flavors but it also ensures you’re getting a variety of nutrients in your diet from different foods.

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