meal prep

How to Prepare Meals (and Stick with It) as a Working Professional

Guest blog by Tal Woliner

If you’re anything like me, you’ve struggled for years to figure out how to juggle eating well with a hectic work schedule and constant food temptations at business meetings, events and happy hours. It might even be a source of anxiety and frustration. I’ve figured out a way to work around it and you can too!

Almost three years ago, I decided to take control of how I eat and work out and apply the same rigor and planning I employed in the rest of my life. That’s when I first started working out with Sonja. On top of being an incredibly talented personal trainer, Sonja is a nutritionist. It was her advice about how to eat a healthier diet that started me on a journey that has evolved into preparing meal plans that I can actually stick with.

The key to changing the way you eat is planning, planning, planning. I used to try to prepare breakfasts and lunches every night to take with me the next morning to have at work. Even though I had the best intentions to stay on track, I realized it wouldn’t last and I’d inevitably go out to eat as the week progressed. That all changed when I started preparing my breakfast and lunch meals for the entire week on the weekends. While that sounds daunting, it’s actually easier than you think.

Here are some tips that will transform how you prepare meals for the work week:

1. Check your calendar before heading to the grocery store.

Doing so will help you figure out which days you’ll be in the office and will need meals. While my plans sometimes change in the middle of the week, I’m usually pretty good at estimating how many meals I’ll need. It helps keep me honest so I can make enough meals to last me for the week.

2. Search for inspiration for recipes from sites like Pinterest.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that there is a plethora of blogs, websites, and amateur and professional chefs posting their recipes online. Instead of brainstorming ideas from scratch, search for inspiration online. Pinterest is my go-to source for healthy and creative recipes for my meals. The key for me is not to get bored making the same thing every week or I’ll deviate from the plan.

3. Pick recipes that scale up to save time.

While I try to mix up what I make each week, I pick recipes that will yield multiple quantities so I can be efficient with my meal prep time. A good example of that is the egg muffins I make every other week that last for the entire week. Here’s a great recipe I reference often. I usually just mix up which vegetables I sauté to vary up the muffins. If you love everything pumpkin like I do during the fall, you can also try these pumpkin muffins that use old fashioned toasted oats instead of flour.

4. Set aside a block of time on the weekends to buy groceries and prepare meals.

Every weekend I head to the grocery store with a shopping list in hand so that I’m not forgetting the essential ingredients to make the meals I’ve chosen. That means I’ll be ready to go when it’s time to prepare meals.

Then, depending on what my weekend plans look like, I set aside 2-3 hours of mostly uninterrupted consecutive time to make the meals I’ll be eating during the work week. I found that making a commitment to set aside time on either Saturday or Sunday will save you hours of headache later on when you’re exhausted and would rather binge a show than make yet another meal at night.

5. Use shortcuts to make meal prep even easier.

Here are some tips that have helped me cut down on time and expand my recipe options:

  • Buy mason jars if you’re making salads. I bought a pack of 12 mason jars on Amazon for only $11.99 and it was one of the best purchases I’ve made. I make salads each week as I can’t always count on leftovers from dinner to serve as lunch meals the next day. The reason I love mason jars is you can ditch multiple pieces of Tupperware and put all of your salad ingredients, including the dressing, in one jar. The jars lock in the freshness and ingredients are layered in such a way that lettuce doesn’t get soggy. If you’ve never seen a tutorial on how to load a mason jar, check here and here. Also, see below for my go-to salad recipes.
  • Invest in condiments you’ll likely use every week. I make homemade salad dressings at home (overtime, you’ll likely prefer them over store-bought versions), so I have a variety of vinegars handy, which usually serve as a base for any dressing you’ll make. I have red wine, white wine, balsamic and apple cider vinegar ready to use (salad dressing recipes also below).
  • Upgrade your appliances (if needed) to enhance meal prep. I also have a crock pot, electric can opener and food processor to help me make slow cooked shredded chicken, use canned vegetables like chickpeas, and make herb salad dressings, respectively. These tools have helped me expand my repertoire of recipes.

If you follow these steps and make a habit of it, you’ll feel like you took back control of what you eat and how it’s prepared. I know I do. I’ve been following this process since the beginning of the year and I’ve found a way to make it fit into my schedule because it’s a priority. I find myself less excited to eat out during lunch when I know I can make food better and healthier on my own. I hope you’ll consider this approach or find your own methods to make a plan and stick with it. You won’t regret it.

Salad Recipes

Salad Dressings

  • Balsamic Vinaigrette – Whisk these ingredients:
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • 2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
    • ½ cup olive oil
  • Apple Cider Vinaigrette – Whisk these ingredients:
    • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    • ½ cup olive oil
    • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
    • 1 teaspoon oregano
    • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • Tomato Basil Dressing – Blend in food processor:
    • 1 medium tomato, chopped
    • 2-4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    • ½ cup olive oil
    • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
    • 1 clove garlic, chopped
    • Pinch of sea salt and pepper
  • Herb Salad Dressings (including Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette)
  • Other dressing ideas:

Top 5 Tips to Eat Well on a Time Crunch

If you feel like your life is non-stop race for time, you are not alone!  It's amazing how work, deadlines, family members, and everybody and everything but YOU seems to be a priority. It can feel so frustrating and discouraging. The main thing I hear from people is that there's no time to exercise and it's impossible to eat healthy with a crazy schedule. That's such an unfortunate thought process, because our health and well being is being put on the back-burner. If you find yourself in this boat, think about this: There is time (even if it's rushed) to grab a coffee at starbucks, munch on a candy bar at your desk, wait in a drive-through line, buy a new outfit, or spend a couple hours watching TV at the end of the day. Bottom line is, you will find time for what you WANT to make a priority in your life, and your health of all things should be more than anything! If you're not taking care of that, your energy levels, mood, sleep,  attitude, and efficiency at work and with family will be affected.
If you're struggling in this area and need a little guidance, here are my Top 5 Tips to Eat Well on a Time Crunch:

1. Prep- This may be an obvious one, but it is often overlooked. It involves scheduling time (usually on a Sunday) to get your meals as ready as possible for the week. It may take a minute to get into the habit, but like all things, once you get it down it will feel easy breezy. Invest in a good, solid set of tupperware, and a lunchbox type cooler to take with you to work. Try to plan your meals for the week based on good quality protein (eggs, quinoa, chicken, fish, ground turkey, lean red meat, protein powder) and veggies (anything seasonal). Ideally you want to include these in every meal.  One thing I like to do is rinse and slice all my veggies after going shopping. Throwing together a salad may seem easy enough, but when you're crunched for time, chopping veggies may not seem like an option. Anything you can do to create grab and go meals will make your life a whole lot easier. Need some ideas of what to shop for? Check out my personal Spring/Summer Shopping List and narrow it down to fit your needs.

2. Embrace the crockpot- The only thing that would make a crockpot easier would be an app on your phone to turn it on or off. If you don't already own this incredibly convenient kitchen appliance, get one. You can basically throw a whole chicken in there, plug it in, turn it on, leave for 8 hours, come home and dinner is ready. What's even better is usually there's enough food to put in two or 3 tupperware containers, add some veggies, maybe a little quinoa or sweet potato (that you've already prepped) and there's your take-out lunch for the next couple days! 

3. Protein/Green smoothies are your best friend- A shake with good quality ingredients is one of the best things you can take along with you when you're rushing out the door. It takes about 2 minutes to throw together and pour into a Contigo like container so that it will stay cold. There are a ton of delicious/healthy smoothies out there, but if you're looking for some serious convenience, invest in a good quality protein powder and organic raw green powder. The combo will hold you over for typically 3 hours, and give you the nutrients you need to feel energized. I use Isagenix Whey Protein and  Raw Berry Greens Natural Health. Check out my favorite Super Smoothie below. I literally drink it everyday cause it's amazing!

4.  Know what to eat when you're out and about- If you're at work and forgot your prepped meal, or have a lunch meeting with colleagues, it's good to have an idea of what you can choose. Always opt for something veggie and protein rich. Be careful with sandwiches and wraps, because the breads, sauces, and spreads are typically highly processed. If you get a salad, ask for dressing on the side. If you get an entree, sub starchy carbs for veggies. It's good to know what restaurants/markets are around you. That way you can pick and choose where to go, and make suggestions to colleagues for places with healthier options.

5. Stay stocked with healthy snacks- You should always have a few snacks on hand if you are going to be away from home all day. They don't necessarily have to be eaten, but if you are starving and have 2 mins to eat, you need to put something nutritious in your system. If not, you'll find yourself munching on the sugary goodies brought to you by your ever so thoughtful  co-workers, or you'll starve yourself only to eat everything in sight later in the day. In case you missed my last article, I shared some tips on how to curb cravings and included some healthy snack ideas. Check it out here: 
5 Tips to Curb Cravings

I hope this helps a little! Any nutrition/exercise info you'd like to learn more about? Hit reply to this email and send me your thoughts. I will include it in a future article.
Have a great day!