You can write down everything you eat all day long, but the true secret to healthy eating habits is all in the preparation. With hectic schedules many people have little to no time to cook at home, leaving many people reaching for frozen, processed foods or takeout—don’t lie, we are all guilty. Many know that processed foods have been linked to weight gain and health issues time and time again.
Just because you’re a busy runner doesn’t mean you always have to resort to the frozen aisle. One study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine asked 1,319 adults about the amount of time they spend preparing, cooking and cleaning up after meals. Of the respondents, 16 percent said that they spent less than one hour on food prep; 43 percent said they prepped for one to two hours; and 41 percent said that they prepped for two hours a day or more.
Although spending more time on food preparation can be linked to better overall health rather than reaching for the quick alternative, healthy eating doesn’t have to be a full-day affair to benefit you. In fact, many choose to plan out seven days’ worth of munchies in just one evening at the beginning of the week, engaging in meal planning.
“Oftentimes meal prep is the only truly convenient way for busy individuals to maintain a healthy diet on-the-go,” said Tiss Dahan, EVP Product and Marketing, Lifefactory.
Beyond the obvious health benefits of packing freshly cooked eats over frozen ones, other pluses of this type of weekly prep include saving money, eating fewer calories, gaining more energy and consuming better-for-you nutrients. But what is the best approach to make meals edible, appealing and fresh the entire time? Here are our best tips:
Mason jar galore
Everything is cuter in a mason jar, right? From salads and soups to protein bowls and parfaits, you can put colorful veggies, nutritious grains and high-protein meats in a portion-controlled jar. It’s easy to transfer and usually is the right amount of food for your meal. Plus it’s very difficult for any negative bacteria to break the seal of a tightly hooded jar.
Related: Super Yogurt Breakfast Bowls
Breakfast on the go
Got a muffin tin? Grab some eggs and veggies, whip together the ingredients, pour into the muffin tins, bake for 20 minutes, then place into freezer bags. Every morning heat one up for a high-protein breakfast. Now there’s no excuse to skip the most important meal of the day.
Cook chicken three different ways
In a baking pan, divide the chicken into thirds and create a “barrier” between pieces with aluminum foil. Place the chicken on top and season each piece with its own unique flavorings. Cook all three slabs at the same time, and you’ve got three variations of the same simple day for the next six days.
Related: A Recipe For The Best Chicken You’ll Ever Have
Slow cooker is the best cooker
If you haven’t discovered a slow cooker, then you don’t know what you’re missing. Throw in your favorite meat, veggies and seasoning in the morning, but make sure you have enough to last a few days. Set it on low and let the cooker do its job for seven to eight hours (depending on the exact recipe, some might call for higher temp for less time). When you’re home, you’ll have dinner ready, plus some more. Store any leftovers in portion-controlled containers, like Lifefactory, for lunch and dinner the rest of the week.
Spiral your foods
Two days of the same eats can become boring after awhile. But if you make your food look fun, then it can trick your mind into thinking it’s not so monotonous. Use a spiral kitchen tool, and have fun creating different noodle dishes with your veggies. Try carrots, zucchini, beets, jicama, potato and more. Add your favorite sauces and meats to complete the dish.
Juice and freeze
Juices are a great way to get extra veggies into your diet. Take an hour on Sunday and juice superfoods, blended with an apple, carrot or pear to give it a little flavor. Try the easy-to-clean juicer, like the 3-In-1 Total Juicer by Juiceman. Pour the juice into mason jars or to-go cups, so when you’re racing to make it to that 8 a.m. meeting, you can easily grab some juice. (Note: Homemade juice is usually good for about three days.)