Whether you’re a dietetics professional or a client, one of the most precious commodities is time. Preparing a healthful meal for yourself or your family during a busy work week means you need to dig into your precious and limited time to do so. As RDs, we don’t question time spent cooking healthful meals, as we’re well aware of their importance to our health and well-being. Some clients, however, choose to cut back on time spent in the kitchen and take the easy but generally unhealthful way out by ordering in or choosing fast food. Meal prepping ahead of time can help folks who are short on time, especially during the busy work week, and ensure they have quick, easy, and healthful meals on the table every night of the week. Here are five meal prepping tips to help improve your clients’ skills, plus a recipe for Apricot Chicken Drumsticks from my new cookbook, The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook: Easy and Wholesome Meals to Cook, Prep, Grab, and Go.
1. Focus on simple meals first, variety second.
I know, variety is important for a healthful eating plan. However, when you start talking to novice meal preppers about recipes, it can get overwhelming for them. That’s why I recommend starting with simple, healthful meals that clients easily can cook. Aim for recipes with a short list of ingredients, about seven to 10, to start with. Good starter recipes include quinoa salad, muffins, and basic chicken dishes. Once clients master these recipes, then they can slowly build on them or create variations of them.
2. Batch cook one day per week.
Cook double or triple the quantity of the recipe so you can enjoy one-half during the week and freeze the rest for later. Although doing this may eat up a good few hours in the kitchen on a Saturday or Sunday, this prep frees up about 45 minutes each night to go to the gym or spend quality time with family. Batch cooking isn’t limited to only dinner; clients can batch cook breakfast, snacks, and lunch too.
3. Plan your vegetables.
According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, only one in 10 Americans eat the recommended daily servings of vegetables. Planning and prepping meals in advance offers clients a perfect opportunity to think about where they can add vegetables to their day. Suggest clients prepare snacks such as jicama and bell pepper sticks and sriracha hummus, or make several veggie sides or salads packed in Mason jars to eat throughout the week.
4. Creatively reuse dishes.
Eating the same dish every day of the week can get boring, but a little creativity can make a big difference. For example, my Apricot Chicken Drumsticks (recipe below) can be shredded over a salad or stuffed into a whole wheat pita with bulgur. My cookbook also offers a Slow Cooker Barbecue Chicken recipe that I reuse to make Barbecue Chicken Pizza. Clients also can make a barbeque chicken and vegetable wrap or add the chicken to chili.
5. Cook easy recipes with ingredients clients always have.
I love cooking, but I don’t want to be in the kitchen after a busy day with my three kids when I’m exhausted. That’s why I choose recipes with cooking methods that are simple and ingredients I may have on hand. I stock up on some basics, especially canned legumes and frozen fruit, for when I don’t have time to go to the grocery store.
Below is my recipe for Apricot Chicken Drumsticks from The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook.
Apricot Chicken Drumsticks
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
8 skinless chicken drumsticks
2 T canola or safflower oil
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 T sesame seeds
¼ cup apricot jam
2 T low-sodium soy sauce
- Preheat oven to 400° F. Coat a shallow 9 X 9-inch baking dish with the cooking spray.
- Brush the chicken with the oil and sprinkle it with the salt and black pepper. Put the chicken in the baking dish and bake until a thermometer inserted in the center of a drumstick reads 165° F, about 35 to 40 minutes.
- Just before the chicken is ready, in a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast the sesame seeds until slightly browned, stirring them frequently so they don’t burn, about 5 minutes.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the apricot jam and soy sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, until it boils, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the stove.
- Let the chicken cool for 5 minutes, then drizzle the apricot sauce over it and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds.
Refrigerate: Store the cooled chicken with the sauce and seeds in a resealable container for up to one week. To reheat, microwave for 1½ minutes. It also can be reheated in a saucepan over medium heat.
Freeze: Store the cooled chicken with the sauce and seeds in a freezer-safe container for up to two months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight and reheat in the microwave for 1 minute. It also can be reheated in a saucepan over medium heat.
Nutrient Analysis per serving (2 drumsticks with 1 T sauce and 1½ tsp sesame seeds)
Calories: 541; Fat: 32 g; Saturated Fat: 7 g; Sodium: 766 mg; Total carbohydrate: 14 g; Dietary fiber: 1 g; Protein: 46 g
— Recipe copyright Toby Amidor, The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook: Easy and Wholesome Meals to Cook, Prep, Grab, and Go, Rockridge Press, 2017
— Photo courtesy of Nat and Cody Gantz
— Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder of Toby Amidor Nutrition and the author of the new cookbook The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook: Easy and Wholesome Meals to Cook, Prep, Grab, and Go, as well as The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day. She’s also a nutrition expert for FoodNetwork.com and a contributor to US News Eat + Run, MensFitness.com, and Muscle & Fitness.