Chef Mareya Ibrahim, a Lifestyle and Nutrition Expert as seen on The Food Network, celebrity chef and author ‘Eat Like You Give A Fork: The Real Dish on Eating to Thrive’, understands the importance of healthy eating, nutrition, wellness and family.
With this being National Women’s Health Week, Mareya discusses how meal prep can be a game changer for women, whether you’re training for a competition or just trying to build muscle, eat more nutrient dense, maintain your blood sugar and energy, and be a healthier human. It is also a tool in which to reduce the time and stress that cooking for a family daily can sometimes entail.
Mareya explains that meal prep can make all the difference - it is a way of strategizing and planning for the week that will ensure healthy meals get on the table quickly and more efficiently. Her simple hacks and lifestyle habits will take the stress out of cooking and ensure that you know where your ingredients are coming from.
10 Tips for healthy meal prep strategy and how you can easily implement these into your everyday life:
1. Have a road map:
Create a meal plan and shopping list first before you shop. Write it down and build a list that can also be used to shop online. Never shop without a list and an idea of what you’re cooking.
2. Triple the batch:
More than half the effort is the shopping and the prepping. So while you’re at it, why not make 2 or 3 batches? It requires the same amount of effort and is a smart time saving hack. This approach will serve you well if you’ve had a late day at work and need a quick back-up.
3. Have the right tools for the job:
Having the right tools ensures that you are efficient and save time. Appliances such as food processors and stick blenders are essential and items such as sharp knives, muffin and loaf pans, easy to clean casseroles and scissors for cutting herbs are also key. Another clever kitchen tool is the vegetable spiralizer. Use this to make vegetable noodles which is a great alternative when trying to cut down on refined carb intake. It can also add texture to salads as well. And don’t forget a pressure cooker - they are handy at so many times for fast stews and one pot meals. Another great investment is a toaster oven and an air fryer.
4. Stock up on staples:
Keep your pantry and fridge in order - stocked with basics that work with many recipes. This includes low sodium broths and stocks and canned beans such as cannellini, garbanzo and black beans. Remember to rinse canned beans before eating them. They add texture to soups and make the perfect hummus and dips. In addition, I love artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, canned seafood like sardines and anchovies (omega 3 rich and relatively inexpensive for my pantry staples. Nuts such as almond and cashews. I use these for nut butters and for sauces. Don’t forget good quality oils, vinegars and seasonings.
5. Prewash your produce:
Prewash your produce and store it for a longer shelf life and ease of access. Create a salad and fruit bar in your fridge - if fruits and vegetables are ready to eat, you will more than likely eat more of them. I recommend using eatCleaner® TRIPLE ACTION Fruit + Veggie Spray, all-natural, patented and lab proven to be up to 99.9% more effective than water in cleaning wax, pesticide residues and soil from commercially and organically grown produce.
6. Precook proteins and grains:
I recommend picking a couple of proteins and grains and pre-cooking them. Have them on hand to convert to easy meals such as tacos, wraps, stir fry etc. You can even recook a baked salmon or a whole roasted chicken. Eat the salmon cold into a salad and of course there are about 35 different meals you can make with a cooked chicken. Grains are high in fiber and just wonderful, so cook up barley, quinoa, and brown rice.
7. One sheet wonder pan meal:
The sheet pan meal! No mess and easy to clean up. I recommend picking ingredients that cook at the same time. So, pair green beans with fish and potatoes with chicken. There is so much you can do with vegetable dishes - try my cauliflower and fennel rice with or without animal proteins and top with a lemon tahini and pistachios. This is fast and efficient time wise and it puts on the onus on the oven, as you don’t have to stand laboring over the stove.
8. Stock up on sauces and spices:
This is where the magic happens so you never get bored with your staples. It allows for variety, like you’ve traveled around the world. Spice blends are the best, think Mediterranean, Mexican and Italian spice blends. Always opt for a grinder so it's fresh and the perfect amount . Another hack to perfect flavor is taking an old school ice cube tray - fill halfway with olive or rapeseed oil. Add herbs like crushed garlic, rosemary, coriander, salt and pepper etc. Freeze the trays and then pop out a cube to your veggies when needed. Voila!
9. Pound it up and chop it up:
The thinner the cut and the smaller the dice, the quicker the cooking time. Get your mallet out - pound the chicken out and cut your cooking time in half. Same applies to potatoes and root vegetables such as shredded carrots that cook faster than chunks.
110. Always defer to veggies:
Almost always they will cook quicker. Try veggie noodles vs traditional pasta and cauliflower rice etc. Bite size broccoli and cabbage and add pre-broiled tofu to a meal for instant variation.