Meal Prep Tips + Pasta Bolognese
Hi Friends! Happy Monday!
I’m coming to help you get ready for the work week with meal prep tips + a healthy lunch inspiration. As a dietitian working in a weight management clinic, I often get asked about what exactly I eat throughout the week. Now, I feel like my lunches are pretty boring, but I often find my co-workers peeking into the breakroom, wanting to find out what I made for the day.
For me, prepping my lunches in advance is key. 98% of the time I bring my lunch to work, and it is super rare for me to not know what I'm eating for lunch the next day. I really enjoy having my food planned out for the week, and it helps me feel better prepared for the day ahead.
Many people can be easily intimidated by meal prepping. I’ve found a lot of people don’t know where to start and find it overwhelming. I’m going to help break it down for you, with these series of steps:
1. Plan your meal out a day before you plan to cook.
I typically prepare my lunches for the week on Sunday, but I don’t wait until Sunday to figure out what I want. I typically take some time on either Friday or Saturday to browse my cookbooks or scour the internet for some meal inspiration. Once I find a recipe I want to make, I inventory my pantry and make a shopping list of things I need.
2. Start cooking as early as you can.
I don’t know about your Sundays, but I often find it will become 6 PM at night on Sunday in a blink of an eye. Unexpected events or plans are more likely to come up at night, so I try to get a jumpstart to cooking early in the day.
3. Plan a meal with minimal components.
Make it simple. You don’t need a gourmet meal for lunch. I simplify my meal by having only 1 or 2 components. For example, I will make coconut chicken and roasted green bean side, or a one-pan meal like chicken enchiladas. No need to get fancy with a special sauce or 3 components. Save that for dinner!
4. Think about the reheating process.
Another reason I usually make a super simple lunch is the reheating factor. I’m lucky in that my office has both a microwave AND a toaster oven. However, if you are stuck with only a microwave to reheat, don’t plan to have crispy potatoes when you know they will never have the same texture at the office.
5. Eat the same thing for lunch all week.
This kind of piggybacks on tip #3. Most of us are creatures of habit and we don’t mind eating the same thing over and over. Now I definitely describe myself as a picky eater and can’t eat the same thing every week. However, I have no problem eating the same thing for lunch Monday-Friday. I avoid food fatigue by making a dish with completely different flavors the next week.
Now here's an example of how I put those tips into action! Here’s what I ate for lunch last week:
At first glance, this doesn’t look like a super healthy meal. My friend saw what I was eating and knew something was up. She was like… “You don’t eat pasta.”
Haha, she knows me too well. While I don’t often have pasta, I was craving a hearty meat sauce + some carby noodles. So, I concocted a gluten-free and dairy-free approach to pasta bolognese.
Here’s how I made it:
Step 1: Make a bolognese sauce
Now you can go SUPER simple with this and just brown up some ground meat and dump in a already pre-made jar of sauce and call it a day. Done AND done.
I will say I was a little more ambitious last week and make a ragu with both ground beef and pork, that was slow simmered in the oven for 5 hours. The sauce was WORTH IT! Definitely worth the time and energy it took to prepare. I used this recipe from Bon Appetit.*
*Now, to make the sauce dairy free I used unsweetened Ripple non-dairy milk in place of the milk in the recipe. Simple switch and it didn’t affect the flavor one bit.
Step 2: Cook the pasta
I found this red lentil pasta at Trader Joe’s. I have been wanting to try a gluten free pasta, but I find they often have a laundry list of ingredients. With the only ingredient listed = “Red Lentils,” I knew I had to try. A much higher protein + fiber pasta option.
Step 3: Portion out into containers
I used 4 small pyrex containers and divided the one bag of pasta between all four containers. I then ladled on the sauce top, allowed everything to cool for a bit, and then covered and stored in the fridge for the week.
*I will say, the red lentil pasta is FILLING! I definitely overestimated how much I would realistically eat. My 4 portioned containers, actually fed me for 5-6 meals.
Step 4: EAT!
That’s it! Ok, step 4 isn't really "a step." In as easy as... 1... 2... 3...you will have a delicious lunch for the entire week!
**Optional 5th Step: Add a topping
Ok, we all know I like to be super "extra" with my food, and I was craving something creamy to go on top of my pasta. So I turned to my trusty Kite Hill “cream cheese” to dollop on top just before eating. It is made with almond-milk, so completely dairy free, but mimicked the flavor and texture of ricotta perfectly!
Hope this helps you plan for healthy meals all week!
But I’d love to hear for you. What are some of your favorite meals to bring for lunch?