The Very Chill, Super Manageable Meal Prep Plan I Swear By, And You Will, Too
Keeping my staples list relatively constant and adding variety through low-maintenance dressings and toppings has really helped me embrace meal prep without wasting a ton of time, money, and food.
Hi, friends! For the next four weeks, I’m going to be hosting a very chill meal prep club for Goodful/BuzzFeed. If people seem to like it, we’ll keep going. If people don’t, we’ll never speak of it again.
First, who am I? I’m Rachel, a senior lifestyle editor at BuzzFeed and someone who doesn’t really thrive on super formal, planned-down-to-the-amount-of-pistachios meal prep plans. I’m not a professional chef; I’m just a human who has been doing a decent job of feeding myself for the better part of the last 15 years, ever since I first learned to cook and lost a bunch of weight. Over the years, I've learned that nourishing yourself can be challenging for so many different reasons, and I'm always looking for ways to improve. And I've been doing something recently that's been really helpful, and that might be helpful for you too!
In short: I’ve started putting my energy into amazing sauces, dressings, and delicious toppings (like roasted seeds or dried fruit or pickled onions). Why? Because I've found that that’s the easiest way to elevate the same basic proteins, vegetables, and grains that I love and already know how to cook. The reality of trying to eat healthy is that it can often get super repetitive, especially if you don’t have a ton of time, energy, and money to devote to meal planning and preparation. And when you’re trying to do a bunch of other things to be healthy (working out, going to therapy, getting a hobby, etc.) the idea of tacking on a whole-ass meal prep plan can be overwhelming. But homemade (or homemade-ish or just exceptionally great store-bought) dressings and toppings are typically amazing, and have the power to really transform staples like sweet potatoes, green beans, chicken, and eggs. Keeping my core list smallish (but still flexible!) and adding variety through low-maintenance dressings and toppings has really helped me embrace meal prep without wasting a ton of time, money, and food.
So! If you’re interested in trying low-key and extremely flexible meal prep, here’s how Meal Prep Club is going to work:
• Each Thursday, I’ll share a new meal prep inspiration based on what I cooked for myself the previous Sunday. That gives you a couple of days to do the rest of your meal planning and buy some groceries, and then you can (theoretically) do your actual meal prep over the weekend. (Though you don’t have to do it on Sundays.) You can share your meal prep progress on Instagram (tag us @goodful + #GFMealPrepClub) and connect with other Meal Prep Club folks there. (Fun thing: some of my coworkers will be doing it too!) And then next week we’ll all come back together and chat about how it went and I’ll have a new sauce/dressing/bowl all ready for you. (You’ll also be able to preview the upcoming week’s meal on the Goodful Instagram story on Sundays if you’re so inclined.)
• Meal Prep Club will be centered around a single meal — aka lunch or dinner, whatever you like — vs prepping every meal and every snack for the entire week. Full meal prep plans exist! They are great, as are the people who do them! That is not what we’re doing here!
• You can (and should!) feel free to make swaps in Meal Prep Club. You know how so many recipes online have comments that are like, “This looks good but I’d do broccoli instead of peas and oatmeal instead of pasta and almond milk instead of cheese!” and you’re like LITERALLY HOW IS THAT REMOTELY THE SAME RECIPE, KAREN? Well in this case, you’re encouraged to be Karen. Don’t tell me that you can’t make this because you don’t eat/like chicken, or because it’s not enough food and you’d get too hungry. Chicken isn’t a requirement! You can increase the quantities so you have more food and don’t get hungry!! The most important thing is the dressing/toppings, but even that is fine to skip/change/buy at the store. It’s your life!!!
• The main thing that’ll be new each week will be a dressing/sauce and then a topping or two, but the veggie and grain situation will change a bit from week to week too. I’m a creature of habit so I promise it’s not going to be crazy. We’re talking “chickpeas this week, black beans next week” level of variety. But, again, you can also kind of do whatever you want. Whether you want to eat chickpeas every week or you want to give yourself your own personal legume challenge and make a new one each week, IDGAF.
Cool? Cool! Let’s get to this week’s foodstuffs!
The variables in this week’s edition are a homemade lemon-tahini dressing and quick-pickled onions — both of which are very easy to make!
Like, stir-together-three-ingredients easy. And truly delicious!
Here’s the core of what I made:
• One batch perfect chicken (using my go-to chicken recipe — which is extremely easy/doable/life-changing, I promise)
• One carrot, peeled and then shaved into curls using a vegetable peeler
• One yellow bell pepper, chopped
• About ¼ of a red cabbage, chopped into thin slices
• One package frozen root vegetables, roasted (I get these from Amazon Fresh, and you could also just roast fresh sweet potatoes)
• One package shaved Brussels sprouts, blanched (as an alternative, you could roast whole Brussels sprouts — fresh or frozen — along with the root veggies/sweet potatoes)
• One can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
• One avocado, sliced (not pictured, but added before eating)
• One batch quick-pickled onions (made using a recipe from The Kitchn)
• One batch lemon-tahini dressing (recipe down below)
• It’s hard for me to say how long this will take you to make because I was prepping a bunch of other food at the same time and I was pausing to take photos of everything, which really slowed me down, and the time needed will depend on how many pre-cut foods you use, but I’d plan for an hour to an hour and 25 minutes.
• I don’t love chopping vegetables, so utilizing frozen/semi-prepared veggies is the only thing that made preparing this many veggies tolerable for me. Do what works for you!
• Feel free to knock the yellow bell pepper off your list; I don’t think it added a ton to the finished product, and you probably get enough sweetness and texture from the carrot. But if you don’t mind chopping things, go for it!
• This was my first time making pickled onions and it was such a win! It’s seriously so easy and they only have to sit for 30 minutes! (Before I looked at the recipe, I was like, Surely, this must take a full week.) Definitely, definitely recommend.
By Alison Roman for BuzzFeed
1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons water
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
To make, whisk the tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and water in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
(BTW, after I made the dressing, I tasted it and was like, Huh, this is….fine. *monocle emoji* Like, I didn’t blow me away. But when I mixed it with all the veggies, I WAS FULLY BLOWN AWAY. So don’t get discouraged if you have a similar experience!)
Putting it all together
• I divided all the food evenly across four containers, but I actually should have done it across five. It turned out to be really, really filling.
• You can eat this cold or warm. I prefer to eat it cool, so basically I either take it out in the fridge an hour before I plan to eat and let it sit on the counter (a practice that my favorite food safety expert would not approve of) or I microwave it for ~30 seconds, which takes the chill out if it but doesn’t turn it into a hot lunch.
• Before eating, I added some sliced avocado and then some dressing. I started by adding a small amount, mixed it all together, and tasted it to see how it was. I probably added a tablespoon or two total to each bowl. (I will say, the dressing is a bit thick; you could either add a little more water to it, or drizzle your food with a bit of olive oil before tossing with the dressing.)
• A lot of people on Instagram were asking where I got the food storage containers. They are available on Amazon for $26 and I LOVE them. They are super, super lightweight even though they are glass, and they hold way more food than I expected.
• Empty/clean baby food jars make great dressing containers! If all your friends are having kids, hit some of them up and see if they have any they are willing to upcycle.
All right, I think that covers it!
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments — but if your question is “Can I do broccoli instead of Brussels sprouts?” you already know what I’m going to say. 🥦✨