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Family Meal Prep 101

Photo by: iStock



You need healthy, quality meals to fuel you and your family, but with a busy job, kids’ after-school activities, household chores and life, you find yourself resorting to fast food or bowls of cereal far too often.

Let meal prep be your savior. Meal prep can involve making full dinners and lunches that you refrigerate or freeze, or may mean you get a lot of ingredients chopped and on the ready, so meals take just minutes to whip up.

The process takes a little planning – but it’s so worth it.

Get the Right Equipment

Aimee Monck, Group Fitness Department Head at Life Time Fitness in Colorado Springs, who in addition to her own unpredictable job schedule, is a mom of four kids that participate in swimming, soccer, volleyball and basketball. When you add to that a hungry, busy husband, meal prepping is an absolute must because eating well is important to her job and the health of her family.

Her most valuable equipment for meal prep includes cutting boards, sharp knives, freezer bags, Tupperware, foil pans and sharpies for labeling. Storing food in freezer bags makes it “easy to maneuver for storage in the freezer,” she notes. Use the sharpie to mark what’s in the bag, date made and cooking instructions. This way, no mystery meals get thrown away.

Take Stock and Shop

Once you have your equipment, carefully examine your pantry and consider the recipes you plan to make. Take into account the family’s schedule too – who has practice what night so you know when it’ll be most tricky to get dinner on the table. Aimee figures out her family’s meals anywhere from two to four weeks in advance.

Then, create your grocery list and organize it by store area. Have a column for produce, dry goods, dairy and meats/protein. This makes your trip efficient and comprehensive, and saves precious time for prepping and cooking later.

Then, get shopping; nothing interferes with meal prep more than having no ingredients to prep

Chop It Up

One of the most time-consuming aspects of preparing healthy, delicious meals is the washing and chopping of fresh produce.

Tear leaves of lettuce into bite-sized pieces, dry them and then pack them in a storage container or freezer bag with a paper towel so you’ll have salad ingredients at the ready. Dice onions, celery and carrots for stews. Julienne carrots, zucchini and snow peas for stir fry. Aimee portions out and labels vegetables and fruits for snacks, too.

Make Enough to Freeze

Make entire entrees, one of which you can eat on meal prep night and the other of which you can freeze for a week or two. A vegetable lasagna or beef stew are great freezable options. You can even portion out the entrees so they’re super easy to defrost for a single meal.

Also consider freezing key parts of meals. For example, brown rice is a healthy alternative to white, but it’s time consuming to make. Make a large batch on Sunday afternoon and portion into smaller storage containers that you can pull out and quickly reheat in the microwave. Top the rice with a quick stir fry – made with your pre-chopped vegetables and diced raw chicken breast – and you’ve got a meal on the table in minutes. Tomato-based pasta sauces and homemade pizza dough are other easy-to-prep-and-freeze meal components.

Aimee likes to use ground turkey meat and “brown it a pound at a time, season it for tacos and then store for easy thawing.” Ground turkey tacos are her favorite meal prep go-to.

The Crockpot is Your Friend

Sometimes, meal prep begins in the morning, not several days in advance. Pile all the ingredients for a stew or soup in a slow cooker at breakfast time, and let it do the work for you.
You’ll find slow cooker meals especially helpful when sports practice, dance lessons, meetings or evening work means your family must eat in waves. Each person can serve himself when time permits and last person home puts away the leftovers for lunch the next day.



With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, Andrea Cespedes coaches cycling and running and teaches various group fitness classes. She’s also an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, ERYT-200 hour yoga instructor/teacher trainer and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia Universities. Andrea is a professionally trained chef, a Precision Nutrition coach and a certified nutrition therapy practitioner, educated at the Nutrition Therapy Institute in Denver. She’s also mom to two happy grade-school age kids.

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