Healthy eating is so much easier when you go into the week with a fridge full of prepped meals. Spur-of-the-moment fast food run for lunch? Nope!
“I think that prepping your food ahead of time, if you could, really helps to set the tone for the week,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., nutrition consultant and author of The Small Change Diet. “It takes a lot of the guess work out of what to eat and makes it so much easier to stay on track.”
With a few staple foods on hand you can throw together an easy, nutritious meal even when you don’t make it to the grocery store. Gans recommends a winning combo of one-quarter whole grains, one-quarter protein, and one-half vegetables.
Stock up on these shelf-stable and frozen food staples for your next meal prep marathon.
1. Frozen Peas
Though they are delicious when they’re fresh, peas are frozen at their peak flavor and nutritional value, so once thawed they have every ounce of goodness the grocery store kind has, says Gans.
2. Frozen Edamame
With about 19 grams of protein and five grams of fiber per cup, soybeans can be appreciated by vegetarians and meat-lovers alike. They make a great addition to stir fries and can easily be tossed in with other chopped veggies.
Related: 9 Protein Sources For Vegetarians
When a salad or veggie dish feels a bit bland, Gans likes to jazz up the texture by adding nuts. Plus, they often bring some extra protein and healthy fats to the meal. Almonds, for example, contain six grams of protein and 15 grams of unsaturated fat per quarter-cup serving. Try sprinkling slivered almonds over your next string bean dish or side salad.
4. Whole-Wheat Pasta
Yes, pasta can totally be a part of your meal prep! Gans recommends brands that make 100-percent whole-grain pastas. One cup of your average whole-wheat penne pasta provides nine grams of protein and six grams of fiber (more than you’ll find in most conventional pastas) and can help you feel satisfied after your meal, says Gans. Plus, many whole-grain pastas are fortified with B vitamins.
Since grains take longer to cook, they’re definitely worth prepping in bulk once a week and stashing in the fridge. In the warmer months, Gans likes to whip up a cold pasta salad by mixing veggies and beans or pulses into her pasta.
This seed is one of our meal prep faves, because it creates the perfect canvas for tons of flavor and food combinations. Plus one cooked cup contains eight grams of protein and five grains of fiber.
Cook your quinoa in vegetable broth to bump up the flavor, recommends Gans. Then, mix in peas and mushrooms along with your favorite spices for a satisfying veggie-packed side.
6. Canned Beans
Beans are a great, shelf-stable source of plant-based protein—and with so many varieties of beans out there, you’ll never get bored! A cup of black beans offers about 15 grams of protein and 17 (woah!) grams of fiber. Meanwhile, a cup of chickpeas packs about 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber.
Mix a cup of your favorite beans in with corn, chopped red onion, and tomatoes, for a fresh and filling salad.
Okay, this may not be a veggie, whole-grain, or protein source, but oil is still a power player when you’re prepping meals. You’ll need oil for stir fries, dressings (what would cold pasta salad be without it?!), and cooking veggies and protein.
Go for olive oil or almond oil, which contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, says Gans. Just keep in mind that a tablespoon of these oils contains around 14 grams of fat, so avoid getting too heavy-handed with your pour.
8. Canned Tuna
Need protein in a pinch? Say hello to canned tuna. After all, just three ounces pack 20 grams of protein. You can easily toss tuna into a pasta or veggie salad, or quinoa-based dish for a quick, well-rounded meal.
9. Frozen Meat
Stash some frozen chicken or lean beef in the freezer and you’ll be set on protein when you don’t feel like hitting the grocery store. Just defrost the meat in the fridge 24 hours before meal prepping or pop the meat in the microwave when you’re ready to go.
Pair a serving of lean meat with veggies and a whole-grain, or throw them on top of a salad, says Gans.
10. Frozen Seafood
To keep your meals interesting, store frozen seafood alongside the other proteins in your freezer. Three ounces of both shrimp and salmon contain about 17 grams of protein—plus, that salmon packs between 1,500 and 2,000 milligrams of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Mix shrimp into a veggie and quinoa stir fry or serve your salmon over greens or alongside whole grains and veggies, Gans recommends.