We at MSP Fitness built this guide to EMPOWER you!
Food plays a valuable role in the pursuit of health and fitness goals. It fuels our workouts, helps us recover from tough training sessions, and when managed properly, can be a catalyst that improves our alertness, body composition, and outlook on our day. We want to put the power in your hands to create your own fuel with these simple, yet effective 7 tips. Follow this guide to maximize your nutrition efficiency, carving a path towards looking, feeling, and performing better!
The single biggest hang up to creating a meal at home isn’t a shortage of equipment or desire. In fact, most homes have more than enough food on the shelves and plenty of room in the fridge. Where we find many individuals come up short is a lack of proper preparation. The need to eat is ever present. What you do in the face of that need will define your nutrition success. We know, it’s easy to start thinking, “I don’t have the ingredients, and even if I did, who has the time!?!” Well hang in there. By applying and enlisting a few of these easy pointers, you’ll be consistently putting balanced meals on your table in no time.
1. Glass Storage Containers
A plastic commodity once traded in the living rooms of grandmas, aunts, and moms, these kitchen must-haves are evolving into upgraded glass models with silicone lids, coming in all shapes and size. Why are we so obsessed with storage containers? Well for starters, they’re multi-taskers. Not only do they hold your food in a portable vessel, but that vessel is also microwave safe, dishwasher safe, and stacks well inside your cupboards/drawers. You have ONE piece of equipment that can hold precut veggies prior to meal creation, keep the leftovers fresh in the fridge until second consumption, reheat those same veggies at lunch the next day, AND act as your dinnerware to boot!
Recommendation for Storage Containers:
We are big fans of the Pyrex company because of their variety and durability, you can buy a set or individual pieces to suit your needs. These are a must have on your food prep journey.
2. Prep your Starches and Carbohydrates in advance
Without diving into a much larger conversation about nutritional recommendations, let’s operate on the premise that an active individual in a modern agricultural society (hint, hint, that’s you) is going to include some form of carbohydrates in their week’s meals. Things like rice, quinoa, pasta, and potatoes are easy to add to meals on the fly when they’re prepared in advance.
So make cooking your carbs a weekly practice! Start by cooking several cups of rice and after cooling, placing it in one of those handy glass storage containers, making an easy side dish at lunch or dinner. Might we recommend only cooking three or four days worth of rice or quinoa to keep taste and texture optimal. Moving away from grains, Potatoes can be finicky to store compared to other veggies. Once they are skinned and cut the refrigerator life is much shorter than that of a carrot. We encourage you combat this by making a large batch of sweet potato purée or mashed potatoes. Simply boil, strain, then mash and store, giving yourself an instant, flavorful side dish that is ready to be doctored up with seasoning to match the rest of the dish.
3. Pre-Cut Veggies
Vegetables. You know you need them, but they are easily left out of dishes made on the fly or after a long day at work. While frozen packages are certainly an option, they take up freezer space and who doesn’t enjoy the customizable aspect of working with fresh vegetables? The morning of your desired meal (or night before), deconstruct all your vegetables. You can match the style of cooking (long strips for fajitas, diced small for a stir fry) and keep them in the refrigerator ready for sautéing, grilling, baking, roasting, or steaming.
Take this for an example: if dinner’s feature is grilled chicken, the morning of you could remove the ends of some asparagus and break down a head of broccoli for roasting on the grill alongside the chicken. Furthermore, pulling from the fajita example above, in the evening prior cut up your onions and peppers or pre-make a batch of guacamole if the ingredients are on hand. This way, when it’s quittin’ time, the only thing that’s left is a much smaller amount of cooking with next to no prep work.
Of course, all of this vegetable work can be avoided if you choose to capitalize on the ready-prepared veggies at your local supermarket. You can usually find them along the refrigerated sidewalls in the produce section and although they come at a higher expense, they are always a better option than going without.
Recommendation for Veggie Prep:
To make your life easier, you need a chef’s knife and a good paring knife. I personally love the shape and versatility of a santoku knife. Additionally, a couple sizes of cutting boards are essential to preparing vegetables. Remember that the knife you’re using should always fit diagonally on your cutting board for optimal working space.
4. Leverage the Slow Cooker.
Hailed as a foolproof cooking method, this “set it and forget it” accessory can be found in most American kitchens, yet only a minority of individuals actually use them. We’re not talking about making cheese dip for the superbowl, we’re talking about walking through the door at the end of the day and the entire house smells like carnitas soup awaiting your ravenous appetite. This can be your reality if you plan ahead.
Now you can uses the crockpot in a few different ways: complete meals, frozen meals ready to thaw, and/or tag team meal creations with a partner, roommate, or spouse.
An example for the first two methods would be to throw the ingredients for chili, beef stew, potato leek, or some other meal into the crockpot and set it to the proper temp until finished. Next, devour… OR, as we mentioned above, you could freeze the meal, or a portion of it, in gallon sized zip top plastic bags for later consumption. Now when you’re in a pinch, or really craving leftovers, remove the contents of the freezer bag into the crockpot, setting it on low for 3-6+ hours (depending on size of dish).
For the second method of tag teaming an original meal creation, you’ll need a roommate, partner, spouse, or a crockpot with a timer. For one of our coaches here at MSP, he routinely dumps ingredients into the slow cooker for say… Korean BBQ Short Ribs, sometime in the late morning. When his partner in crime gets home in the mid afternoon, she can monitor the meal’s process, adjusting the temp to “keep warm” when things are looking done. Now this can also be accomplished sans partner by those of you with a model of crockpot or slow cooker that has a sophisticated timer function. With a timer, one can perform the whole process single handedly, timing out meal doneness within minutes of arriving home.
5. Utilize Store-Bought Flavor Enhancers
It can be hard to authentically source and grind your own herbs and spices each and every meal. Although culinary experts might suggest you do otherwise, we recommend finding flavors you enjoy and repeat them routinely. For instance, say you love pesto. It makes way more sense to buy Costco’s Tub O’ Pesto and add it to your chicken pasta or sausage risotto dish than to spend the time pressing garlic and de-stemming basil.
Nowadays it’s easy to find salsas, dips, sauces, and prefab spice concoctions that can be added to dishes. Sure beats constantly measuring and pairing your own! This way, your week’s lunches can consistently be chicken, veggies, and rice, but the flavors range from cajun to mediterranean to italian. One thing to note when seeking out flavorful combos, make sure to check the ingredients list to ensure a majority of the items included are actual flavor enhancers. Corn meal, cellulose, and other additives, aren’t inherently evil, but why pay for “fillers” when you’re seeking out flavor.
6. Always Cook 2x the Amount
Leftovers, it’s what’s for Lunch. Purely for the sake of saving a few bucks at that midday meal, you got to tap into the magical powers of leftovers even if it’s just for lunches. Of course, given the option, you’re going to eat out — especially if you failed to plan ahead. If the Chipotle employees see you coming and know your order, we need to have an intervention. Fortunately for you there is a solution! Simply start doubling your dinner recipes, creating easy meals for the day after. You’re already going to the work of making it once, it is less work to increase the ingredients than to make something else entirely. Maybe now the good folks at Chipotle will only know you by face, not by name — a step in the right direction.
7. Batch Cook your Proteins
Finally, we leave you with the recommendation to cook your meats in large quantities in advance. This tip isn’t inherently different from the prefab starches suggestion, but when cooking meat there’s much larger versatility. The benefit with grilling a dozen chicken breasts, slow cooking an entire pork shoulder, or broiling a bunch of steaks is the ability to freeze. Unlike starches, proteins do a remarkably good job of keeping fresh in the freezer, even after being cooked.
Remember that when you do your prep work, allow the meat to rest fully, then place into the freezer. The condensation from a hot item being transferred to a frozen environment is what makes for more frost that can lead to freezer burn. Cool, then store.
We started by establishing that through food preparation, you can eclipse and ultimately exceed your health and fitness goals. While food is a huge part of the equation, picking up a dedicated movement practice is the best way to balance a life well lived.
If you are currently exercising: Do you feel the work you put in is obtaining the results you’ve always wanted? Is the training program comprehensive, covering all of your bases? Do you feel stronger than you did six months ago? Perform better than you did last year? Or look the way you want to look when you set out on this training endeavor?
Much like this guide is aimed at helping you with food prep, the coaches at MSP Fitness are here to guide individuals’ fitness pursuits. Since 2009 we’ve been applying quality training principles aimed at taking people to heights they never thought possible. Don’t believe us? Check out some of our success stories from actual members.
So if you are looking for a place to learn, a community that will keep you accountable, and a training program that gets you the results you deserve, look no further than MSP!