Recent increases in conversations surrounding health and wellness, body positivity and viewing food as fuel have inspired individuals to take their health into their own hands. In particular, the simple yet effective practice of meal prepping continues to grow in popularity, as it allows people to cut costs, save time and cater to their own dietary needs. Chef Kyle Williams, Executive Chef of Blue KC’s Live Blue Kitchen + Café, sat down with The Blueprint to dish on what makes meal prep so effective and how to get started with planning your meals.
The Blueprint: What are the benefits of meal prepping?
Chef Kyle: Meal prepping means taking control of your personal health. Not only will you be taking control of what you eat, eliminating unnecessary consumption of chemicals, allergens, preservatives and saturated fats, but you’ll also start feeling better. Eating right provides mental and emotional benefits, satisfying your brain’s micro- and macronutrient cravings. A well-balanced diet is directly linked to increased energy levels and improvement in physical health as well. Not to mention, you’ll be saving yourself a pretty penny, as eating out and ordering takeout adds up. You’d be surprised how much $100 will buy you in the grocery store in comparison to your favorite dinner restaurant. To top it all off, meal prepping proves to be a great learning experience, helping to educate you on food, its benefits and expanding your culinary skills.
TB: How do you find the motivation to meal prep every week?
CK: There’s a big movement of healing and
restoring our bodies through food. It’s true – you are what
you eat, and we’re finally starting to acknowledge that. The bottom line is
that people want to feel better, so they’re investing in themselves and taking
action. Whether the motivation stems from the need to save money, adhering to restricted
diets due to allergies or intolerances – to soy, dairy, nuts, gluten, etc. – or
simply wanting to have better control over what goes into their bodies, meal
prepping gives people that power. Meal prepping is also a healthy means of
losing weight and decreasing excess body fat.
TB: What guidelines can you provide for planning your meals?
CK: Everyone is different, so there’s no ‘silver bullet’ or single equation that will work for everyone. Our bodies require variety, so my recommendation is to make your meals a rainbow. Each meal should incorporate a variety of colors from different fruits and vegetables. There are so many diet trends out there, but when it comes down to it, we should be consuming whole, fresh, vibrant foods – specifically, lean meats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Be sure to discuss potential dietary changes with your doctor before you begin meal prepping.
TB: What are some of the best ingredients for meal prepping in terms of foods that keep well?
CK: Choose foods that will keep for one week. For meat, I recommend chicken, steak or turkey. Feel free to enjoy seafood like shrimp, salmon and halibut as well, but plan to eat those within three days as they tend to spoil faster. As far as veggies go, a diet rich in hearty greens is a must. Try to incorporate swiss chard, kale, cabbage and broccoli into your meals and mix in some yams, squash and zucchini, too. You need to burn through your fruits a little bit faster since they ripen quickly, especially if they’re not kept refrigerated. Bananas, apples and berries pack a nutritional punch and add both color and sweetness to dishes. For starches and carbs, stick to whole grains. You can’t go wrong with brown rice, lentils, beans, chickpeas, lentil pasta, or whole-grain pasta.
TB: Do you recommend counting calories for prepped meals?
CK: No. We need to listen to what our bodies are telling us it needs. Counting calories doesn’t teach you how to eat – it restricts you. If you have excess body fat and/or are wanting to reduce body fat, then reduce your portion sizes and train yourself to eat natural foods until you’re full and satisfied. My recommendation is eating three well-balanced, full and real meals a day and to eat until you’re completely full – not stuffed. I do not recommend snacking throughout the day unless absolutely necessary. If you’re hungry between meals, rely on healthy snacks such as nuts, carrots or a banana.
TB: Do you have any tips to kick-start meal prepping?
CK: Educate yourself. Just because you aren’t an expert in the kitchen doesn’t mean your taste buds need to suffer. Pick up a book, utilize YouTube or flip on the Food Network. Personally, my favorite tool is my imagination – use your creativity and view the experience as a learning opportunity. Once you’ve done that, make a game-plan for your meals. Decide what you’re going to cook, make a list of the ingredients you need and shop along the perimeter of your grocery store, as that’s where you’ll find the fresh produce and meat and fish counter. If you’d like to, pick up frozen fruits and vegetables since they’re convenient and keep longer than fresh items. Frozen fruits and veggies also typically have better nutritional value than their canned counterparts, which often add sugars, syrups or preservatives. As far as the center aisles are concerned, aim to steer clear of those – that’s where you’ll find the vast majority of highly processed products. In short, if you’re looking to improve your mental and physical well-being, save money and learn some new skills in the process, it’s time to get prepping!