Meal Prep Your Way Into Summer

Words: Ashley Johnson

Helpful Tips To Get Started And Maintain To Save Time, Save Money, And Save Your Summer

Words: Ashley Johnson 
Photo: JuliaMikhaylova

The official first day of summer is June 20. As the seasons change, so do our food preferences. Instead of dense, sauce-based meals that take hours to prepare and cook on the stove or in the oven, our appetites favor lighter foods that won’t weigh us down. 

With rising temperatures and longer days spent out in the sun, what we consume will need to sustain both our bodies and minds. Improper hydration and poor nutrition combined with staying out in the sun can lead to sun stroke, exhaustion, and low blood sugar. Meal planning should focus on foods that not only taste great, but also contain the essential balance of vitamins and minerals to nourish our bodies all day. 

Accommodating summer recreation is easy with mindful food choices and meal prepping. When we’re constantly on the go, it saves a lot of time and money with pre-made meals or snacks. Not only does meal prepping sustain ourselves, but it sustains our schedules. 

Here are some easy helpful tips to prepare for a fun-filled summer that is not only happy but healthy too.

Pick a day

Make the most of your time by cooking on one day instead of seven days. Pick any day out of the week, and focus on preparing seven days of meals. Not only does this save time, but also saves money from going out to eat or making multiple trips to the grocery store. Using only what you plan to cook or consume also reduces food wastage and helps you stay on track nutritionally. 

When meal prepping in the summer use appliances that don’t generate heat. Cooking on the stove or using the oven can quickly add to the summer heat inside. Using a slow cooker or instant pot can help manage time if you have events planned. A toaster oven is a great substitute for a full-size oven, and it doesn’t emit as much heat. If you do have to use the oven or the stove, consider cooking early in the morning before it gets hot. 

If you have never meal prepped, start small and easy. Begin with something you know how to cook and doesn’t take a lot of time. Overnight oats is a perfect beginner recipe. Fill five mason jars with rolled oats, milk or yogurt, a sweetener, fruit, and one add-in. Place in the fridge overnight and in 30 minutes you have a week’s worth of healthy breakfasts ready to go. 

Meal prepping can be done in one of two ways. You can either put together entire meals in advance or chop all ingredients necessary for meals. Both will save a lot of time. One of the most time-consuming parts of cooking is chopping and peeling vegetables. In restaurants, 90 percent of food is prepared in advance to streamline the process of cooking and serving. 

Another way to save time with meal prepping is to cook your protein ahead of time. If Sunday is your day, get up early and bake a couple of batches of chicken, bacon, eggs, or ground beef. Or get on the BBQ and grill your protein as well as your vegetables. Nothing speaks of summer-like grilled zucchini, portobello mushroom, and corn on the cob. 

Once you finish cooking, refrigerate everything in reusable containers. Throughout the week, put your protein on salads, in pasta, or with sandwiches or wraps. 

Pack your pantry

To make cooking and planning meals easier, make sure you have everything available before. Stocking your pantry or cabinets with staples that are versatile and can be used repeatedly can save time.

When you’re at the store and you see sales on nonperishable staple items, stock up. Canned beans and tomatoes, frozen vegetables, dry goods, spices, hot sauces, and condiments are used often and have a long shelf-life. To find the best deals on grocery items, check the weekly circular or mail for coupons. 

In the summer, farmer’s markets start operating again. This is a great way to support local farmers and find organic vegetables, fruit, and herbs. Summer selections like tomatoes, salad greens, watermelons often will taste better than their grocery counterparts. And you can find heirloom varietals not available in the winter. If you visit the market toward the end of the day when vendors are ready to go home, you might find a deal or lower prices. 

If you are not someone who ordinarily shops at farmer’s markets, it’s never too late to start. But start out slow and steady. Focus on frequently used items like tomatoes, eggs, or chicken. Farmers are also a great source to purchase fresh-baked bread. 

If you don’t have time to go to the grocery store, buying groceries online and having them delivered to your front door is easy, quick, and convenient. In 2020, online grocery shopping rose by 40 percent. Delivery costs a few dollars, but you’ll save that in gas driving to the grocery store. Instacart, Whole Foods, Amazon Fresh, and other grocery stores will deliver your order directly to your doorstep, even if you live in an apartment building. 

Cook what you know and love

Have a list of your favorite recipes ready to go on meal prep day. Similar to stocking your pantry with staples, you also should have a list of staple meals that you know how to make and are loved by everyone.

When planning out staple recipes, consider ingredients that are versatile and can be used in multiple dishes. Hard boiling eggs can be used in salads, for sandwiches, or just as a snack.

Rotisserie chicken is another food that can be used over and over again. Pre-made rotisserie chicken is a cost-effective time-saver that can be converted into an endless list of meals. Once at home, put on rubber gloves and disassemble the chicken. It’s a lot easier to break down when it’s hot versus sitting in the refrigerator for 24 hours. When you’re done, throw the remaining meat and bones into a crockpot, cover with water, and simmer on low. Strain the liquid into mason jars and you have homemade chicken broth.

Chill out your cooking

In the summer, when it’s hot, our bodies gravitate toward foods that naturally cool us down and hydrate us. The last thing we want is to stand over a stove or in front of a hot oven cooking. 

Foods that are light and have a higher concentration of water help us stay refreshed and hydrated. When heading outside, mix watermelon with feta cheese and mint, cucumbers and flavored balsamic vinegar, grapes, and cantaloupe, or berries and homemade whipped cream. Hot winter staples like soups and pasta can be repurposed for the summer. 

Instead of tomato bisque served with a grilled cheese sandwich, try out a gazpacho served with a chicken hummus wrap. Rather than creamy chicken alfredo pasta, opt for Mediterranean pasta salad. 

Cooling dips like hummus, tzatziki, blended ranch, pico de gallo, and guacamole can be used on pretty much everything. To make creamy dips healthier, swap out sour cream and mayonnaise for Greek yogurt.

Staying hydrated in the summer can be hard when there is so much to do. But it’s essential to avoid exhaustion and heat stroke. Infused water is an easy and tasty way to drink more water in the summer. In a pitcher, combine filtered water and ingredients like cucumber and mint, berries, lemon and lime, citrus, and pineapple. Refrigerate this and refill as needed.

While making time for meal prepping might seem hard at first, the more you practice the easier it gets. Soon it will be part of your weekly routine. The key is to start slow, start easy, and focus on foods you love, know how to cook and enjoy eating.

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