9 New, Fun Ideas to Make Meal Prepping More Exciting

Here at Unity promote a weekly or biweekly meal prep that we call a Sunday Ritual or a Wednesday /Mid-week Pick-me-up. The Sunday Ritual is based off of PN’s model of planning your family’s weekly schedule, make a list of ingredients and heading to your local grocery for fresh ingredients. The Mid-Week Pick-me-up involves a go-to or a brand new, exciting recipe you can use during the week that you can batch and use for the remaining days.

Weekly meal prep is efficient in many ways, but I would say there are the Big 3 Wins of meal prep.

The first Big Win is that you save valuable nuggets of time the mornings, afternoons and evenings during your week by spending just a few hours in one shot on Sunday. Instead of taking approximately 10 to 20 minutes three times per day during your week, you maybe spend 5 to 10 minutes just once or twice, which gives you more time with family.

There’s different “versions” of meal prep to try (see below), but it typically takes an average of 2 to 5 hours to complete (counting the trip to the grocery store). The simple version is quicker and easier but may be more boring to some while the complex version will be closer to 5 hours and more for the person who likes to cook and wants variety (versions listed below).

In all, this Win saves you time during the week. I actuality like to refer to this as you are now given more time. You become The Time Saver.

The second Big Win is reducing stress and anxiety by giving you full control over your week. No more “what if’s” or pockets of anxiety moments spread throughout your week when you and your family don’t know what to eat. You are in control and you’ll feel that way too (a damn good feeling).

This will in turn make everything seem easier so your left to focus in the big picture items at work AND at home. You should not notice better performance at work and happier lifestyle at home. You can easily base your performance at work (or should be able to use your job’s system), but you can use a daily 1-10 scale on how you’re feeling or even a happiness scale. Of course, there are several factors that go into being “happy”, but overall, we’re leading to better awareness. More awareness leads to mindfulness and more mindfulness leads to better choices. You become The Boss.

The third Big Win is you get to eat delicious and nutritious food that keeps you accountable towards your goals. When you prep this food ahead of time, it’s only human nature that you wouldn’t want to waste it plus you receive the benefits of fueling your body the right way throughout the entire week.

You can use the same or similar 1-10 scale to see how you’re feeling through each day as well as after each meal. Your health and fitness performance will be easier to identify as it all pertains to your goal. You become The Nutrition Ninja.

Ultimately, the weekly meal prep is measured on efficiency by how much time you save, a boost in performance, mood, and over happiness, and accomplishing your health and fitness goals. Unfortunately, weekly meal prep doesn’t always seem like a fun task. As a matter of fact, it often feels intimidating or stressful.

This is why I created several different ideas to gamify this process.

Idea 1: Time Created

Through my personal research, I have found that for every 30 minutes spent meal prepping on Sunday, you can “create” (free up) about 60 minutes’ worth of time through your week. This goes back to the concept of being “given time”.

For example, if I cooked and scrambled my eggs for each morning I could them store them in sealed bags or containers and have them for breakfast. This process takes 30 minutes at most. It then saves me at least 10 minutes each day during the breakfast time (the time to crack, prep and heat, and then clean). Now I just need to reheat the eggs and add my fruit and veggies.

The same goes for creating to-go lunches and snacks. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to get 5 Tupperware dishes ready for a salad kit. Add my protein that I made in a slow cooker or pressure cooker and I save time from running to the cafeteria, restaurant, or store during lunch, which is half of our lunch breaks.

The cool part is that you have to award yourself with you’re going to do with the time you were given back. I’ve seen things such as sleep, more time with kids, reading, project work, etc. You can take this a step further by having them send or post pics of the meal prep and what they did with their extra time.

Idea 2: Lost in a book 

This idea is pretty simple and one of my personal favorite. Simply download the audio version of a book you’re interested in and listen to it while you work. It’s a bit tougher when you’re following a new recipe, but besides that it’s an easy way to enjoy your morning or afternoon as you get lost in your imagination (or thoughts if you’re reading a professional development book). This can be taken a step further with Google Home or Alexa as you can tell it to stop and take notes when you want. The biggest thing to remember is to not get too lost and forget an ingredient in the recipe…which may or may not have happened once or twice.

Idea 3: Create your own cookbook

This one takes time to develop, as in weeks and weeks, but you eventually create your own cookbook with all the recipes you accumulate. The catch is you have to try at least one new recipe each and every week and then save the ones you like. Now you can make your own notes, prep variations, recipe mods, etc. by creating your own cool book.

Idea 4: The Family Tree

I like this one for being at home with the family and it creates a sense of belonging. There’s two ways I’ve used this one: 1) you ask a family member which type of food they would like, and it becomes “their recipe” this week; and 2) you can look up your own family tree and maybe make a dish that is from your ancestors. I like the second option for more of a personal experiment, but it entertains me nonetheless.

Idea 5: The Buddy System

You can do this with a loved one or a close friend that also meal preps. Doing this together allows conversation to happen and the time flies (so make sure you do it with someone you really care about!!).  Basically, you find a partner in crime and go into the meal prep together.

Idea 6: The Groupie

This is a fun one, especially when you see the power and over impact it plays on each person. It’s essentially The Buddy System amplified by 1,000. A group of people come together and meal prep together. It takes a bit more coordination and the right location, but A LOT gets done. My ultimate dream for my future training facility is to own a building that also includes a commercial kitchen that allows members of the facility to meal prep together on Sundays.

Idea 7: The Meal Swap

This one is another HIT with the members of my gym and it stemmed from a group of ladies that I recommended get together to meal prep. Now they’ll meal prep and swap meals. One person cooks a ton of breakfasts, one does lunches, one does snacks, and one does supper. This one is easier because you just do a ton of the same food so there’s no prep change and re-cleaning. It’s harder to make sure the budget is split equally.

Idea 8: Tiers of Meal Prep 

I touched on this earlier, but I basically broke down meal prep into different versions of easiness. The easiest version is done with a meal-delivery service that prepares the entire meal and delivers it to your door step. The next easiest version is some prepared meals and some meals you do yourself (the meals are simple as well).  The next version, for example, is bulk foods and using tons of slow-cookers, instant pots, “Steamable” veggies, and my gym’s “EZ-PZ Recipe List. It requires only one new recipe per week that is typically used as a base protein that can be added to nearly anything. The complex version is for one who likes to cook and involves +3 new recipes each week.

There’s a couple other different versions in between the simplest and most complex, but this allows for a “change of pace” for someone who does meal prep on a regular basis. Unfortunately, it also shows different time constraints. The simple version is typically done in less time with the complex being more time. Depending on the person/family, this one varies quite a bit, but I created it to help with structure (along with the PN meal prep infographic).

Idea 9: Outsource 

This is a growing trend in our industry. A member can go with a company of preference and choose how far they’d like to go with the service. They could go with a company that sends all the ingredients and requires some prep, or they could go with one who cooks and preps the meal and sends you the final products that just need to be heated. This idea can get a bit expensive, but the trade-off is the time saved.

A few of these ideas were created over the last couple years, but some were created and need to be experienced to get the full feedback. I have a few members who are supposed to be doing these, so I can’t report the full details yet. However, I know that I’ve done each of these and I feel like as long as I am doing at least one of those ideas I am always keeping meal prep “fresh” and not growing complacent. It provides a new yet familiar experience every time, like going to one if your favorite restaurants and trying another dish on the menu.

This process could use work. I tried to compile previous ideas and make some new ones. The 3 Big Wins almost always help a person get started with meal prep. I know most of our members do it and reap the benefits of it. I also know it can get boring, so I tried creating ideas that would work well with each person. We can always go back and see if there’s an idea that leads to more efficiency by using the methods above.

I personally use The Buddy System (with the girlfriend) on a weekly basis.  If there’s a Sunday when one of us needs to be out of town, the other will pick up the slack and we’ll square up the following weekend.  If I go solo, I almost always have a book on.  Like today, while Mandy went shopping, I listened to Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Habits on Audible.

I also really like the “time given” or “time gained” system.  I am always creating a schedule for my week and it works well to plan some stuff around 15-minute increments that you save.  I think this idea has more potential, but people must really value their time to make it work at its best.

Now it’s time to put this into ACTION.  At Unity we stress that as long as we’re taking action, we get 1% better every day.  And action beats intention every day of the week (and twice on Sundays…as the saying goes!).

Pick an idea and PUT IT INTO ACTION this week.  That’s your goal.  Then let me know how it goes!

Core Training: Seeking True Balance In Life

This is a guest blog post from one of our coaches, Coach Joe McGlynn.  In this post, Joe goes over the importance of actual balance and how it is directly involved with your core training.  Enjoy!

Instead of boring you with the fine details right away, here are some general questions to ask yourself about how your body feels before your read this article:

  • Do I feel like my body is NOT activated through the warm-ups I do?
  • Do I feel off-balance during exercise and general activity?
  • Do I feel a lack of strength when I’m training or even when I’m doing simple jobs around the house?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, there is a high chance that you are lacking core stability and strength. Better yet, you may not understand what your core musculature is and how to activate it for your benefit. If you are unfamiliar with topic, let’s dig a little deeper into how you could better yourself for the long-term.

Core training is one of the most important components to any strength training program. What most see as an accessory to squat and deadlift variations, coaches and trainers see as a major factor in performing those highly active exercises. Our core musculature is essentially the glue that keeps our upper and lower halves working in unison to not only perform the highest demands of exercise, but to also live our daily lives as healthy individuals.

Whether your long-term goal is to become a better athlete or to develop a better fitness background, core training should be a staple in your training program. Every movement that you perform is dependent on the ability to maintain stability through that movement. This would not be possible if you did not have core musculature to do so. Unfortunately, many individuals have a large deficiency in core strength and maintaining a “balanced” lifestyle is more difficult than it seems.

Our core serves as a stabilizer and distributor of force through any given movement. Whether we are casually walking or bracing ourselves for a push up, our core is actively engaged. Upon any given stress that requires your body to move, your core muscles are active to ensure that your spine is protected. This activation alone allows us to maintain proper posture during different movement patterns, including ones that we perform in our daily lives.

For adults, core stability and strength can be very underdeveloped. Due to certain jobs and lower levels of exercise participation, many adults have natural core activation patterns taken away from them, especially with jobs that require sitting for multiple hours.  Adding aging into the mix, core activation becomes more difficult if your activity level is on the low end. Core training for an adult is important for creating a foundation in which core stability and strengths can be maximized.

Here at Unity, progressions within core exercises are a staple to every training program. Whether you are just beginning your fitness journey or are a seasoned veteran, core exercises will ultimately be a guiding force in everything you do. By incorporating core training into your training program, you can ultimately learn how to activate you core musculature as you develop a baseline of fitness. Then and only then can higher levels of fitness be achieved through a more stable body that is prepped to become more dynamic in nature.

As we look at the big picture, just relate to your own life. Look at the demands your job brings you and most importantly look at the activities you love to do or wish you could do. You might not think of something such as core training as life changing, but if you work hard enough at it, anything can become life changing if you want it to. So, if you seeking to find that true “balance” in life, ask yourself the questions above. They may just keep you upright doing the things that you love.

 

-J. McGlynn

Slow Cooker Kung Pao Chicken

INGREDIENTS

3 tablespoons cornstarch (or arrowroot powder)
¼ tsp black pepper
⅛ tsp salt
1 – 1¼ lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2-3 pieces), cut into bite-sized chunks
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
⅔ cup roasted cashews (or roasted peanuts)
1 red bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 medium zucchini, chopped into halves

Sauce
½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
½ cup water
3 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper chili flakes

Cornstarch slurry
2 Tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder
2-3 Tablespoons water

INSTRUCTIONS

In a large zip-top bag, toss in chicken, cornstarch, salt and black pepper. Shake until well-coated.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken about 2-3 minutes on each side, until lightly browned. Transfer chicken into slow cooker. **Skip this step if in a pinch and add chicken directly to the slow cooker.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, water, honey, hoisin sauce, garlic, ginger and red pepper chili flakes and pour over chicken.

Cover and cook on LOW for 2.5 – 4 hours or HIGH for 1.5 – 3 hours. depending on how hot your crock pot runs.

About 30 minutes before serving, whisk together the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Stir into the slow cooker. Add the dried red chili peppers, red bell peppers, zucchini and cashews.

Cover and cook on HIGH for another 20-30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the sauce has thickened up. (Add more water to thin out sauce to your preferred consistency).

Sprinkle with sesame seeds, green onions and serve over rice, quinoa or zoodles, if desired.

Pesto Chicken Breasts

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 (16 oz total) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste
  • 4 teaspoons Basil Pesto
  • 1 medium tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 6 tbsp (1.5 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Slice chicken breast horizontally to create 4 thinner cutlets. Season lightly with salt and fresh pepper.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line baking sheet with foil or parchment if desired for easy clean-up.
  3. Place the chicken on prepared baking sheet. Spread about 1 teaspoon of pesto over each piece of chicken.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in center. Remove from oven; top with tomatoes, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Bake for an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Curried Avocado Chicken Salad

We are fully embracing the K.I.S.S. theory with this recipe.  Sometimes all we need is a little tweak on an old routine to light up our nutrition routine.  This recipe does just that…

Ingredients:

Chicken Prep:

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs chicken breast
  • 1 c Low Sodium Chicken Broth
  • 1 TBS minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp paprika

Chicken Salad:

  • 1/2 medium avocado, pitted and fleshed
  • 1-2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp pink salt

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Cut away excess fat from chicken. Place chicken breasts in bottom of slow cooker with spices.
  2. Gently pour in broth, cover with lid and cook on high for about 2-3 hours, or until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink.
  3. Transfer chicken breasts to bowl or cutting board and allow to cool before shredding with forks.
  4. If desired, divide shredded chicken.
  5. Separate out 2 c of shredded chicken and add the avocado, curry powder, and salt.
  6. Enjoy chicken salads on bed of greens, in lettuce wraps, stuffed potatoes, and more!