Published:
August 7, 2022
Last Updated:
August 8, 2022

Functional Meal Prep: Make Your Meals More Nutritious with These Four Tips (Plus Six Recipes!)

We’ve all been there – we plan to put together a meal filled with healthy and nutritious ingredients, but plans change and we’re exhausted from work or just not in the mood to cook. Instead of winging it when it comes to your meals, setting up time at the beginning of the week for meal prep can ensure that you’re prioritizing healthy (and delicious) meals.

Meal prepping involves preparing several (typically four or five) days’ worth of meals at one time to eat throughout the week. You prepare the food in bulk, then dish it into fridge and freezer containers to grab when it’s time to eat. Meal prepping is convenient and efficient, reduces waste, and lowers the temptation to eat outside your meal plan. Cooking every day isn’t always possible, so meal prepping can allow you to still have homemade meals without having to whip something up each day.

Cameron Linville, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and founder of Freckled Foodie, suggests starting small: “Try prepping only breakfasts or lunches or even just cutting all the vegetables [in advance] so that the cooking time for dinner is shortened.”

Make Meal Prep “Functional”

When deciding what to prep, keep functional nutrition in mind. Much of traditional nutrition is one-size-fits-all and doesn’t consider our bio-individual needs and lifestyle. Functional nutrition takes all aspects of our lives into account and focuses on the larger picture, not just on whether a food is considered “good” or “bad” for you. While choosing which foods to make for your meals, keep your unique needs and wants in mind – just because a recipe says it’s good for you doesn’t mean it’s good for you!

Functional foods are any foods that offer health benefits beyond their caloric value. Besides nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, other functional foods include ingredients that contain probiotics, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Four Tips for Meal Prepping

For those looking to optimize their wellness routine with meal prep, here are some simple steps to get started.

1. Create a meal plan and write a corresponding grocery list.

The first step to successful meal prep is planning what you’re going to eat. This doesn’t have to be a complicated, time-consuming task; it can take less than an hour to make a schedule of your meals for the week ahead. Break down the day into the meals you’re going to create and some healthy snacks to munch on. Be sure to include whole grains, leafy greens, healthy fats, filling fiber and protein, and plenty of delicious spices.

2. Choose a day/time dedicated to prepping.

Find a day when you have the time to make food for the week. Block out a few hours to prepare and cook for the week ahead – and remember to factor in cleanup. This can be any day of the week, but most people opt for Sundays, ahead of the workweek.

3. Shop smart.

Meal prepping can seem more expensive than shopping throughout the week, but it’s actually more cost effective. If, for example, you’re grabbing an apple at the lunch counter every day, they can cost anywhere from $1 to $3 each – while a bag of apples may cost $5 for six pieces. With meal prepping, it’s important to consider the shelf life of your ingredients, so look for items you can freeze and reheat or that are shelf stable.

4. Buy quality storage containers.

 You’ll want containers that can hold up in the dishwasher or generally are hassle-free to clean. You can easily find great storage that includes lids that lock into place to avoid messy commutes. Glass containers are preferable to plastic containers, since they hold up better in the dishwasher and don’t leach BPA and phthalates when microwaved.

Six Functional Meal Prep Recipes

It can be challenging to find meals to prep that are as delicious and nutritious on the last day as they were on the first. Here are six recipes you can use to kick off your meal prep journey!

Breakfasts

Banana Coconut Chia Seed Pudding

From Emma Garnsey, HCTP September 2017

Ingredients

  • 4 medium bananas
  • 4 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons vanilla protein powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup chia seeds
  • Coconut flakes, sunflower seeds, and hemp seeds for topping

Functional ingredient: Chia seeds

While one ounce of chia seeds has around 12 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of those carbs are actually fiber, which won’t spike your blood sugar levels but instead help balance them! The fiber content in chia seeds also leaves you feeling fuller longer.

Instructions

  1. Place bananas, coconut milk, vanilla extract, protein powder, and cinnamon in blender; blitz until combined.
  2. Pour mixture into bowl and add chia seeds. Mix well, then top with coconut flakes, sunflower seeds, and hemps seeds.
  3. Portion into sealable containers and chill overnight.
  4. In the morning, grab one serving and dig in!

Makes 4 servings

 

Pumpkin Pancakes

From Mabel Contreras, HCTP October 2018 Accelerated

Ingredients

  • 1-1/4 cups oat flour
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1-1/2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground malagueta pepper
  • Dash ground ginger
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

Functional ingredient: Pumpkin

Pumpkin packs nearly 20% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C! Pumpkin seeds are also high in zinc, which helps optimize immune function.

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients except coconut oil in blender until smooth.
  2. Heat coconut oil in skillet over medium heat.
  3. Pour batter on skillet in 1/3 cup portions. Use back of spoon or measuring cup to smooth batter into desired circle shape. When bubbles start forming on top, use spatula to carefully flip to other side. Let cook a few more minutes, until golden brown.
  4. Remove pancakes from skillet; set on plate to cool.
  5. Once pancakes are room temperature, portion out and place in freezer bags.
  6. In the morning, grab one serving and reheat in microwave, toaster, or toaster oven.

Makes 46 servings

 

Lunches

Greek Quinoa Chicken Salad

From Natalia Levey, HCTP February 2014

Ingredients

  • 8 cups cooked quinoa
  • 4 organic chicken breasts
  • 2 cups chopped cucumber
  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • 2 cups feta crumbles
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Functional ingredient: Quinoa

Quinoa contains about 8 grams of protein per cup and includes all the essential amino acids of a complete protein as well as a variety of other nutrients, including calcium, vitamin A, and folate.

Instructions

  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Once cooked, set aside to cool to room temperature.
  2. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then grill to at least 165°F (74°C). Set aside; let cool to room temperature and cut into thin slices.
  3. In bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Portion out individual servings.
  4. For lunch, grab one serving and dig in!

Makes 45 servings

 

Turkey Egg Roll Bowl

From Caitlin Haines, HCTP October 2018 Accelerated

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup coconut aminos
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 bag coleslaw mix
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha
  • Sesame seeds for topping (optional)

Functional ingredients: Ginger and garlic

Garlic is a natural antibiotic, and a compound in garlic called diallyl sulfide is 100 times more effective at fighting the most common cause of bacterial intestinal infections. Ginger has been shown to reduce cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It’s also a popular nausea reliever and may be better than vitamin B6 at treating an upset stomach.

Instructions

  1. In small bowl, combine sesame oil, ginger, garlic, coconut aminos, and green onions.
  2. Brown turkey over medium heat, breaking into small pieces.
  3. Add coleslaw mix and sauté, allowing it to wilt.
  4. Stir in sauce mixture; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until well combined.
  5. Finish with sriracha and sesame seeds or more green onions.
  6. Portion into servings and let cool to room temperature; store in fridge or freezer.
  7. For lunch, grab one serving and reheat in microwave until warmed through.

Makes 34 servings

 

Dinners

Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Broccolini

From Jamie Klausner, HCTP March 2016

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Ingredients

  • 1 (8-ounce) box chickpea-based pasta
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil or olive oil
  • 1 organic sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup bone or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 bunch organic broccolini, rinsed and cut in half
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Functional ingredient: Nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast is a functional nutrition powerhouse: It’s a complete source of protein and is high in beta-glucans (which can lower cholesterol levels). As a low-glycemic food, nutritional yeast can also help regulate blood sugar. Plus nutritional yeast is one of the only nonanimal products to contain high levels of vitamin B, which is needed for a healthy nervous system.

Instructions

  1. Bring medium-size pot of water to boil. Add large pinch of salt and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Add to large bowl and toss with avocado oil or olive oil; set aside.
  2. Bring new pot of water to boil, then boil sweet potatoes until fork tender.
  3. Combine sweet potatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, bone broth, nutritional yeast, salt, garlic powder, and onion powder in food processor or high-powered blender; process until smooth. Add hot water and/or more broth as needed to achieve smooth texture.
  4. Bring another pot of water to boil, again with pinch of salt. Add broccolini and cook until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and chop.
  5. In large bowl, toss pasta with chopped broccolini and sauce until evenly coated. Taste; add salt and pepper as needed.
  6. Portion into servings and let cool to room temperature. Store in fridge or freezer.
  7. For dinner, grab one serving and reheat in microwave until warmed through.

Makes 4 servings

 

Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie

From Marla Hertzman, HCTP May 2017

Ingredients

  • 1/2 large cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 to 2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons vegan butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened rice milk or other nondairy milk, more if needed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons dry red wine (optional)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • Dash hot sauce
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder, mixed with enough water to make a smooth paste
  • 1 cup baby spinach or Swiss chard, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • Sprinkle paprika
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Functional ingredient: Mushrooms

The mushroom is a fat-free, low-calorie, low-sodium vegetable packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. While exact nutritional benefits vary by type, mushrooms are a great source of beta-glucan, a form of soluble fiber shown to help regulate blood sugar and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C).
  2. In large saucepan, add cauliflower and parsnip and cover with water. Bring to boil, then cover and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain; transfer to food processor.
  3. Add vegan butter and rice milk, processing until smooth. Season with salt, taste, and adjust seasoning as needed. Set aside.
  4. Heat oil in medium skillet. Add onions and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and mushrooms; continue to sauté until mushrooms are soft and start to release their liquid.
  5. Add lentils, wine, soy sauce, thyme, hot sauce, and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Add cornstarch paste and stir into lentil mixture. Bring to a simmer, just until the mixture begins to thicken. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  6. Add spinach and frozen peas. Remove from heat.
  7. Pour lentil mixture into 6 small tinfoil pans or 9″ x 13″ glass pan, then spoon cauliflower parsnip mixture evenly over top and sprinkle with paprika.
  8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until top begins to turn golden and slightly crusty.
  9. Allow to cool to room temperature. If using large pan, cut pie into 6 portions and place in storage containers. Fridge or freeze individual servings.
  10. For dinner, microwave or bake serving until warmed through. If reheating from frozen, add 20 minutes to reheating time.

Makes 6 servings

Sample Meal Prep Plan

A sample week of meal prepping could look like:

Monday

Breakfast – Banana Coconut Chia Seed Pudding

Lunch – Greek Quinoa Chicken Salad

Dinner – Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie

Snack – Sliced cucumber with hummus

 

Tuesday

Breakfast – Pumpkin Pancakes

Lunch – Turkey Egg Roll Bowl

Dinner – Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Broccolini

Snack – Sliced apple with nut butter

 

Wednesday

Breakfast – Banana Coconut Chia Seed Pudding

Lunch – Greek Quinoa Chicken Salad

Dinner – Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie

Snack – Yogurt with granola and sliced fruit

 

Thursday

Breakfast – Pumpkin Pancakes

Lunch – Turkey Egg Roll Bowl

Dinner – Chickpea Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mushrooms

Snack – Sliced carrots with hummus

 

Friday

Breakfast – Banana Coconut Chia Seed Pudding

Lunch – Greek Quinoa Chicken Salad

Dinner – Date night! Treat yourself to a night out with your favorite people.

Snack – Trail mix

The Bottom Line

Meal prepping is a simple way to have your next meal ready by planning it out and preparing it beforehand. Linville always recommends meal prepping when possible. “Whenever clients ask me the number one way to live a healthier lifestyle, I always suggest getting back in the kitchen and cooking your own meals. Unfortunately, with everyone’s incredibly busy schedules, that’s not always feasible. That’s why I believe meal prepping is the biggest tool you can master for setting yourself up for a healthy week ahead. Once you have the meals cooked and ready to go on Sunday, all that’s left to do is the fun part – eat!”

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Katy Weniger
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Katy holds a bachelor’s in English with a concentration in creative writing and advertising from Rider University. After jobs in the field of finance, she wanted to transition to an industry that focused on helping others be their best selves, and discovered IIN.

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