Boost Healthy Eating with Weekly Veggie, Fruit and Protein Prep
Unhealthy snack foods are as seductive as they are easy. When my stomach is growling and a hunger-induced headache is throbbing in my temples, the last thing I want to do is clean and cut some veggies. Also, the need to cut and prep veggies can derail the most well-meaning meal plans.
Make fruits and vegetables a more frequent part of your meals and snacks by dedicating a few hours on a set day each week for healthy food prep. I do mine on Sunday afternoons while the kids are playing around the house or yard. Prep work does not require careful timing or my full attention, so it’s a good thing to do while I have one eye on the kiddos. Here are some tips and ideas for food prep to make the rest of the week go more smoothly and healthfully.
Broccoli: My kids love broccoli so I keep a ton on hand for cooking and for eating fresh as snacks. First, wash your broccoli thoroughly by running water over it in a colander. Then cut the green tree tops off the broccoli and put them in a storage bag with a bit of paper towel to absorb the moisture. These yummy tops are great for snacking raw, roasting, stir frying, or putting in a soup. Finely chop the thick stem of the broccoli and put it in your fridge or freezer so you can easily include some in soup, stir fry, or even cook and sneak into pasta sauce for some extra vitamins.
Celery: Celery is sweet, satisfying, and one of my favorite vegetables for snacking. Clean, peel, and cut celery into about 5 inch long sticks. Clean by rinsing with water or wiping each stalk with a wet paper towel. Use a potato peeler three to four times per stalk to remove the toughest strings. By cutting the celery into sticks, you have them available to bag for lunches, set out for snacks for the kiddos to eat with hummus or peanut butter, or they are ready to chop more finely for stir fry or salads. Remember to keep the sweet, leafy greens at the end of the celery stalk, especially the young ones in the center of the bunch. They are super yummy and underappreciated!
Lettuce and Spinach: Lettuce and spinach wilts when exposed to moisture, so I hold off on washing lettuce and spinach until I am just about to eat it. But in order to keep your lettuce and spinach fresh until you eat it, pop a small piece of paper towel in with your leafy greens when you are doing your Sunday veggie prep. The paper towel will absorb excess moisture and keep your greens fresh a little longer.
Carrots: To save on prep time, I buy pre-cut carrots in three forms: grated, sliced, and snack sticks. Grated carrots are great for throwing on salads or into a soup. Keep sliced carrots on hand to roast in the oven with some salt for a great snack, or you can throw them into a stir fry. The only prep I do with carrots on the weekend is to take the snack sticks and put them in a bunch of baggies so they are easy to grab for snacks. My kids are often hungry in the van on the way home from school or soccer, so I keep baggies of carrots ready to go in the fridge so I can throw them into my purse for a healthy snack that won’t make a huge mess in Vancy (my fancy van). Bagged carrots are also great for throwing in my husband’s lunch in the mornings.
Sugar Snap Peas: Sugar snap peas are yummy and my kids find them fun to eat. Give sugar snap peas a quick rinse and put them in baggies for snacks on-the-go.
Onions: Onions can be quickly chopped and put in a glass, lidded container for easy use during the week. Beware plastic baggies and plastic containers – they will allow onion fumes to leak and make your whole fridge smell like it needs deodorant.
Squash: Wash and slice up green zucchini and yellow squash for snacking with hummus or to throw in soups or stir fries. Squash holds up very well in the fridge after it has been cut, so be sure to seek out this great veggie in the produce department!
Apples: Wash apples and remove stickers. Place a few in a bowl out on the kitchen counter so they are easy to grab for a quick snack. I like to buy the smallest apples I can find for my 2- and 4-year-olds. They love eating an apple that it just their size! Store the rest of your apples in your fruit drawer in the fridge so they can be quickly thrown into lunches during the week.
Grapes: Wash grapes in a colander, dry quickly with a towel, and then use scissors to separate the grapes into a few bunches. Put bunches of grapes into plastic bags for easy grab-and-go snacking during the week.
Melons: Wash the outside of your melon prior to cutting so your knife doesn’t transfer any external contaminants to the meat of the melon. Honeydew and cantaloupe hold up very well in the fridge after they have been cut. Be sure to keep them in a lidded, shallow casserole dish so the melons on top don’t squish the melons down below. Melon cubes are great to scoop out for breakfast in the morning.
Oranges: Oranges take a little time and effort to peel. My kids little fingers have a tough time with oranges, and my husband doesn’t like peeling oranges at work because they can be so squirty. So on Sundays I peel a few oranges, separate the sections, and put them in baggies for clean and easy snacking during the week.
Kiwi, Mango, and Other Exotic Fruit: Remember to indulge in some unusual fruit options occasionally. It's great to expose kids to new flavors. Remove the fuzzy exterior of a kiwi or the tough skin on a mango with a potato peeler. Skin, slice and store for a tropical treat during the week.
Chicken: One of the best food tricks from my personal trainer is to bake a few chicken breasts on the weekend for use during the week in wraps, on salads, or even just as a snack. Get a shallow baking pan or even a cookie sheet, line it with tin foil, place a few chicken breasts or cutlets, season conservatively with salt, pepper and garlic powder, cover loosely with another sheet of tin foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. The upper sheet of tin foil holds in some of the moisture, and the result is super moist and yummy chicken. When my chicken is done baking, I give it some time to cool and then slice it into strips to put on salads or put in wraps. When my 2-year-old son asks for a snack during the week, I will sometimes just give him a chicken strip and he will hold it in his little fist and happily munch away while I silently pat myself on the back for getting him to eat some lean protein.
Eggs: My kids thoroughly enjoy eating hard boiled eggs. There is something mysterious about the glossy, slippery, perfectly white exterior, hiding a yummy yellow yolk. So on the weekends I hard boil and peel a few eggs for breakfasts and snacks during the week. A hardboiled egg plus some pre-chopped melon makes for a healthy and easy breakfast for my kiddos on a rushed weekday morning.
Make Healthy Eating Easy
Eating healthy fruits, veggies, and whole foods takes a lot more time than eating fattening, processed meals that you can pop in the microwave and consume all in less than five minutes.
Make eating healthfully a breeze all week by investing some prep time each Sunday!