Variety Meal Prep: How to Change Things Up
Variety Meal Prep: Small Changes to Keep Weekly Meals Interesting
Healthy is hard. Whether it’s planning meals, staying motivated, or figuring out what kind of lifestyle suits you, there’s a lot to learn! As we start to figure out healthy meals that work for us, we may latch onto those staple foods and eat them all of the time. Or, maybe you’ve tried meal plans or meal prepping in the past and given up because eating the same things every day was too boring.
Nutritionally, our bodies actually need variety, so we’re getting a better balance of nutrients and wholesome fuel sources. It helps to think about eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies, because those different colors mean we get a different spread of nutrients! You can try new produce each week, and buying what’s in season actually can help you save some money, too.
The other major problem with eating the same foods is that boredom we start to feel! When I eat the same meals over and over, I lose my motivation and get discouraged from eating those healthy foods. But, as someone shopping on a budget and with a busy schedule, it can seem tough to mix things up while still eating healthy meals. With just a little planning and creative thinking, it is possible to bring that delicious variety into our healthy lifestyles!
Here are some ideas to keep your healthy meals interesting, by taking the foods you like or have on-hand and turning them into something different:
Prep Wholesome Base Ingredients, Mix & Match
The key to eating healthy is having healthy foods accessible and ready to eat! This is why meal prep can be such a helpful tool in our lives. To prevent eating the same exact meals every day, prep the basics (veggies, starches, grains) that you can mix into new meal combinations:
- Frozen fruit can be used so many ways, and it won’t go bad in your freezer! Stock up on frozen fruits that you enjoy for quick and easy smoothie prep.
- Buy a variety of vegetables for the week, and use your meal prep day to chop them up and prepare them. You may want to keep some raw for snacking, or you can roast or steam large batches to keep in the fridge. Use those prepped veggies as side dishes and add-ons to your main meals throughout the week!
- We all need protein, so it’s important to prep some protein options on your meal prep day. Make a large batch of bean salad. Cook up a large portion of chicken or tofu. Use flavors that you enjoy eating regularly, or keep the flavors simple (olive oil and salt are a classic combo!) and sauce up your proteins differently at each mealtime as desired.
- Preparing starches and grains for the week will save you tons of time! Cook large portions of your oats, quinoa, rice, or pasta, so you can use them as a quick and easy base for daily meals. Make them as flavorful as you like, or keep them simple and change up the flavor with each meal!
With these base ingredients prepped, you make mealtime SO much easier! Just mix & match, add flavor as desired, reheat, and get yourself fueled! From week to week, keep things interesting by changing up your base ingredients—trade brown rice for quinoa, chicken for salmon, broccoli for green beans, or pineapple for mango.
Try New Preps with the Same Ingredients
As you find those base, healthy ingredients that you enjoy eating, you can start experimenting with different preps and cooking methods.
- Cut and chop your veggies or proteins into different sizes, so you’ve got different textures! Chop part of your raw broccoli into larger florets for roasting, finely chop some of it to incorporate into a sauce or guacamole, or pulse the broccoli stems in the food processor to make broccoli rice! Bake all of your chicken breasts, then slice half and shred the other half!
- Use different cooking methods to experience new flavors with the same foods! You may discover that you enjoy the taste of roasted sweet potato more than baked, or vice versa. If you’ve always pan seared your tofu, you may want to try breading it and baking it into a tofu nugget!
- Leftovers are your friend! Cook in bulk, save leftovers in the fridge or freezer, and repurpose them with each meal. Your leftover beans from last night’s dinner can become a salad topping for today’s lunch!
Embrace Herbs, Spices, & Flavors
Using simple flavors like olive oil and salt in your basic prep allows you to change things up every day. Try new sauces and spreads to add some variety to your meals! Just combine those base ingredients, reheat, and experiment with different flavors, like:
- Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream or mayo!)
- salsas & pico de gallo
- hot sauces
- soy sauce
- sesame oil
There are SO many different cuisines to explore in our cooking, each with a unique flavor profile. Find the flavors that you like, and start using them in your prep. (Confused about spices? Check out this awesome guide to spices.)
Tweak Your Favorite Recipes to Make a Whole New Meal!
No matter how you decide to meal prep, one of the best ways to keep your healthy foods interesting is to tweak those favorite recipes to make them into new meals. There’s a reason that we enjoy certain foods, and we want to eat them again! But, we may still want something a bit different each day.
- You can use the same ingredients throughout the week, but serve them in different ways and in new combinations each day! Cook your large portion of ground turkey, tofu, or beans at the beginning of the week, then use it in a taco, a burrito bowl, a sandwich, and a salad. Prep your asparagus for the week, some to use chopped in a salad, and some steamed as a simple side dish.
- Serve your proteins and veggies on different breads and grains. Or, try something entirely different, like substitute spaghetti squash for regular spaghetti, or lettuce wraps for taco shells!
- Revamp foods you already enjoy by exploring new sauces and toppings, like salsas, guacamoles, red sauces, Alfredo sauces—the options are endless!
YOU know what you like best. Use that as your starting point for keeping your meals interesting! Get ideas from foods you’ve enjoyed in the past, or restaurants that you like. By mixing, matching, and repurposing, your healthy food never has to get boring.
Check Out Some of My Favorite Flavor Combo Ideas!
One of my favorite ways to keep meals interesting throughout the week is to make what I call a “bland bowl” consisting of brown rice, a protein, and whatever vegetables are on sale or in season. I prep them at the beginning of the week with just a base seasoning of salt, pepper, and perhaps a bit of olive oil, and then I can flavor them throughout the week in different ways!
Here are some ideas to flavor your own base, meal-prepped ingredients:
- “Mexican” inspired: salsa, avocado, chipotle powder, chili powder, Greek yogurt as sour cream
- “Asian” inspired: sesame oil, soy sauce, fresh ginger, scallions
- “Italian” inspired: tomato sauce, garlic, mozzarella, oregano, basil
- “Indian” inspired: garam masala, coriander, cayenne, curry powder