When it comes to meal preparation, you don’t need to be an iron chef to fill your refrigerator and freezer with healthy foods for the week and beyond. A little bit goes a long way to reaping a ton of benefits. Planning meals offers a variety of benefits for older adults, from saving time and money to reducing waste, preventing overeating, lowering stress and positively impacting physical and mental well-being and overall quality of life.
Start your meal prep journey by familiarizing yourself with the five food groups, as well as the variety of healthy options that are available in each category. Eliminate choices based on dietary restrictions and food allergies/intolerances. But, consider keeping some foods you may not necessarily prefer. As you get used to eating foods in certain categories, you may develop a liking to other foods in the same category that you may not have previously enjoyed. Remember, variety is key. Don’t focus on incorporating specific “superfoods” into your diet. Instead, fill your belly with a variety of healthy fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains and legumes.
Next, take inventory of your pantry and the basic ingredients you are missing. These are staples that you should always have on hand that you don’t need to replace on a weekly basis, including: salt, pepper and other spices and seasonings; oils and vinegars; vegetable, beef and chicken stock and bone broth; baking soda, baking powder, sugar and flour; vanilla extract; beans (packaged or canned); and other canned goods, such as shredded chicken, tuna, salmon, diced green chiles, chickpeas, tomato sauce, tomato paste and diced tomatoes.
Decide on the meals and snacks you would like to eat throughout the week or beyond, considering the meals you’d like to cook, when you’re most busy and need an easy grab-and-go option and any lunch dates or dinner plans on your agenda. For meals you plan to cook, consider the amount of servings the recipes make and whether you want to save leftovers for consumption later in the week or store them in the freezer. Whether you’re prepping meals for one person or multiple people, the key is planning ahead and maximizing your efforts.
Create a grocery list based on the staple ingredients missing from your pantry, as well as foods you need to make your meals and snacks throughout the week. Looking to minimize your meal prep? Consider replacing some of your fresh fruits and veggies, such as cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, mangoes and pineapples, with frozen options. Don’t forget to add drinks, such as bottled water, flavored seltzer water and 100% fruit juices, to your list. Don’t feel like doing the shopping yourself? No problem! Order your groceries from your favorite supermarket ahead of time and get curbside pickup. Or, skip the trip all together and contact your Upside Manager to coordinate grocery delivery to your front door. Free grocery delivery is included in an Upside+ membership, and those with a standard membership receive discounted delivery fees.
Whether you conduct your shopping and cooking on the same day is entirely up to you. Some people prepare and cook their meals throughout the week, while others dedicate one day to all of their meal prep and cooking needs. For those who prefer the latter, meal prep containers offer easy grab-and-go options that help keep your fridge organized.
Building your own smoothie is super easy. Start with a base of milk, water, yogurt or juice. Add your desired fruits and other nutritional adds-ins, such as leafy greens or other veggies such as cucumbers or carrots. For breakfast, consider adding fats or proteins, such as nut butter, flax seeds, chia seeds, oats, pumpkin seeds or almonds. For added punches of flavor, opt for cocoa powder, vanilla extract, peppermint extract or cinnamon. Is your smoothie too thin? Add a few chunks of ice or a couple slices of an avocado to make it thicker. Smoothies are great meal prep options because you can make and freeze multiple servings for consumption later in the week.
Soups and stews are another fantastic meal prep option because they are easy to make, yield several servings and can be stored for a long period of time with silicone freezing trays, which are also good for storing smoothies and come in a variety of sizes and portion control options. Soups and stews that freeze well include white chicken chili, baked potato soup, vegetable soup, butternut squash soup, ham and bean soup, chicken fajita chowder, Polish hunter’s stew, stuffed pepper stew, hamburger stew and Texas stew.
Color is key to making mouthwatering salads you’ll look forward to eating. Purple cabbage, spiralized beets, shredded carrots, summer squash, blueberries, strawberries and red, yellow or orange peppers are just a few ways to make this healthy meal stand out. Consider a variety of proteins, such as chicken tenders, slices of flank steak, salmon, shrimp or a hard-boiled egg. Top it off with some goat cheese, feta cheese or sunflower seeds for extra pops of flavor. When it comes to dressings, stay away from white or sweetened condiments. Instead, opt for avocado or extra virgin olive oil or red wine vinegar. Better yet, combine the two and add a few seasonings to make your own Italian dressing.
This meal prep option is easily customizable and perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner, so regardless of dietary restrictions or preferences, you have options available to you. First, choose your grain, such as brown or wild rice, quinoa, oatmeal or chia seeds. Then, add your proteins, fruits or veggies, toppings and condiments. The sky’s the limit with the potential these dishes can yield. When choosing your selections, consider flavor profiles and options that work well together, such as dishes inspired by Cajun, Indian, Eastern European, Greek, Mexican, Italian and Southern Comfort cooking styles.
A hard-boiled egg with a side of berries or apples and serving of granola offers a perfect, healthy breakfast or lunch option. For those with a little more time, opt for a slice of whole wheat toast with avocado spread topped with slices of a green apple and hard-boiled egg. For another healthy grab-and-go option, prepare a yogurt parfait, made with Greek yogurt, fruits (berries, bananas and peaches), nuts (cashews, pecans, walnuts and almonds) and seeds (pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds or chia seeds).
Although nothing can replace a palate-pleasing plate of traditional spaghetti and meatballs, spaghetti squash is a delicious (and much healthier) alternative. Plus, it’s easy to make and offers a fantastic base for a variety of dishes, from chicken alfredo and turkey meatballs to shrimp scampi, spaghetti pesto, pasta puttanesca, spaghetti Bolognese, primavera carbonara and tuna casserole.
You can make a healthy, delicious alternative to ice cream with just one ingredient — bananas. Chop a couple of ripe bananas into small, even pieces. Freeze for at least two hours. Toss the pieces into a food processor and blend until smooth. Eat by itself or add some fresh fruit, mint or basil leaves, cinnamon, cocoa powder, shredded coconut or one of your other favorite toppings.
Upside is dedicated to elevating the quality of life for older adults by offering streamlined, all-inclusive apartment experiences. Upside membership enables you to work with your Upside Manager to make sure your favorite foods and meals are readily available.