Meal Prep 101 – Protein Prep Strategies
Ahhh protein. We know it’s good for us because, well pretty much everyone says so! In the overwhelming amount of nutrition research that exists, there truthfully isn’t any dispute about the importance of protein in our diets to keep our bodies healthy. Protein keeps us satiated, helps us stay lean and strong and plays a vital role at a cellular level sending signals between cells and tissues. So, if we already know how good protein is for us, then why is it that we often struggle to eat enough of it? Your meal prep game might be weak or non-existent, but the good news is there are some simple ways to rectify this without adding hours or to your day.
Unlike carbs and fat, protein is usually more expensive, requires some form of cooking or preparation (i.e. effort!) and is not easily portable. Although protein presents additional challenges, we have some ways in which you can overcome the daily obstacles of protein preparation and reduce your grocery bill at the same time! First, let’s start off with a quick reminder of some common sources of protein.
What Foods Have Protein?
Here’s a quick list of common foods that are high in protein.
|Protein Category||Examples of Protein|
|Poultry||Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Quail, Game hen,|
|Meat||Beef, Pork, Lamb, Venison, Sausage, Bison,|
|Fish||Salmon, Tilapia, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Cod, Haddock,|
|Seafood||Shrimp, Crab, Scallops, Lobster, Mussels, Clams, Calamari, Octopus,|
|Eggs||Chicken, Duck, Goose, Ostrich, Quail|
|Dairy||Cottage cheese, low fat greek yogurt & cheese|
|Vegetarian||Beans, lentils, mushrooms, tofu, tempeh, seitan|
|Protein Powders||Whey, Casein, Egg White powder, Hemp, Pumpkin Seed, Pea, other vegetarian/plant based blends|
Try to get a wide variety of protein sources in your diet.
Protein Prep Strategies
It’s a lot easier to get enough protein when you’re prepared. That means thinking ahead, and using some easy shopping and cooking strategies. Protein prep doesn’t always have to involve hours of cooking in the kitchen! Here are some suggestions.
1. Shop & Cook In Bulk
Instead of picking up just what you need for tonight, pick up a few extras so that you have them on hand. And look for ways to save by buying in bulk. Bulk purchase of protein sources such as chicken breasts, extra-lean hamburgers or veggie burgers, bags of shrimp, etc. can save you money and time.
In addition, buying whole cuts of meat is often cheaper. Instead of buying a single chicken breast, try roasting a whole chicken. You’ll get more meat (and more meals), plus the meat is cheaper per pound. Learn to cook whole cuts of meat, poultry, and fish, such as:
• an oven or pot roast (rather than single steaks)
• grilling a whole fish (rather than fillets)
If you’re using the oven or the grill, it’s just as fast to cook 5 pieces of meat as it is to cook one. Next time you have the grill out, cover all available space with your protein choices. Then put the leftovers in containers or baggies and freeze them for a quick and convenient meal later.
The same idea goes with the slow cooker – cook for an army, and then you’ll always have healthy options on hand.
- Check out this short video on how to safely freeze cooked meats.
2. Buy Cheaper Cuts
Premium cuts of meat, poultry, fish, and seafood are pricey. If you’re having guests over, by all means splurge. But for every day cooking, consider cheaper cuts or investing in an annual membership for a place like Sam’s Club or Costco.
If buying cheaper cuts, you make these just as delicious as high-end cuts by cooking them properly; “slow ‘n’ low”, i.e. slow cooking over lower heat. Not only does this make them super yummy, but it is SO much easier than cooking in the oven or on the hob. Just pull out your crock pot, set it and forget it! You can literally go to work and come home to a cooked dinner.
• Dust off that Crock Pot and discover how tender a slow-cooked stew or casserole can be! (Plus, enjoy the great feeling of coming home to a house that smells delicious, with the knowledge that dinner is already made!)
• Or, try slow-roasting or slow-baking – after all, that’s how Southern BBQ got its start.
Check out these recipes:
3. Consider The Humble Egg
Eggs are so underrated, but is there any food so perfect and versatile? If you’re in need of a snack for work or as part of an in-between meal when you get home, just boil up a dozen eggs for “grab ‘n’ go” snacks. If boiled eggs are a little boring for you or just not palatable for you on their own, then make a frittata, omelet, or scramble with leftover vegetables. It’s a super quick dinner and if you make extra, you’ve got breakfast for the next day.
- Poach an egg into hot soup for a quick protein boost.
- Crack an egg (or add egg whites) into cauliflower rice to give your veggies more flavor and a protein boost
4. Make The Grocery Store Your “Fast Food”
Sometimes your “protein prep” might not involve any cooking and instead just requires a little bit more awareness. It’s often hard to eat well when traveling especially if you don’t have access to a kitchen. But, no matter where you go these days, there’s almost always a grocery store somewhere. Look for the following cooked protein sources:
• rotisserie chickens (or chicken pieces)
• small containers of cottage cheese
• prepackaged lean deli meats
• canned fish
• ready-to-eat chilled options, such as cooked shrimp
• other deli options, such as tuna salad
You wouldn’t necessarily want to live on this stuff, but for nutritional quality, it sure beats a pack of pretzels.
5. Make Your “Fast Food” Choices Better
OK, so, you just have to go to the fast food restaurant. That’s cool. We get it. To get your protein, opt for things like:
✅ leaner burgers – hold the cheese and bacon
✅ grilled chicken sandwiches – easy on the mayo
✅ chili – hold the cheese and sour cream
✅ beef, chicken, or shrimp over a salad
✅ beef, chicken, or shrimp in your tacos or fajitas – easy on the rice, sour cream, and cheese
✅ grilled chicken or lean meat topping on your pizza
✅ sushi – sashimi for the protein win! If you’re a big fan of sushi, don’t forget to check out our Sushi Macro Hacks guide.
At the very least, opt for protein choices that are baked, broiled, or grilled; and aren’t drowned in toppings or batter.
What’s your protein prep game like? Do you cook in bulk on the weekend or are you more of the kind that buys things pre-cooked at the store? We’d love to know your thoughts and what other strategies you have for enjoying whole food sources of nutritious protein! Comment below or tag us on social media with your thoughts.
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