In my post on ways to make meal prep suck less, one of the points I touched on was focusing on ingredients, not meals. I wanted to expand on this idea today and share how beneficial it’s been for me to change up my food prep and incorporate more “ingredient meals” into my routine.
Read on to learn more about ingredient meals, why I love them, and how I make them work for me!
What Is an Ingredient Meal?
The definition of ingredient meals is pretty straightforward. It’s a meal comprised of a bunch of ingredients. Rather than assigning labels to my food and having something like enchiladas or chicken noodle soup, I think of my food as a collection of ingredients.
For example, last night for dinner I had shredded pork, rice, zucchini, and sweet potatoes with avocado on top. For breakfast this morning, I had ground beef and carrots with a fried egg and avocado (avocados show up in pretty much all of my meals, if you haven’t noticed!).
Benefits of Ingredients Meals
I’ve found a lot of food freedom in eating ingredient meals rather than “recipes.” The following are some of the greatest benefits I’ve noticed by eating this way:
Less Time in the Kitchen
I meal prep every week (twice a week, actually), but I rarely spend more than 1-1.5 hours in the kitchen at a time. That’s because I’m not taking up precious oven or Instant Pot space preparing whole recipes.
Since I’m cooking ingredients that I can mix and match as I please throughout the week, I can have lots of things going at once. I can cook chicken or rice in the Instant Pot while roasting two trays of vegetables in the oven and having more cooking in the air fryer. A lot of my meal prep time is passive, and this approach frees me up to focus on other things.
Less Food Waste
We’ve all tried a recipe that required us to buy a bunch of random ingredients that we only needed a teaspoon or two of for the whole dish, right? I hate when that happens. It leaves me with random stuff (usually herbs, spices, or sauces) that end up going bad in my fridge and I’m out my hard-earned money.
With ingredient meals, I only buy and prepare ingredients that I know I’m going to use over and over again. This saves me money and helps me avoid throwing at food because it’s spoiled before I can use it.
Back in the day, my meal preps used to always be an epic fail because I would cook way too much food and end up getting bored eating the same meal every. single. night. Now that I focus on ingredient meals instead of always following recipes, I can always change up what I’m eating depending on my mood and the specific macro and micronutrient goals I have for the day.
Protection on Busy Days
When we commit ourselves to healthy eating, we often have grand visions of ourselves spending time in the kitchen lovingly crafting a meal from scratch that’s loaded with nutrients but will also tantalize our family members’ tastebuds and get them on board with our new habits.
It’s not too hard for anyone to pull this off once. Can you pull it off day after day for the rest of your life, though? Probably not. You cook one delicious meal, then get busy with work and caring for your kids and end up going right back to boxed macaroni and cheese or the McDonald’s drive-thru because you’re exhausted.
Ingredient meals create an insurance policy to help protect you from days like this. If you have healthy ingredients like shredded chicken and roasted vegetables prepped in the fridge, you can easily throw together a healthy and delicious meal for yourself and your family without slaving away over a hot stove.
My Favorite Ingredient Meal Tips
The great thing about ingredient meals is that you don’t have to follow any rules. There’s no recipe to look at, no guidelines to keep in mind. You can mix up whatever ingredients you have on hand and call it a meal!
That being said, here are some techniques I use to ensure I get the most out of my ingredient meals:
Cook Foods that Taste Good Together
When I’m thinking about what foods I’m going to prep on my meal prep days, I think about foods that will taste good together in different combinations.
This is why I eat a lot of meat, vegetables, and rice. These foods taste good when mixed together and I don’t have to worry too much about flavors clashing.
I can also jazz them up with different seasoning blends or sauces to keep things from getting boring, but the base can stay the same and I know I’m not going to get any weird tastes when I go to take a bite.
Focus on Protein and Vegetables
I love the “eat like a PRO” philosophy from Gina Harney (AKA, The Fitnessista). Focusing on adding PROtein and PROduce to each meal helps me feel full and satisfied while also making sure I’m getting all the most important nutrients my body needs.
When I’m constructing my meals, I always make sure there’s a protein source and at least one type of produce (it’s pretty much always vegetables, and usually a couple of different kinds, for me) on my plate or in my bowl. From there, I can add in extras to create a more balanced meal (rice, sourdough bread, fats like olive oil or avocado, etc.), but I always know that I’ve got the most important (to me) bases covered.
I swear by batch cooking. Even if you live alone, why would you make one serving of a meal and call it good when it won’t take you much longer (if any longer at all) to cook enough for a couple of days? Why would I chop up one serving of sweet potatoes and cook those when I could roast a whole pan and have sweet potatoes for days?
If you don’t have time to cook every night and use that as an excuse to hit up the drive-thru, spend some time meal prepping and batch cooking on the weekend instead. It’ll save you time and money, and you get to eat something that’s more nutritious and almost always tastes better.
How Do You Make Healthy Eating Easy?
I love ingredient meals, and I hope this post has inspired you to change up the way you cook! If you’ve been feeling stuck or have had a hard time cooking healthy food for yourself and your family because you don’t have time to create a new recipe every night, give ingredient meals a go!
Let me know down below what other tips you have for making healthy eating easy and more efficient!