Looking for ways to maintain a healthier diet? Preparing lunches and dinners at the beginning of each week can help with that effort.
Prepping meals can also help maintain portion control; complex carbohydrate, healthy fat and lean protein intake; nutritional value; and more. Although one might ask: Is it really safe to eat that chicken, rice and veggie bowl you cooked five days ago? Unfortunately, maybe not!
According to Alex Zawilski, registered dietitian at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, how long your meal prep lasts really depends on what protein you are using. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), cooked meats — including chicken, turkey, fish, beef and pork — can only be stored for up to three to four days. Plant proteins, such as beans, lentils and edamame, have a slightly longer shelf life and can be stored up to five days, whereas hard-boiled eggs, tofu and quinoa can be stored for up to one week.
The USDA suggests keeping refrigerator thermometers at 40° F or lower to keep food from spoiling or becoming dangerous. Be sure to use air-tight containers to ensure your food is stored safely and remains fresh.
Food safety is also important to think about during the cooking process. Avoid letting food sit out at room temperature for long periods to let it cool down. Divide large batches of food into smaller containers and then place promptly in the refrigerator. Food sitting at room temperature for more than two hours increases risk of foodborne illness. Finally, if you plan on reheating your prepped meals, ensure leftovers reach a safe internal temperature of 165° F.
For more information, check out the USDA’s FoodKeeper App to see how long foods can be safely stored.
For those meal-prepping enthusiasts reading this while preparing lunches and dinners on a Sunday afternoon, Alex suggests trying a recipe that uses plant protein to help make sure your meals stay tasty and fresh all week long. Consider one of Alex’s favorite recipes, created by fellow meal prep fanatic, Pinch of Yum.
Quinoa Crunch Salad With Peanut Dressing
Yields 5 servings
1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups shelled edamame
1 cucumber, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 mango, peeled and chopped
3 cups purple cabbage, chopped
2 large carrots, shredded
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or coconut aminos
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 tablespoon honey
1 clove garlic
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
Prepare quinoa and edamame according to package directions. Chop cucumber, bell pepper, mango and cabbage into bite-sized pieces; shred carrots. Divide quinoa, edamame, veggies and peanuts between 5 containers.
In a blender or food processor, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, water, chili paste, honey, garlic and ginger. Blend until smooth. Top each salad with 2 tablespoons of dressing prior to enjoying. Store dressing separately from other ingredients.