Meal prep involves setting time aside to prepare meals and snacks for the week ahead. I’ve previously discussed how dancers can integrate meal planning into their healthy lifestyles, but how does this differ from meal prep?
Spoiler: meal prep doesn’t need to look like the perfectly poised version we see on Pinterest. In fact, this version of meal prep can leave dancers feeling overwhelmed and derailed from their efforts to partake in the otherwise helpful tool. This article will offer practical strategies for dancers to start meal prepping in a sustainable way.
Meal prep for busy dancers
As a mom, cooking is an essential part of my family’s week. It’s an economical option that enables me to prep nourishing meals and snacks without having to stress about last-minute work calls and projects. But while balancing my family with a full-time workload at To The Pointe Nutrition, it would be impossible for me to cook every day! Most dancers are busy with schedules of classes and rehearsals, side jobs, and academic coursework. Meal prep offers an opportunity to navigate times when reheating leftovers and packing pre-made snacks is the only practical and viable option. But meal prep will look different for every dancer. Here’s a glimpse at some ideas:
- Batch-cooking grains like rice for easy serving during the week.
- Batch-baking muffins and freezing for hectic mornings.
- Preparing batches of individual ingredients to eventually combine throughout the week.
- Tripling recipes to plan for leftovers.
- Prepping snack-sized options like trail mix, oat bites, and snack packs to throw into your dance bag (more snack ideas here).
- Pre-cutting and pre-washing veggies for less cook time on busy days.
- Pre-cutting and pre-washing fruit for parfaits and smoothies.
The benefits of a dancer’s meal prep
Aside from the time saver, meal prep helps to reduce food waste and cost (in fact, it’s one of my effective strategies for dancers looking to nourish on a budget). Meal prep also helps to remove the guesswork from daily mealtime decisions. This can be especially helpful for dancers healing their relationships with food. Challenging food fears is a key step in the process and sometimes, this work is easier when the experience is (flexibly) planned. Not planned from a calorie perspective, though! Planned in regard to the time at which you can sit for a mindful eating experience. Here are a few additional benefits of meal prep:
- You’ll spend less time cleaning up the kitchen.
- You’ll have more time to recognize mindful eating techniques.
- You’ll be better equipped to honor hunger before it gets extreme.
- You’ll have an easier time building balanced meals with prepped ingredients that are easily accessible.
- You’re more likely to consider gentle nutrition and how building those balanced and satisfying meals can benefit performance.
8 Strategies for The Healthy Dancer’s Meal Prep
#1: Check Your Schedule
Separate your time between days (or nights) that are free and those that are busiest. You’ll prep for the busiest nights.
#2: Assess Your Pantry & Fridge
What do you already have that you can use to create your meals? Keep a running list of pantry staples that may be to be restocked. Here’s a quick list of options to consider:
- Frozen veggies and fruit (I love frozen berries as an economical and versatile option)
- Fresh veggies that last longer: these are often stiffer like root veggies (carrots, radishes, potatoes), along with celery, bell peppers, kale, and spinach (soft lettuces will wilt easily)
- Whole grains like rice, oats, quinoa, and barley
- Pulses like beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas (canned options are great!)
- Nuts and seeds (all types)
- Canned fish (tuna, salmon)
- Oils (olive, canola, avocado)
#3: What are You In The Mood For?
Nourishing bowls? Animal (or plant) proteins versus fish? Maybe you’re interested in a Taco Tuesday night? Add it to the list!
#4: Search for Recipes
Here’s the fun part. Once you have a sense of what you’ll serve for the upcoming week, find recipes that sound good! Use Google, Pinterest, or swipe along your Instagram explore page for inspiration. Since most recipes include multiple services, only pick 2 or 3 for the week (you’ll likely make enough for leftovers).
#5: Pick Your Prep Day
This is the most important step because it takes commitment. Pick 1 or 2 days out of your week. You may want to specify whether you’ll prep in the morning, afternoon, or evening. The more specific your intention, the more likely you’ll stick to it. I use Sunday afternoon since it’s my most reliable time to sit down, plan ahead, and assess my upcoming week’s schedule. From there I’ll come up with a plan for meals and snacks that I know won’t overwhelm me.
#6: Create a Shopping List and Head to the store
Remember your pantry staples and add additional ingredients for the recipes you chose earlier. A few staples that I recommend for dancers include:
- A protein (animal or plant-based can work)
- A variety of colorful veggies like eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, and cauliflower.
- Packable fruit like bananas, apples, and oranges (easiest for on-the-go snacks!)
- Whole grains like wild rice, quinoa, and barley (all can be prepped easily and thrown into salads and soups)
- Nuts, seeds, and nut butter for quick snack additions.
#7: Get Prepping!
When cooking, separate your proteins, grains, legumes, and veggies. Reusable glassware helps to keep prepped food organized and ready. Most often, I prep the grains and legumes first as these stay fresh the longest, but you’ll want to review these food safety guidelines before storing cooked food.
Also, don’t fear pre-prepped options! When in season, fresh produce can be great and more affordable (but those seasons don’t last long!) Utilizing frozen, canned, and dried products can be a helpful way to stay on budget and shorten the time needed for meal prep. A bonus? They’re just as nutritious as their fresh alternatives.
#8: Don’t Forget Snacks
This is key. Snacks are an important component of any balanced lifestyle and help to lessen the anxiety around mealtimes throughout the week. Use snacks as an opportunity to get in nutrient-dense options like LARA bars or nut mixes with fruit. Here’s a guide to a few snack-time favorites that can be ordered in bulk.
There you have it! If meal prep stresses you out, then I challenge you to follow my strategy. And here are a few ideas sources from dancers in The Healthy Dancer community!
- Egg muffins
- Batch cooking plain pasta, rice, and quinoa (to add to meals throughout the week)
- 2-3 days’ worth of overnight oats
- Roasted veggies, batch-cooked and stored in the fridge for re-heating
- Salads with a separate jar of dressing so it won’t go soggy.
- Poke bowls