How to become a meal prep expert

With the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it can seem almost impossible to get a healthy meal on the table. As a nutrition expert and busy mom of three, I know the feeling quite well. However, I was determined to make it work and recently published the cookbook, “The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook: Easy and Wholesome Meals to Cook, Prep, Grab, and Go,” which delivers all my tips and tricks on planning, shopping and cooking over 100 healthy recipes. Here are five tips on becoming an expert “meal prepper,” plus my recipe for apricot chicken drumsticks:

1. Simple meals first, variety second.

Start with simple, healthy meals you can easily cook and enjoy. Aim for recipes with seven to 10 ingredients. Prepare staple sauces and dressings that you can have on hand throughout the week. Good staples to start with are hamburgers, quinoa and basic chicken dishes. Once you get the hang of it, you can start making more dishes and also changing them up. For example, you can add chopped mango or strawberries to your quinoa.

[See: Quinoa 101: What It Is and How to Cook It.]

2. Batch cook one day a week.

Batch cooking means cooking double or triple the quantity of the recipe so you can enjoy half during the week and freeze the other half for later. Although you may spend a nice chunk of time in the kitchen on a Sunday, you will free up about 45 minutes each weeknight to spend with your loved ones. Batch cooking doesn’t only have to be for dinner. You can batch cook breakfast, snacks and lunch too.

3. Creatively reuse dishes.

Eating the same dish with the same sides every day of the week can get boring. That’s why it’s important to plan to eat them in different ways. For example, my apricot chicken drumsticks recipe below can be shredded and eaten over a salad or stuffed in a whole-wheat pita with quinoa. In my cookbook, I have a slow-cooker barbecue chicken recipe that I reuse to make barbecue chicken pizza.

[See: 11 Healthy Veggie Recipes That Prove Slow Cookers Are for More Than Meat.]

4. Up your vegetable and salad intake.

According to the 2015 dietary guidelines, 90 percent of Americans don’t eat the recommended daily servings of vegetables. Meal prepping is the perfect opportunity to get veggies into your diet. Plan a snack with baby carrots and bell pepper sticks dipped in hummus, and make several veggie sides you can eat throughout the week. Many of my cookbook recipes add vegetables to the dish for both flavor and nutrition.

5. Cook easy recipes with ingredients you always have.

Believe me: I don’t want to sit in the kitchen any longer than you do. That’s why I choose recipes with cooking methods that are simple and ingredients that are easy to find. I don’t have time to hit three different grocery stores to get everything I need.

[See: 10 Healthy Meals You Can Make in 10 Minutes.]

Apricot Chicken Drumsticks

Start to finish: 55 minutes

Servings: 4

Cooking spray

8 skinless chicken drumsticks

2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1/4 cup apricot jam

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a shallow 9-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Brush chicken with oil and sprinkle it with salt and black pepper. Put the chicken in the baking dish and bake until a thermometer inserted in the center of a drumstick reads 165 degrees F, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Just before the chicken is ready, in a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast the sesame seeds until slightly browned, stirring them frequently so they don’t burn, about 5 minutes.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the apricot jam and soy sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, until it boils, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the stove.

Let the chicken cool for 5 minutes, then drizzle the apricot sauce over it and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds.

To refrigerate, store the cooled chicken with the sauce and seeds in a resealable container for up to one week. To reheat, microwave for 1 1/2 minutes. It can also be reheated in a saucepan over medium heat.

To freeze, store the cooled chicken with the sauce and seeds in a freezer-safe container for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight and reheat in the microwave for 1 minute. It can also be reheated in a saucepan over medium heat.

Nutrition information per serving: 541 calories; 32 g fat (7 g saturated) 46 g protein; 14 g total carbs; 1 g fiber; 766 mg sodium.

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