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9 Meal Prep Secrets to Get You Through the Holidays

Meal prepping during a busy work week is one thing, but doing it with house full of guests is another — especially when some of those guests don’t care about eating healthy and others go over the top. Even though I wrote two best-selling cookbooks on meal prep, I can always learn from my dietitian colleagues, so I asked nine of them for their meal prepping secrets this holiday season. Here’s what they said:

1. Stock up on essentials.

“You can’t prep meals without ingredients, and the last place you want to be during the holidays is standing in a mile-long line at the supermarket,” says Jessica Levinson, a New York-based culinary nutrition expert and author of “52-Week Meal Planner.” That’s why she suggests stocking your pantry and freezer with staples including whole grains, canned beans, canned fish, low-sodium stock, dried herbs and spices, frozen fruits and veggies, frozen meat, poultry, fish and eggs. “These ingredients can be turned into healthy and delicious meals like egg frittatas, grain bowls, soups and pasta salads — no mad rush to the grocery store necessary!” Levinson says.

[See: 9 Cooking Tricks That Will Make Everyone Think You’re a Great Chef.]

2. Buy pre-washed and cut veggies.

Saving a little time on prepping veggies is an easy trick New York City-based registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo swears by. “When I’m really short on time and I want to eat healthy, I buy veggies that are already washed, peeled and cut,” she says. “Sometimes that means buying frozen root veggies that I can just pop on a sheet pan or throw into a soup, and sometimes that means buying bagged fresh veggies that I can easily throw into a stir-fry with some sort of protein.” Even though it’s more expensive than buying the produce whole, she finds the time it saves is worth the money.

3. Batch-cook soups and stews.

Elizabeth Shaw, a nutrition author and expert in San Diego, says that batch-cooking soups and stews gets her through the holidays. “It usually starts with using the bird from Thanksgiving to make a turkey broth that then becomes the base for my turkey chili, minestrone and wild rice soups,” she says. Shaw likes to double the serving and throw the extra soup in the freezer so she can easily defrost it and throw in a cup or two of frozen veggies or precooked whole grains to add some more volume. “So far,” she’s proud to report, “no complaints have been filed in my house.”

4. Keep the Instant Pot close.

Dana Angelo White, a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and author of the “Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook,” uses her Instant Pot for all kinds of holidays meals. “Whether it’s a batch of spiced cider, mashed potatoes for a holiday meal or a make-ahead brunch for overnight guests, the Instant Pot can help me get healthy and festive recipes prepared in less time.”

5. Freeze single-serve bags of fruit for smoothies.

Breakfast can fall by the wayside during the holidays; it’s just too easy to pick up a few dozen bagels to get everyone fed. But Amy Gorin, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area, doesn’t fall into that trap. “To make sure that I’m ready for a healthy breakfast during the busy holiday season, I’ll prep bags of fruit for smoothies. I’ll peel and slice half a ripe banana and add a half-cup of frozen cherries or berries to a zip-top freezer bag and stick them in the freezer.” In the morning, all she has to do is add the bag’s contents to the blender with a tablespoon of nut butter, 6 ounces of plain Greek yogurt and a half-cup of milk. “Ta-dah! I have a healthy breakfast in mere minutes,” Gorin says.

[See: 5 Healthy and Tasty Smoothie Ingredients.]

6. Before the holiday rush, prep, cook and freeze.

Instead of cooking meals right before or even when guests arrive, Liz Weiss, host of the podcast and blog “Liz’s Healthy Table,” does it all way in advance. “When friends and/or family stop by, all I have to do is reheat … and dinner is served,” Weiss says. “Knowing I have nourishing meals stashed away in the freezer gives me peace of mind when my two grown boys come home for the holidays.” Weiss even brings her “stash” if she’s traveling to a family member’s house. Some of her favorite meals to prep and freeze include meatballs made with lean beef, hearty bean soups and casseroles.

7. Buy pre-cut fresh fruit.

“I find it’s worth the extra expense to buy some pre-prepped foods,” says Malina Linkas Malkani, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Having an assortment of pre-trimmed, pre-cut fruit on hand means it will take Malkani minutes to throw together a healthy, nutrient-dense holiday fruit platter. “During a season when there are so many unhealthy treats regularly offered, I find that guests are usually thrilled to see an arrangement of produce that is both appealing and rich in antioxidants, fiber and flavor,” Malkani says.

8. Shop once, eat thrice.

“I like to buy foods that can last all week that I only have to really cook once … they just appear in different forms,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of “Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.” For example, Taub-Dix likes to buy a giant filet of salmon that she first serves grilled, next serves over a salad and finally serves in burgers with veggies, bread crumbs and egg.

[See: 7 Healthy Ways to Gobble Up Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey.]

9. Rely on healthy convenience foods.

If you think dietitians only eat fresh foods, thing again. Using store-bought “convenience” foods during the busy holiday season can be an easy springboard for healthy meals. Take it from Katie Morford, cookbook author and blogger at “Mom’s Kitchen Handbook,” who pairs a salad kit with a rotisserie chicken, a container of pesto with pre-cut broccoli and pasta, or an Indian-style simmer sauce with chicken tenders. “All are examples of meals that can be knocked out quickly and still feel homemade,” Morford says. Plus, they are all healthy!

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9 Meal Prep Secrets to Get You Through the Holidays originally appeared on usnews.com