If you’re a beginner at meal-prepping, it can be really difficult to come up with new meal ideas for meals every week — or even any idea for a meal at all. It’s especially hard when you’re not only new to meal prepping but new to cooking. The intimidation of making your own meal plan is why I created the WWL program. Becoming more comfortable in the kitchen allows yourself to be creative and experimental, so you can whip up something you’ll love eating, or customize any recipe to your own unique taste buds.
To that end, I have three words for you: protein, veggies and carbs and if you’re vegan don’t worry – I’ve got you covered! Check out this list of vegan protein options!
That’s the format I’ve used since day one of my meal prep journey. It’s never let me down.
Intuitive Eating and Meal Prep
Intuitive eating isn’t just about responding to your body’s wants and needs in the moment, it’s also about anticipating your body’s needs, which is where meal prep comes in. The two approaches may not always seem super compatible at first glance, but they’re both essential to the WWL philosophy. You can read more about how meal prep and intuitive eating go hand-in-hand here. I don’t believe in counting calories or macros or weighing food ounce by ounce. Not only that, but this method is about as simple as it gets.
Protein, veggies, and carbs are the three major buckets that all food falls into. Generally, our bodies crave all of them and we need each throughout the day to feel satisfied. When you include all three in your meals, you’re less likely to end up hungry, or splurging on an extra afternoon meal from the lunch spot by your office because you know your prepped meal won’t satisfy you.
Here’s how I used to break down meals into these categories when I just started out with meal planning:
This method really helped me wrap my head around coming up with satisfying ideas without solely relying on recipes.
Get My Planner To Organize New Meal Ideas
This meal format is the secret behind all of my meal plans, even the ones I make for myself!
I started planning my meals like this from day one, and it’s seriously the best way to think about meal prep and planning.
If you want this grid, sign up to download it here! It’s completely customizable and looks almost like the one above!
I love it because it forces me to get creative and make sure each meal is balanced — but remember, your plate does not need to look like mine. Find what works for you! And making more of something because you like eating it is just as valid a reason as making it because you know it’ll keep you satisfied.
It’s also 110% okay to not have all three of these components on your plate; a meal can still be great and filling and delicious without protein. This is just a good template for coming up with satisfying meal preps on your own.
In the photo above, you can see nine totally different meals using this format. So easy!
Let’s get to the good stuff. Below you’ll find the full list of meal prep-friend proteins, veggies and carbs for all diets.
Here’s the Protein, Veggies & Carbs Download from Workweek Lunch of all these options so you can tape it to your fridge and have it in front of you when you need it!
Challenge: to get some new meal ideas right now, pick 3 proteins, 3 veggies and 3 carbs and see how many delicious-sounding ideas you can come up with!
Plant-based proteins ideal for meal prep:
- All beans (I like black and pinto)
- Chia seeds
- Non-dairy yogurt
- Nuts and nut butters, especially almonds, cashews, and peanuts
- Seitan (gluten-based)
- Tempeh (soy-based)
- Tofu (soy-based)
- Meat replacements like Beyond and Impossible “Meat”
- Veggie burgers & veggie sausage
Animal-based proteins ideal for meal prep:
- Beef (steak, ground)
- Chicken (breast, thighs, ground)
- Turkey (ground)
- Dairy (yogurt, cheese)
- Lamb (ground is ideal for prep)
- Pork (loins or ground)
- Salmon (fillets)
- Tuna (canned or fresh)
- Turkey (ground is best)
- Other types of fish are good too, tuna and salmon are just most common in meal prep.
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Bok choy
- Green beans
- Leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard greens, chard, etc.)
- Lemons & limes
- All the berries
- Passion Fruit
- Gluten-free and plant-based pastas
- Rice noodles
- Soba noodles
- Sweet potato
- Winter squash (acorn squash, butternut squash)
Look at all of these options! You could never get bored with all of the potential combinations. You may have noticed some overlap — there are plenty of veggies that are also proteins and carbs. Beans are a great example.
If you have dietary restrictions, make a list (or circle the ones on my list) of what you CAN eat instead of focusing on what you can’t. Then build meals around that and ignore the rest. If your restrictions leave you with little options, read this post about flavor profiles to turn even the most boring meals into something exciting and different with flavor.
I’m so happy to share this meal format with you because it’s what I’ve stuck to every single week to generate new meal ideas since I started meal prepping and it’s one of the easiest rules to follow.
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