5 Tips for Healthy / Plant-Based Meal Prep

Meal prep – the elusive key to living a healthy, happy life. For some, meal prepping can be the most daunting task in the world. For others, it’s a no-brainer. As for me, I think I’m somewhere in the middle. 

Prior to the pandemic, when I was actually going into the office every day, I was pretty good about prepping meals for the week on Sunday so I didn’t have to cook much during the week. My schedule during the week was always jam-packed so I didn’t have much time to spend in the kitchen. 

A lot of nights, especially this time of year, I would work late and wind up ordering take-out to the office. So if I didn’t at least prep lunches for the week I would eat out at least 2 meals per day. Sure, I love take-out, but after a while it takes a toll on the body. 

During these busy times meal prep became essential for me to make sure I was well-fueled and feeling my best. When you’re working long hours, the last thing you want is to feel sluggish because of what you’ve been eating. And trying to balance out a lousy diet with more caffeine is never the answer, trust me, I’ve tried.

Fast forward to today – I’ve been working from home for almost a year now and meal prepping has become less essential for my daily routine but nevertheless helpful. I’m currently on the East Coast while most of my team is out west, so it’s not unusual for me to have a call during my lunch or dinner hours. It’s nice to have something prepped when a call runs long or if I need to eat while finishing up some work. Having meals ready to go gives me more flexibility in my day and reduces a lot of unneeded stress and anxiety. It’s amazing what a little meal prep can do!

Whether you want to start eating healthier, incorporate more plant-based meals into your diet, make time in your day for a new workout regiment, or just get into a better routine, meal prep can make a huge difference!

Here are a few of my tips to get started prepping healthy, plant-based meals.

5 Tips for Healthy / Plant-Based Meal prep

  1. Keep it Simple

For vegan/plant-based meal prep in particular, simplicity is KEY. I think that a lot of people get overwhelmed when they think about going vegan, but it can be really simple if you want it to be. And meal prep in particular should be simple, especially if you’re a lazy cook like me. 

My favorite things to meal prep only require 5-10 minutes of active work. My favorite thing only takes 15 minutes total. Yes, just *15 minutes*. The beauty of plants is that they cook pretty quickly.

Most of my go-to recipes include a carb, a protein, and LOTS of veggies. A few examples:

  • Brown Rice, Tempeh, and Broccoli/Cauliflower 
  • Whole Wheat Pasta, Chickpeas, Kale/Mushrooms
  • Sweet Potato, Black Beans, Corn/Peppers/Tomatoes/Salsa

*be on the lookout for recipes in future posts*

  1. Don’t try to do too much at once

I think the most common reason people fail or give up on meal prepping is they try to do too much at once. If you try to make every single meal for the week on Sunday night, yeah, odds are you’re going to ver overwhelmed and not want to do it. Additionally, if you’re not used to eating the same thing multiple days in a row, you’re going to get bored of whatever it is that you prepped and wind up getting takeout because you’re in desperate need for variety (trust me, I’ve been there). 

Point is, don’t try to do it all at once. If you’re new to meal prepping try just once meal at a time. Just make breakfasts for the week, or lunches. This way you ease yourself into the new routine and you can still incorporate variety in your other meals. 

  1. Do it the night before

Currently, my favorite meal prep “method” is leftovers. Since I’m working from home, I usually have a little more time to make dinner at night. So instead of prepping all of my meals at the beginning of the week, I make multiple servings out of whatever it is I’m making for dinner that night so I have lunches for the next few days. It’s a good balance because it means I’m being efficient in the kitchen by making multiple meals at once, but I’m also only prepping two or three days in advance so I still have some variety in my diet. 

  1. Tupperware is your friend

If you’re going to get serious about meal prepping I highly recommend investing in some nice food storage containers. Good containers will keep your food fresher, which is important if you’re prepping a lot at the beginning of the week. I find that Glass tends to be better than plastic since it’s non absorbent. Having the right size containers can also be a game-changer. I have specific containers I like to use for my overnight oats that are small and space-efficient, but also big enough to eat out of when I top my oats with berries and almond slivers. For lunches I use a bigger container that still fits nicely in a lunch bag when I’m bringing meals with me to work. I generally find it easiest for me to keep things in single-serving containers, but if you like prepping big crock-pot meals you might want to invest in some larger containers including ones that are freezer safe so you can extend the life of your meals. 

Here are a few good ones:

  1. Don’t be married to the prep

All this being said, variety is still the spice of life. Don’t get too wrapped up in trying to prep perfectly or eat a health home-cooked meal every day of the week. Throughout the pandemic especially, take out has been a necessary indulgence. Whether I want to change things up, or I’m too lazy to cook that night, I’ll turn to takeout one or two days a week…at least. Bonus points if I have leftovers that I can have for multiple meals….it’s just like I meal-prepped then, right?!

Any questions? Or other meal-prep tips? Let me know in the comments! Or connect with me on instagram @carolinemarzo. 

My Journey to a Plant-based Diet

My journey to a plant-based diet, like most journey’s, is not linear. And, like the journey of life, it’s ever growing and evolving. My purpose today is to share a little bit about what a plant-based diet means for me, how I got here, and where I foresee this journey taking me.

The driving force in this story are food intolerances, which I have struggled with for more or less my entire life. My mom told me recently that even as a baby I spit up my food far more often than any of my siblings. While I can’t remember what I was thinking or how I was feeling as a baby when I spit up my food, nor was I diagnosed with any specific intolerances or allergies as a child, let’s call this the starting point for my nutrition evolution. 

Growing up I ate like most kids – I ate everything… except the vegetables. Although, compared to most kids, I was probably pretty good at eating my vegetables. I wasn’t a terribly picky kid. I liked the burgers my dad would make on the grill, my mom’s famous lasagna recipe, and the mocha chip ice cream I’d get every summer from Four Seas Ice Cream on Cape Cod. 

While Four Seas Mocha Chip will forever hold a special place in my heart, Oatly coffee “ice cream” topped with chocolate chips is a pretty delicious dairy-free alternative.

As far as I can remember I didn’t have any terrible reactions to food; nothing that would indicate an allergy or severe intolerance. This was more or less the case up until middle school/high school when I showed signs of lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance generally develops and worsens as you age, and for me the age it hit was thirteen. However, as most good lactose intolerant people do, I kept eating dairy and accepted the consequences of my intolerance. Ice cream is good…it seemed worth it! That was the case up until I started running. 

I hadn’t been much of a runner until I decided to join the cross country team halfway through high school. Running changed my perspective on a lot of things…particularly my food intolerances. While I was struggling through many of my cross country workouts, I found them to be even more challenging and miserable when I ate a lot of dairy or processed foods during the day. I quickly learned that ice cream the night before a race was a bad idea, but I could tolerate some chocolate milk after. It wasn’t long before I began cutting back on dairy, using calcium supplements, and taking a lactaid pill when I decided I needed to indulge in some ice cream. These changes helped, but the system wasn’t perfect. 

As I started taking the whole running thing more seriously I, somewhat subconsciously, began cleaning up my diet more. I cut out a lot of processed foods and if I didn’t feel well after eating something I decided I couldn’t eat that ever again. Dramatic, I know, but I was a teenager who didn’t know any better. Naturally, this limited the things that I would eat. I cut back on a lot of meat as more than a small portion would upset my stomach. I ordered simple salads when I ate out as this was less likely to make me feel ill than a burger or a sandwich. 

However, while I cut out a lot of unhealthy foods, I failed to add in alternatives to fill the gaps. I was running more than I ever head, but severely under-nourishing my body. The change in eating habits, increased physical activity, along with being a growing teenager lead to an unhealthy weight-loss. My bones were weakening, putting myself at risk for a stress fracture, and further, I was putting my heart at risk. In order to get healthy I had to undo some of my changes to my diet, which was easier said than done. I was afraid of eating a lot of things again as I had cut them out for a reason – they didn’t make me feel good. 

Ultimately, all I wanted was for my body to feel good, but not eating enough also wasn’t helping. I began eating more meat and dairy and generally was less restrictive in my diet. At the same time I also began eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less processed snacks and sodas. While at the time I thought I was backpeddling, this was actually building the foundation for my plant based diet. 

The legendary Campus Corner”Fat Cat.” A hoagie with chicken tenders, French fries, mozzarella sticks, and topped with ranch was one of the popular indulgences by students at Villanova University.

While there were often times that I felt unwell eating certain things, I decided I was better off eating than putting my bones and heart at risk again. Plus, I had then gone off to college where all anyone eats is cheese fries and pizza, so I just learned to deal with the consequences. 

After college when my diet naturally became less reliant on cheese, I eventually cut out diary. I also became more focused on running again. I ran my first marathon as a junior in college and my second a year after graduating. I loved the rhythm of training for a long distance race.

I’d read a book freshman year of college called Finding Ultra where a man named Rich Roll recounts his journey from overweight and unhealthy to a vegan unltramarathon champion. As I was running more, the idea of an ultramarathon appealed to me, so I picked up a similar book called Eat & Run by Scott Jurek. I was instantly inspired. Jurek discusses how as an avid runner, he found that a plant based diet helped him better fuel his body. In the book he includes recipes and recounts the types of this he eats to fuel his runs. I tried a few of his recipes and did some more research on what it really meant to be vegan.

Eat & Run lead me to read several more books on becoming vegan, most notably, The China Study by T. Collin Campbell. The book discusses the health benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet. Maybe more notably, and much more controversially, the book also examines the link between animal products, especially the meats and dairy typical of an American diet, and many chronic illnesses common in the United States. 

The studies and analyses were enough to sway me to never eat meat again. 

I cut out meat immediately, and fish and eggs shortly after. It was surprisingly easy and natural to do. Having educated myself on the health benefits, as well as some of the environmental pros, it seemed like a natural next step. Moreover, it felt very true to me, like plant-based, health and enviromentally-concious living was exactly what I’d been looking for and it had been looking for me. Moreover, the change in diet was exactly what my digestive system had been looking for. 

Yes, I cut had things out, but I had also educated myself on “replacements” and ways to fill the gaps and ensure I was properly nourishing my body. I no longer felt afraid of meals – afraid that if I ate too much my stomach might put me out for the count for the rest of the day. I could eat as many whole grains, fruits, and vegetables as I wanted and feel great. It wasn’t an overnight change, but I did, and still do, feel a difference. I feel alert and well-fed. I am more in-tune with my body and hunger cues than ever before, and I feed my body the things it really wants and needs. 

Friendsgiving spread featuring a traditional charcuterie board along with some more vegan-friendly options.

Naturally, this translates well to running where I need my body to be well fueled for the marathons I want to run. I know my body needs lots of whole grains and plant-based protein, both before and after long workouts. I know that I feel much better when I fuel myself properly, and the plant-based diet has made nourishing my body easier and more natural. 

It’s been almost two years now since I last ate meat or fish. I will admit that I occasionally indulge in a non-vegan treat or two. I have friends and family who are very good bakers and if they send me a box of cookies I have a hard time saying no, even if there is an egg or two in there.

I try to note that I follow a “plant-based” diet and not “vegan” diet. Ocassionally, when people press me on what I do and don’t eat, I’ll just say “vegan” to keep it simple, or “mostly vegan.” Nonetheless, I don’t want to offend anyone who is vegan. I respect and admire those who follow a strictly vegan lifestyle, I’m just at a different point in my journey. 

I think that in the future I may go vegan, both in diet, and lifestyle. However, I need to educate myself more. I will admit that there is a whole other realm of the “lifestyle” aspect of being vegan that I don’t know everything about. I know it means not doing harm to animals or any living being, including and most noteworthy, not purchasing or wearing leather. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of not doing any harm and I want to learn more about vegan fashion and beauty products, and generally about what it means to live a vegan lifestyle.

At this point I’m well aware of the diet aspect. Over time I’ve naturally cut back on the non-vegan sweets and goodies, both because I don’t crave them so much anymore and because I am consciously trying to wean myself off of them. But it is hard to say no to friends and family, especially when they don’t always understand what I eat and why. So, while I am transitioning, I am also transitioning them and hoping they may come understand why I’ve undertaken this journey. 

“We can live as we were meant to live—simply, joyously, of and on the earth. We can live with all our effort and with pure happiness.”

Scott Jurek, Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness

I hope that by sharing the impact a plant-based diet has had on my life, that I may set an example for others who struggle with food intonerances and/or under-fueling their body. While at one point in my life, I felt as though my body was fighting against me, I now feel much more at peace now with both my body and the world around me, and peace is a beautiful thing. 

I am by no means a doctor or a nutritionist, so consult with your doctor before making changes to your life.

Books and other resources:

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek

Finding Ultra by Rich Roll

The China Study by Thomas M. Campbell II

Main Street Vegan (website, book, podcast & more)