Flex Meal Prep: 15 Healthy Ingredients to Always Keep in Your Kitchen

Article posted in: Nutrisystem Success
Woman chooses produce at grocery store

Flex meals provide just that: tons of flex-ibility in your weight loss plan. From fancy frittatas for breakfast, inspired salads for lunch and hearty sandwiches for dinner, The Leaf has thousands of recipes to choose from for your Flex meal prep.

Feeling creative? You can easily channel your inner healthy chef and go it alone, preparing your favorite foods following the guidelines we provide. (Click here for all the deets on Flex Meals! >) Recreate a family favorite recipe or put together a new and tasty dish! After all, Nutrisystem is all about helping you eat the foods you love while you lose weight and get healthy.

To keep your Flex meal prep as simple as possible, you’ll want to stock up on some healthy staples that you can use for a variety of different meals, snacks and recipes. We dove into the Nutrisystem Grocery Guide and picked out some must-have items from each category: SmartCarbs, PowerFuels, Vegetables, Extras and Free Foods. With these ingredients, you can put together endless Flex meal combinations that are nutritious and delicious.

Ready for some Flex meal prep? Check out our list of the top 15 simple staples to always keep stocked in your pantry or fridge. Plus, we’ve also provided some healthy meal prep ideas for each ingredient!

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PowerFuels

Chicken

Grilled chicken fillet

It’s the quintessential lean protein for good reason: it’s low in calories and fat yet rich in muscle-building protein. Plus, it’s so versatile that you can use it for any cuisine! Take your taste buds on a trip to Italy with chicken parmesan or head to Mexico with a chicken tortilla soup. Better yet, keep things simple on the grill with classic grilled chicken paired with your favorite SmartCarb and veggies.

Meal Prep Pro Tip: Cook up plain grilled or baked chicken for the week ahead. This way the hard part is already done and all you have to do is add your favorite spices, sauces and sides.

Nuts

Various Nuts in bowls

Almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts … the list goes on! Pick your nut of choice and enjoy a healthy dose of “good” fats. Whether you bake them into a sweet treat, sprinkle some on a smoothie bowl or toss them into a salad, there are so many ways to enjoy nuts in your Flex meals and snacks. And we haven’t even talked about nut butters yet! Drizzle some peanut butter into a protein shake or spread almond butter on fruit or crackers. Just be careful not to go, well, nuts on nuts: these little crunchers are calorie-dense. Stick to a two-tablespoon portion size for nuts and a one-tablespoon portion size for nut butters.

Meal Prep Pro Tip: Portion out your nuts in induvial bags or jars when you buy them. This will eliminate measuring from your weekly routine so you can grab a quick healthy snack and go about your busy day.

Yogurt

Greek yogurt in a glass jars

Dairy products like yogurt are known for calcium—a mineral your body needs for healthy teeth and bones. But did you know this creamy food can be rich in probiotics? According to Medical News Today, “Some research has suggested that probiotics can boost the immune system, help with weight management, and reduce the risk of cancer.”1 Just keep it healthy by choosing plain low-fat yogurt. And if you’re curious about other yogurt varieties like Greek, Icelandic and Aussie versions, click here to learn more! >

Meal Prep Pro Tip: You can purchase perfectly portioned yogurt in portable containers. They are perfect for packing for lunch or a mid-day snack! Just make sure you choose a yogurt that’s between 80 to 120 calories with at least five grams of protein.

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SmartCarbs

Beans

Portion of canned Chickpeas

Beans come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They are also super versatile and can make an appearance in many cuisines and recipes. Whip up a hearty chili with some kidney beans or cook up some tacos on a Tuesday with black beans. They are the perfect package of protein, fiber and flavor for your weight loss plan. Plus, they’re packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Here are some ways to eat more beans! >

Meal Prep Pro Tip: You can stock up on salt-free or low-sodium canned beans that are ready to enjoy in seconds. They are shelf-stable and last a long time in your pantry. If you have some dried beans, whip up a large batch at the beginning of the week so they are easy to pair with a protein and veggie.

Brown Rice

Cooked Brown Rice side view

Brown rice is a classic SmartCarb staple that you should always keep on hand. It’s rich in fiber and pairs well with so many different flavors. Plus, it’s cheap, shelf-stable and easy to find in almost any grocery store! Don’t forget to explore the recipes on The Leaf for plenty of tasty brown rice ideas!

Meal Prep Pro Tip: Stock up on packages of quick-cooking brown rice (ready in less than 15 minutes) or whip up a big batch of regular brown rice for the week. You can freeze any extras for future meals.

Berries

A bowlful of delicious organic berries. Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries.

These bright and beautiful fruits are loaded with antioxidants. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are low in calories, loaded with vitamin C and bursting with refreshing flavor. They’re delicious all on their own. However, if you are looking for a little cooking inspiration, check out these fresh and tasty ways to enjoy strawberries or these creative ideas for cooking with blueberries.

Meal Prep Pro Tip: If you want your fruit in a flash, opt for frozen berries. They are already washed, chopped and often much cheaper than fresh berries. Plus, they stay good for a long time and are easy to throw in smoothies or on yogurt.

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Vegetables

Spinach

Fresh spring baby leaves of spinach on wood table.

Of all the leafy greens, spinach might be one of the most versatile: you can whip it into smoothies, enjoy the crunch of spinach salads, sauté it as a side or even mix into your pancake batter. (We’re not kidding, get our Spinach Banana Pancake recipe here! >). It’s also one of the healthiest veggies you can eat, serving up tons of nutrition with very little calories.

Meal Prep Pro Tip: Like frozen berries, frozen spinach is cheap and easy to cook up for a quick and easy side dish. It’s great if you’re making a large casserole or pasta dinner for the week. You can also portion out one-cup servings of fresh spinach into individual salad containers for healthy work lunches all week. Top with the plain grilled chicken, some chopped veggies and your favorite salad dressing and you’ve got a meal prep miracle.

Bell Peppers

Colored peppers mixed in a bowl

They come in red, orange, yellow and green, adding vibrant color and rich flavor to your meals. Plus, they deliver a satisfying and low-calorie crunch with every bite. Enjoy them raw as a healthy and crunchy snack or tossed in a garden salad. Sautéed peppers are also delicious in pasta, soup or a stir fry. You can even stuff them with chicken, beans and spices, three other must-have staples for your Flex meal prep!

Meal Prep Pro Tip: Purchase pre-cut bell pepper strips for all of your meal prep needs. You can also buy a few whole peppers and slice them up for the week ahead. If you love cooked bell peppers, frozen is the way to go because all of the cutting is done for you! Just steam, sauté and eat.

Onions

Cutting red and golden onions

Everything tastes better with sautéed onions! You can add major taste to any meal with this popular non-starchy vegetable. Onions are super versatile and pair perfectly with any of the ingredients on this list. You’ll find onions featured in so many recipes on The Leaf because they shine in so many different cuisines.

Meal Prep Pro Tip: Grab a bag of fresh onions from the grocery store and throw them in a bowl on your counter. This way you can easily add a quick flavor boost while cooking! Just like bell peppers, you can cut them up for the week ahead or buy frozen to cut down on meal prep time.

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Extras

Oil

Top view of olives and olive oil bottles on table in a rustic kitchen

You need it to sauté, bake, roast and fry. You use it in salad dressings, pesto sauce and baked goods. Oil not only brings out the flavor in foods and makes meals more satisfying, but it also provides healthy fats that your body needs to absorb other nutrients from foods. With so many oil options to choose from, you may be wondering which one to select. Here’s a guide on cooking with canola, olive, peanut, coconut and other oils! >

Meal Prep Pro Tip: When cooking up your Flex meals, be careful with the amount of oil that you use. Keep your portion sizes in check and stick to a one teaspoon serving. As a low calorie alternative, you can also swap in cooking spray in certain recipes. You can find olive oil or coconut oil sprays at many grocery stores. They can help control the amount of oil used and save unnecessary calories.

Honey

Honey in jar and bunch of dry lavender

Honey salmon, honey BBQ chicken, honey dressing for salad and fruit, honey mustard and glaze: the options are endless. In moderation, honey is a great way to add a little sweetness to your meals, snacks and beverages. Just stick to a one teaspoon-serving. And if you’ve never tried hot honey, click here! > This  sweet and spicy chili sauce is fantastic to drizzle over fish, roasted veggies or even fresh fruit.

Seeds

Mix different seeds for a healthy salad

Like a little crunch in your lunch? Need to satisfy your trail mix fix? Seeds are an underappreciated Extra that we think you should stock up on! Sprinkle sunflower seeds over your salad or roast pumpkin seeds in some warm spices. Ground flax seeds are a great alternative to flour-based breading when making chicken. Hemp seeds or hemp hearts are delicious over yogurt or any other meal your cooking up. Don’t miss out on the nutrition these mighty little seeds have to offer!

Meal Prep Pro Tip: Just like nuts, portion out your seeds in induvial bags or jars for the week ahead. The calories can add up quick!

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Free Foods

Spices

Spice rack on modern kitchen countertop

Every kitchen needs a set of spices. If you’re trying to lose weight, you want to make sure yours is well stocked for flavorful Flex meals: Grab some oregano for a little bitterness, red pepper flakes for heat, cinnamon for some sweetness and garlic for … well, everything! Spices, low-sodium seasoning blends and fresh herbs are an excellent way to bring rich and varying flavors to your meals without adding tons of calories, fat, sugar and salt.

Meal Prep Pro Tip: If you love the flavor of fresh herbs but have trouble using them before they go bad, tap into your meal prep buddy: the freezer! Blend up your fresh herbs in the food processor and pour them into an ice cube tray. Throw them in the freezer and grab a cube whenever you need to add some flavor while cooking. Perfect for soup or stir fry!

Salsa

bowl of salsa

This simple sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions and seasonings goes way beyond a great dip for chips. Salsa can add a little zest to standard eggs, wraps, grilled fish and more. It even makes a great salad dressing! You get a little fiber, plus it’s low in fat and calories. Just check the label and choose brands without added sugar or starchy ingredients, such as corn or beans. Non-starchy veggies only!

Meal Prep Pro Tip: Don’t have time to add extra flavor to your chicken or to make a homemade salad dressing? Use salsa! Just pour a little over your meal for the day and you’ve got a flavor bomb waiting for you at lunch time.

Low-Sodium Broth

bowl of broth and fresh vegetables on wooden table

To finish off this list of meal prep must-haves, we’ve got a savory Free Food that you’ll want to stock up on. Low-sodium broth, such as chicken broth, beef broth and vegetable broth, is great for more than just soup. Of course you can make an unlimited veggie stew or a hearty chicken noodle soup. However, it’s also a great way to add major flavor when cooking meat, poultry, rice, beans or quinoa. It adds tons of taste without loading up your meal with calories.

Meal Prep Pro Tip: Swap in low-sodium broth for the water when cooking your brown rice or quinoa. Whip up a large soup filled with non-starchy vegetables that you can tap into all week whenever hunger strikes.

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Sources:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295714