You get home from work, open the fridge, wonder, What the heck am I going to eat? and then cave to a protein bar or (gasp!) takeout. Sound familiar? Yet what if we told you that prepping five foods (only five!) can set you up for a week of healthy eating? Whip ’em up on Sunday in less time than it takes to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode, and voilà — a week of totally delish breakfast, lunch and dinner options at your fingertips. “This is vital to keeping your health goals on track and keeping your sanity with a busy schedule,” says McKel Hill, MS, RD, creator of Nutrition Stripped . The payoff: You’ll save a ton of money and time in the kitchen and always have healthy food on hand to power through your workouts and your workweek. And it’s way easier than you think!
Hands-on time: 3 minutes | Total time: 18 minutes
Small but mighty, this grain-like seed is a no-brainer way to add protein, fiber and texture to soup, chili and salads — it can even be baked into bars and quick breads. “One cup of cooked quinoa has 220 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein, so it’s a good bang for your buck,” says Katie Ferraro, RD, MPH, an assistant clinical professor of nutrition at the University of California, San Francisco. Plus, it gives you almost 40 percent of your daily needs for magnesium, a mineral linked to less stress and better sleep.
Prep it (1-2 cups dry quinoa): The rice cooker makes cooking quinoa easy peasy. Rinse quinoa, combine in your rice cooker with 2 parts water, press button and presto! Once cooked, fluff with a fork. Store covered in the fridge for up to five days or freeze.
Quinoa Breakfast Bowl Quinoa + almond milk + blueberries + slivered almonds + cinnamon
Quinoa Parfait Quinoa mixed with Greek yogurt layered with diced green apple + raisins
Quinoa Tabbouleh Quinoa + diced cucumber + fresh parsley + olive oil + lemon juice
Quinoa Moroccan Salad Quinoa + cooked chickpeas + grated carrots + toasted pine nuts + vinaigrette
Quinoa Bowl Quinoa + grated beets + cubed cooked chicken or salmon + sunflower seeds + favorite sauce
Cook Spaghetti Squash
Hands-on time: 5 minutes | Total time: 17 minutes
Move over pasta! Spaghetti squash delivers the same noodle-like texture and comfort-food fix for only 42 calories a cup (compared to pasta’s 174). “It’s a great replacement for pasta for those looking to easily fill up on a lower-calorie, lower-carbohydrate food, and it’s a fun way to eat your vegetables,” Hill says. Use it in place of noodles in pasta dishes, stir-fries, pad Thai and casseroles.
Prep it (1-2 spaghetti squash): Pierce with a fork several times. Microwave on high 10 to 12 minutes, rotating every three minutes (or pierce and bake at 375 degrees for an hour, turning every 20 minutes). Let cool, cut in half lengthwise, discard seeds and scrape out noodle-like strands with a fork.
Store covered in the fridge for five days.
Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti Spaghetti squash + tomato sauce + sliced chicken sausage
Pesto Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti squash + grilled vegetables + pesto
Spaghetti Squash Thai Salad Spaghetti squash + carrots + red bell pepper + cucumber + red onion + shredded chicken + fresh cilantro + peanuts + lime vinaigrette
Mexican Spaghetti Squash Bake Spaghetti squash + cooked black beans + corn + salsa for 30 minutes at 375 degrees
Hands-on time: 10 minutes | Total time: 10 minutes
There’s a lot to love about this leafy green: It maintains its crunch hot or cold, it keeps cut up in the fridge for a whole week without wilting, and it jazzes up salads, soups, scrambles, sandwiches and even smoothies. “With 4 grams of fiber in just 50 calories, you get a ton of nutrients for minimal calories,” Ferraro says. No joke: Kale has double the vitamin C of oranges, more calcium than milk and through-the-roof levels of bone-boosting vitamin K.
Prep It (1-2 bundles): The easiest way to de-stem kale is to hold the stem and run your thumb and index finger down the center rib to strip the greens from the bitter stem. Submerge in a bowl of water with a sprinkle of salt and “massage” for a milder-tasting kale. Pat dry, stack leaves and thinly slice. Store in a resealable bag in the crisper for up to a week.
Kale Smoothie Blend together kale + coconut water + frozen pineapple + lemon juice
Kale Scramble Scramble 2 eggs + kale + onion
Kale Quinoa Salad Kale + quinoa + diced red bell pepper + halved grapes + sesame seeds + grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese + vinaigrette
Kale Skillet Supper Saute kale + shallots + cooked white beans + canned diced tomatoes
Roast Chicken Sausage
Hands-on time: 1 minute | Total time: 35 minutes
Sausage gets a bum wrap (blame those fat-filled pork versions full of additives and sodium), yet all-natural, nitrate-free chicken sausage is full of flavor, not to mention muscle-building protein. “A little goes a long way,” notes Ferraro, who says to look for sausages also stuffed with veggies. Add it to soups, stews, pizzas, frittatas, casseroles and tacos for a tasty upgrade.
Prep It (1-2 pounds): Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pierce sausage all over with a fork, place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast 30 to 35 minutes (until cooked through), turning periodically. Let cool and store covered in the fridge for up to five days.
Breakfast Burrito Scramble 2 eggs + sliced sausage + onion + bell pepper, spoon into a whole-wheat tortilla, roll and go!
Sausage Sandwich Layer sliced chicken sausage + poached egg + kale between a whole-wheat English muffin
Warm Sausage Salad Saute sliced sausage + cooked lentils + green onions, serve over a bed of lettuce + halved cherry tomatoes
Sausage and White Bean Soup Sliced chicken sausage + cooked white beans + kale + low-sodium chicken broth, bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes
Mediterranean Skillet Saute sliced chicken sausage + spaghetti squash + sundried tomatoes + black olives + feta cheese
Hands-on time: 3 minutes | Total time: 10 minutes
There’s a reason broccoli is the poster child of healthy eating: “It’s high in B vitamins, vitamin K, fiber and glutathione, an antioxidant that helps our bodies detoxify,” says Hill — plus it only weighs in at 31 calories per cup. Blanching it takes it from superfood to superingredient, making it the perfect addition to pizzas, frittatas, stir-fries and salads.
Prep It (1-2 crowns): Cut broccoli florets into uniform pieces. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, boil broccoli two minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into ice water. Drain and store in a resealable bag in the crisper for up to a week.
Spicy Broccoli Sauté broccoli, top with sesame seeds and Sriracha
Broccoli Stir-Fry Stir-fry broccoli + spaghetti squash + sliced chicken sausage + soy sauce
Broccoli Quinoa Bowl Top quinoa with broccoli + cooked chickpeas + avocado + pistachio pieces + tahini dressing
Broccoli Salad Broccoli + shelled cooked edamame + cashews + goddess dressing
Roasted Broccoli Toss broccoli with olive oil + lemon juice, spread on a baking sheet, sprinkle panko + Parmesan, broil five minutes