Cooking Up Meal Plans

Prepping helps people stick to healthy eating
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Photo by Lindsey Masterson

For college students, instant ramen, dollar menu items and vending machine snacks make for fast and frugal meals but with consequences. David Solomon and Felipe Souza refused to fall victim to weight gain often called the Freshman 15.

When not in class or working shifts worked at a Tallahassee dive bar, the childhood best friends, who grew up together playing sports and going to the gym, still strove to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle. To stay on top of their nutrition, the pair delved into meal preparation.

More than just an internet “life hack,” meal prepping involves making and portioning dishes ahead of schedule to ensure a balanced diet. Of late, influencers have shared their favorite big-batch recipes with online videos, but this fad is nothing new for gym rats, senior citizens and those with dietary restrictions.

Ideal for shedding pounds, bulking up or maintaining weight, make-ahead meal plans are catching on and can be tailored to any lifestyle.

“I was doing MMA (mixed martial arts) training, and meal prepping helped me lose the weight,” Souza said. “Sundays and Wednesdays, I would make these meals for David and myself. Our co-workers grew curious and even offered to pay me to make some for them. I told David we should get licensed and insured and actually do this.”

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Photo by Lindsey Masterson

Solomon and Souza now co-own a meal delivery service, Prep Pros, in Tallahassee. Subscribers receive one to four meals daily and, based on their fitness goals, can customize their dish’s protein, carb and calorie amounts.

“I’m our company’s No. 1 customer,” Solomon said. “I’ve been eating these meals for the past four years, and when I have to travel, I notice a difference in how I feel. I miss them. Even visiting my family this year for Thanksgiving, I noticed how time-consuming it was thinking about what to make, actually cooking and doing the cleaning that followed.”

Trey Arnold provides a similar service for Tallahassee at Flex Foods. The former gym manager and personal trainer was looking for a local meal prep service to recommend to his clients and, later, wound up buying the business. 

“The stereotype is that meal prep is bland and boring, but when I tried Flex Foods, I was like, ‘Whose mom is cooking in the kitchen back there?’” Arnold laughed. “You can make it delicious, but the best part about it is the consistency; you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to eat for the day or if you’re getting enough nutrition.”

“Simple but effective” is a good rule of thumb for meal prepping at home, Arnold said. Meat or protein alternatives, veggies and complex carbs are keys to clean eating, and you don’t need extravagant recipes to keep things interesting.

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Storage of food in glass containers, according to the eco-friendly products provider, MightyNest, ensures that no stains or chemicals are transmitted to your next meal. Plus, glass is highly transparent and heats up well.

Some set aside Sundays for a week’s worth of prep. Others break that task up to better provide for variety and freshness. Preppers may opt for two different proteins, or save money by identifying recipes with overlapping ingredients.

For Solomon, switching up sauces and adding sprinkles of cheese are the best ways to spice things up. A batch of the same chicken, rice and greens can be dressed in tangy teriyaki one day, and a heaping of salsa and queso the next.

Professional services such as Prep Pros and Flex Foods rely on registered dieticians to break down meals, but free smartphone apps, such as MyFitnessPal, can count calories and divide dishes by serving size. Arnold suggests you not get too hung up on calculations if you don’t have a specific fitness goal and are simply seeking a healthier diet.

“It’s important to know your goal and understand the amount of food you should be eating,” Souza added. “You don’t want to waste food, and you don’t want to deprive yourself of the nutrients you should be getting. Portion control serving utensils measure your food by the ounce and are sold everywhere. They really work and help you understand the weight of your food.”

Solomon also recommends investing in high-quality, microwave-safe containers. “Glass containers heat well, but if you’re on the go, make sure you have plastic that won’t melt with the food and ruin the flavor,” he said.

For Arnold, meal prepping is a lifestyle. “A lot of people think they have to constantly be at the gym to get results, but your fitness has a lot to do with what you take in,” he said. “I remember when I was trying to bulk up and the supplements I tried taking weren’t getting me there, but a consistent diet did. I think meal prep helps you hit your goals quicker and definitely keeps you healthy long-term.”

Mango Salsa Salmon

(for four meals)

This entrée from Prep Pros goes well with a side of jasmine white rice and garlic-roasted asparagus. 

Ingredients 

  • (2) 1lb. whole skinless salmon fillet
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar

For the salsa

  • 2 large ripe mangoes, chopped (or substitute 2 ½ cups frozen mango)
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • ½ sweet bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small, seedless jalapeño seedless 
  • Squeeze of lime
  • Lots of fresh chopped cilantro
  • Salt and pepper garnish  

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a mixing bowl, mix honey, apple cider vinegar and seasonings and brush onto salmon filets. Once the salmon is seasoned, double wrap in heavy foil, sealing it on top. Bake for 12 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional 2–4 minutes or until center is cooked to 145 degrees. Rest for 5–10 minutes before serving. Mix ingredients of salsa and spoon over salmon.

Categories: At Home