Prep Ahead for Healthier Meals

young man chops vegetables at a kitchen counter

Eating healthy meals and snacks throughout the week is easier when you plan them out and even prepare them ahead of time. Preparation can include making whole meals on the weekend and freezing in individual or family-size portions. Or it can mean cooking, mixing, or chopping parts of meals so they are easy to grab for recipes as you need them.

Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, managing director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society, says eating well is one of the most important steps any of us can take to stay healthy and lower cancer risk. To prep ahead for meals, Doyle recommends:

  • Pre-cooking chicken breasts. Depending on what you plan to make, you can keep your chicken breasts whole, chopped, or shredded.
  • Washing and chopping vegetables. Depending on the recipe, you can also roast them in advance.
  • Precooking pasta, rice, couscous, and other grains. Store them in individual bags or containers for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. If you plan to use them later in the week, freeze them.
  • Hard-boiling eggs
  • Making pizza dough
  • Cooking beans (or rinsing and draining canned versions) and lentils
  • Bagging up smoothie ingredients to throw in the blender later
  • Stacking salad in a mason jar for a brown-bag lunch. To keep salad from getting soggy, put the dressing on the bottom, then layer with carrots, cucumbers, and other hardy vegetables, and top with leafy greens.

Use your pre-cooked chicken breast and pre-washed veggies in our recipe for Greens with Chicken, Apple, and Blue Cheese from The New Healthy Eating Cookbook, available from the American Cancer Society bookstore.

Recipe: Greens with Chicken, Apple, and Blue Cheese

  • 1⁄2 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 cups lettuce mix
  • 2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
  • 1 large apple, cored and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1⁄3 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 2 tablespoons dried, sweetened cranberries

In a bowl, combine the shallot and vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice, mustard, and sugar and stir to combine. Slowly whisk in the oil to incorporate (or put into a jar and shake well). Season with salt and pepper. In a bowl, combine the lettuce, chicken, apple, parsley, blue cheese, and cranberries. Drizzle the dressing over the greens to lightly coat and stir gently to combine.

Serves 4.

Per Serving

Calories: 280

Calories from Fat: 120

Total Fat: 13 g

Saturated Fat: 4 g

Trans fatty acids, total: 0 g

Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.5 g

Monounsaturated Fat: 7 g

Cholesterol: 70 mg

Sodium: 260 mg

Carbohydrate: 15 g

Dietary Fiber: 2 g

Sugars: 10 g

Protein: 26 g

Reprinted from The American Cancer Society New Healthy Eating Cookbook, Fourth Edition, ©2016 American Cancer Society.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.


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