Build nutrient-dense meals by following this 5 step meal-prep plan to save both time and money!
If you have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), you have probably noticed there is a lot of focus on nutrition when it comes to managing your symptoms. That’s because nutrition (along with other lifestyle factors including sleep, stress management, and movement) can significantly improve hormone levels, insulin resistance, and ovulation (1). There is a lot of information discussing what dietary style is best for PCOS, but varying bodies, goals, and circumstances require a case by case approach. However you choose to fuel your body, it is without a doubt that rethinking your nutrition in relation to PCOS takes time, effort, and money.
Although meal prepping is a fantastic way to plan ahead to make sure you have nutrient-dense meals ready to go, it can be tedious to find recipes to prepare. Not to mention, eating the same thing throughout the week can be extremely repetitive. In this article, we will go over how you can simplify your meal prep and make the most out of grocery runs while building a balanced plate with varied flavors - all while on a budget.
Before we discuss how you can rethink your meal planning, let’s first brainstorm what an ideal, nourishing meal looks like for you. Visualizing your plate (or bowl) in terms of nutritional density is a great way to frame your grocery shopping and meal prepping.
If you are unsure of where to start, you can refer to MyPlate recommendations as a guide and adjust the quantities of each food group to fit your needs. Alternatively, you can think about mixing macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) and fiber to build a plate that fits your goals and lifestyle.
Once you have built a general framework of what style of eating helps you feel your best, it’s time to create a grocery list that takes that into consideration.
We are big advocates of shopping seasonally for the best tasting (and priced!) produce that also supports sustainability. Not to mention, buying seasonal produce is a great way to expand your palette and try new, creative ways of cooking. While you’re at the grocery store, don’t forget to check out the in-store flier and sign up for store rewards!
So now what? Let’s get into the shopping!
Our body needs carbohydrates to function. This is because these foods are converted to glucose in our blood stream, which our body needs for energy. But not all carbohydrates are the same: enter complex carbohydrates versus simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates are carbohydrates found in whole grains, sweet potatoes and other vegetables, and legumes that are made up from sugar molecules that are strung together in long, intricate chains. These types of foods are distinct from simple carbohydrates such as refined flours and added sugars, which are broken down more quickly by the body and can result in a more rapid blood sugar increase and subsequent crash.
For the base of your bowl, we like using roughly ½ cup to 1 cup of complex carbohydrates to give your body a more sustainable source of energy. Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, barley, farro, or pasta made from whole grains or legumes are all great options. Be sure to speak with a medical provider about how much grains should be included as your base; for example, if you have an active lifestyle and no metabolic imbalances, chances are you should be bulking out this part of your meal with more complex carbohydrates than someone who has advanced insulin resistance.
Whole grains are packed with fiber, which can effectively manage PCOS (2). If you like higher intensity workouts, having complex, quality carbs as a source of fuel is also essential. Depending on your dietary needs, you can always adjust the quantity of carbohydrates you choose to include! These are also good items to buy in bulk to help save time and money. We recommend buying two to three types of carbohydrate sources to keep in your pantry so that you always have a variety of options to choose from (plus, grains and pastas are shelf stable!).
Next, add a mix of veggies for fiber and a plethora of micronutrients. We recommend picking your choice of leafy greens alongside some “roast-able” veggies (think broccoli, brussel sprouts, beets, carrots, etc.) to really help bulk up your bowl and boost satiety.
When it comes to veggies, it is hard to overdo it. Remember that a serving of vegetables is considered to be 1 cup of raw veggies, ½ cup cooked veggies, or 2 cups of leafy greens. We recommend packing several servings of vegetables into each bowl (3). Note: As discussed later on in the article, this is much easier if you have the time to pre-wash, chop, and roast vegetables at the beginning of the week.
Don’t forget to include some aromatic ingredients such as herbs, garlic, and onion for extra flavor!
There is research that suggests a high protein diet may help improve blood sugar control, insulin sensitivity, and psychological symptoms associated with PCOS (4, 5). It is also an essential macronutrient that helps boost satiety and aids in muscle recovery and building (6).
If you choose to include animal protein in your diet, be sure to include quality, lean protein and moderate your intake of processed meats. A serving of poultry or meat is generally thought to be the size of a deck of cards and a serving of seafood is considered to be the size of a checkbook (3). Again, though, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to serving size, and you may find yourself feeling better having more or less than the standard recommendation.
Want to follow a plant-based approach? Choose non-processed protein sources such as chickpeas, lentils, tofu, or tempeh. Like animal protein, recommended amounts can vary for plant-based protein sources depending on activity levels and your specific body, but generally five and a half ounces per day is recommended (3).
Toppings are a great way to add texture to any bowl! They can also be an excellent boost of additional protein or healthy fat, depending on what you choose to add. Below are some versatile ingredients that you can include in your grocery list:
For the final element of your bowl (and arguably the most exciting part), it’s all about adding flavor! We recommend choosing two to three versatile sauces that fit your personal taste preference. Whether it be dressings, dips, or marinades, you can easily utilize these in several different ways to make the most out of your budget. Feel free to pull inspiration from different regions of the world to have a diverse range of flavors! Below are some creative ways to use your sauces.
If you have the time, feel free to make your own sauces in large batches and freeze them to be even more economical.
If you are using store-bought sauces, we recommend checking out the ingredients and sugar content. Some dressings and sauces pack in a lot of added sugars, and while it is fine to still buy these if you love how they taste, this knowledge can help you be more mindful about how much you decide to use.
When creating your grocery list, don’t forget to include breakfast items, snacks, and spices. Try to utilize your ingredients in multiple ways to reduce food waste while staying on budget. For example, nuts are a fantastic snack on its own but can also be used in salads, smoothies, and yogurt bowls.
Once you have all your groceries, it’s time to prep! It’s easier than it sounds and is suitable for all levels of cooking. See below for a guide on how you can meal prep in an hour or less.
Once you have all the elements of your bowl prepped, you have everything you need for a balanced meal! Assemble your bowl by building the base with your carbohydrate and leafy greens, add roasted veggies, add protein, and drizzle with whatever sauce you are in the mood for. Then, add your desired toppings after reheating your bowl! By having each ingredient prepared separately, you are able to mix and match ingredients and change up the flavor profile based on the sauces and toppings you choose to include.
Like we keep emphasizing, the quantity of each food group is highly personal and depends greatly on your activity level and metabolic needs. However, knowing what makes you feel your best takes a bit of experimenting, so we suggest starting with the general recommended servings and adjust accordingly from there. Below are general suggested servings to help guide your meals (3):
Keeping up with a balanced diet undoubtedly takes work (especially with a chronic condition), but we hope this style of meal prepping can help save you some time and money!
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