Black woman making mason jar salads for meal prep.

From 5 Minutes to 30 Minutes: Simplifying Meal Planning and Prep

When navigating cancer, people often face the daunting task of maintaining nourishing meals amidst treatment schedules, changing appetites, and decreased energy levels. Recognizing this challenge, meal planning and preparation may provide ease and efficiency in the kitchen.

The Power of Meal Planning

Meal planning is the process of deciding in advance what to eat over a certain period. It could be as simple as determining what’s for dinner for a few nights ahead of time or outlining breakfast options for the week. 

The act of writing these meal ideas down, whether on a notepad, the back of an envelope, or a whiteboard, can significantly reduce the stress associated with making mealtime decisions. Having some sort of plan – even one that might change midstream - helps individuals meet their nutritional needs with less overwhelming. It can also provide a sense of control and predictability that might feel comforting during cancer treatment. 

The Strategy of Meal Prep

Meal prep takes the concept of planning a step further by dedicating a few minutes to preparing ingredients or portions of meals ahead of time. This could mean chopping vegetables, assembling soup starters, or even cooking grains ahead of time. This preparation not only saves time but also ensures that nutritious meals are easier to get on the table, even when energy is low or appetite is lacking. 

Embracing Flexibility

It's worth noting that meal planning and prep might not suit everyone's needs or circumstances. Nausea or a lack of appetite can make thinking about food overwhelming. The key is to adapt these strategies to fit personal preferences and situations, embracing flexibility and simplicity.

Implementing Meal Prep in Daily Life

A practical approach to meal prep focuses on what can be accomplished within a given time frame. Start by thinking of what you can get done in as little as 5 minutes. If you happen to have more time than that, you can tackle a few more steps. Here are a few meal prep examples: 

  • If you have 5 minutes: You might chop up a basic mirepoix (a mix of carrots, celery, and onions) and freeze it for future use. Or chop vegetables to store in containers for on-the-go snacks or to sauté for dinner later on. 

  • If you have 10-15 minutes: Consider preparing proteins, like assembling ingredients into a bowl to make ground turkey meatballs. You might cube tofu, marinate fish, and chicken, or rinse dried beans or lentils. You can also wash and spin leafy greens or fresh herbs.  

  • If you have 20 minutes: Cook a batch of grains, like farro, brown rice, etc., or pre-cook protein like tofu or salmon. You might also blend up a salad dressing or sauce. 

  • If you have 30 minutes: Assemble whatever you’re making, even if you don’t have time to finish cooking it. Be sure to properly store food in the refrigerator if you pause a recipe mid-way and cook thoroughly when you return to finishing the dish.  

Cancer treatment is unique for everyone, and so is the approach to meal planning and preparation. By breaking down meal prep into manageable tasks and time, you can find a way to plan and prep without added stress.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.