Overwhelmed by meal prep? Make it easier for yourself with stir fry dinners for a week. Here’s my simple process that’ll have you eating healthy, delicious meals all week long.
Let’s talk meal variety.
On most nights, if you were to talk into my apartment at dinner time, you’d probably see the same sort of thing on the table – a rainbow-coloured stir fry.
Typically I make these with:
- Whatever veggies I purchased and chopped up on the weekend
- Coconut oil
- A protein source – animal or plant-based
- A few flavour boosters
Studies have shown that humans overestimate our need for variety, assuming that we need to have a whole bunch of options in order to be satisfied. Interestingly, similar science also shows that our behaviour actually shows a tendency towards repetition, and sometimes a strong preference towards it.
If you think about this, it makes sense. Making decisions takes mental energy – some more than others. Getting dressed in the morning probably doesn’t exhaust too many brain cells, but solving a complex problem at work or trying to do your own business tax return burns a few more – well, at least for those of us who aren’t accountants!
On the surface, it might not seem like deciding what to have for dinner is a big decision. You know you want to eat in a health-building, nutritious way, so that just means steering clear of processed foods and picking more fruits and veggies, right? This is true and sounds really easy. But in my coaching experience, I’ve found that a lot of clients and friends find the process of planning healthy meals to be overwhelming.
It’s in these situations that I like to recommend stir fry dinners for a week. I do this myself to make healthy food choices one less thing to have to think about through the week, and it’s dead easy.
Here’s what the process looks like:
Step 1: Grocery shop on the weekend
Buy some veggies that are good for stir frying, whatever’s in season and/or on sale, and enough to last the week. If you’re not sure how much to buy yet, grab a few bags of frozen stir fry mix to have on hand if you run out.)
For one week, I usually choose 4-6 of these:
- snap peas
- bell peppers
- sweet potato
- purple cabbage
- napa cabbage
- daikon (Asian radish)
- bok choy
- green beans
If you’d like to add fruit, mango and pineapple work well because they’re firm and can withstand heat. They also add some juicy natural sweetness to your meal to help balance out the flavour profile. You can buy these as frozen chunks and add them straight from the bag to your wok when cooking later in the week.
Step 2: Chop the veggies
Also on the weekend, take 30 minutes to wash and chop all your veggies, ensuring the firm ones are roughly the same size for even cooking. You’re going to eat this same mixture every night, and I promise it won’t get boring.
Either portion your veggies out into resealable bags or containers if you like, or toss everything into a big bowl and keep it in the fridge.
Step 3: Optional – Cook some protein-rich foods and grains/noodles
Depending on your preference and chosen diet, you could also cook up some rice, quinoa, noodles or whatever other starchy carb you want to enjoy with your meals through the week at this point. Grains freeze well as long as you let them cool before sealing and putting them in the freezer. I often skip the grains and just add a starchier vegetable like sweet potato or butternut squash to my wok instead.
If you eat meat and fish, you can grill or bake these on the weekend. Or, simply chop the meat so that it’s ready for stir frying later. If you’re plant based or just want to eat meatless on some nights, marinating and cooking some tempeh or tofu could happen here too.
Minimalist? Skip this step. Opening a can of chickpeas or other beans takes 5 seconds, and you can add frozen cooked shrimp or shelled edamame straight from the freezer to your wok.
Step 4: Easy weeknight cooking
Now that your veggies are chopped (probably the biggest obstacle for most people when they come home from work at night), it’s just a matter of heating up a wok and tossing everything in. If you’ve already cooked your protein sources and grains/noodles you can add them at the end. If you didn’t cook your meat/fish, stir fry them first.
Don’t shy away from oils that offer healthy fats – these will help your body to better absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in your bowl of veggies. I like to stir fry in avocado oil or coconut oil because they’re better than olive oil for high-heat cooking, and you only need to cook meats until they’re browned on the surface as they’ll continue to cook throughout as you add more veggies to the wok. Start with the most firm ones as they’ll take a little longer than soft things like mushrooms and greens.
In a follow-up post coming in a couple of weeks, I’ll share a bunch of DIY sauces that I’ve created in order to eliminate having to buy pre-made ones. For now we’ll keep it super simple – and just as tasty.
You can absolutely buy teriyaki sauce, sweet chili, szechuan etc, or skip the bottled sauces and have a few staple ingredients on hand. This allows you to wing it during the week based on whatever flavours you’re feeling in the moment.
I usually pick 2-3 items from this list:
- chili powder
- low sodium tamari or coconut aminos (you can use soy sauce if you’re ok with gluten)
- rice vinegar
- citrus juice – lemon, lime, orange
- Thai curry paste
- chili flakes
- nut butters
- fresh herbs – I like a rather embarrassing amount of cilantro!
I usually add my flavourings as I’m cooking the other ingredients, which only takes about 5-10 minutes from start to finish. For fresh herbs, those go in at the very end. Truly though, you don’t need all of these. Simply stir frying in coconut oil, garlic, ginger and tamari is delicious.
As you can see, there are a lot opportunities for variation from week to week, and even day to day if you feel you want that. But the base of the meal is exactly the same.
- You’re eating the same veggie mix that you prepared on the weekend, without any mid-week washing or chopping.
- You’re keeping things exciting by switching up the protein source and flavourings, but you don’t even have to if you find a combo you love.
- Your key decisions are made once – at the beginning of the week when selecting your 4-6 veggies and 1-2 protein sources at the grocery store.
By following this process, all the overwhelm of brainstorming, shopping for and preparing a different meal for every night is eliminated. Not only will you have more time to enjoy your evening and (likely) eat healthier dinners, but I’m willing to bet you’ll do this without an ounce of flavour fatigue too!
Recipes to get you inspired:
- Sweet n Spicy Bok Choy Stir Fry
- Ginger Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry
- Sesame Shrimp Noodle Stir Fry with Almond Ginger Sauce
- Teriyaki Salmon with Zucchini Noodle Stir Fry
- Pineapple Teriyaki Shrimp Stir Fry
- Sesame Ginger Beef and Broccoli Noodle Bowls
I’d love to hear from you on this topic. Do you have a staple weeknight meal that allows for little variations here and there? Do you find yourself gravitating towards the same favourite ingredient combos on a regular basis?