In addition to perks like convenience and cost savings, prepping meals at home allows you to control ingredients. And for those interested in following a heart-healthy diet, it can be key. Whether it's reducing the amount of salt or swapping in healthy fats, meal prepping puts you in the driver's seat to build a meal that does right by your heart.
Check out our best tips for building a heart-healthy meal, then show your heart some love by trying one of our step-by-step meal-prep plans to make a week's worth of delicious and satisfying lunches—the Spinach & Strawberry Meal-Prep Salads, Mexican Spaghetti Squash Meal-Prep Bowls and Roasted Butternut Squash & Root Vegetables with Cauliflower Gnocchi—which all meet our recommendations for sodium and saturated fat without sacrificing flavor.
Heart-Healthy Meal-Prep Tips
Start with a veggie base
As a general guideline, aim to fill at least half your lunch container with vegetables. Opt for colorful, fiber-rich veggies, like greens, hearty root vegetables or winter squash, bell peppers and tomatoes. In addition to bulking up meals (which will help hold you over through the afternoon), these vegetables contain heart-healthy nutrients like folate and potassium.
Select lean proteins
Including one or two protein sources per meal helps to prevent those dreaded midafternoon energy crashes. To keep saturated fat low, go with lean proteins, like boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, fish and eggs. And don't forget about plant-based proteins, like beans and tofu, which are naturally low in fat and contain beneficial nutrients for your heart, including calcium, fiber and phytochemicals.
Skip the processed grains
Take advantage of the heart-healthy benefits of whole grains—like dietary fiber and B vitamins—by incorporating a 1/2-cup serving of whole-grain pasta, brown rice or quinoa. If you're working on weight loss, replacing some of the grains in a meal with veggie alternatives (or adding them in on top), like spaghetti squash or cauliflower rice, can help bulk up meals for fewer calories plus add healthy nutrients.
Stick with healthy fats
Choose your cooking oils wisely, replacing sources of saturated or trans fats with those highest in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. For cooking and sautéing, try canola or avocado oils, which have higher smoke points. Use extra-virgin olive oil for finishing sauces, like pesto and vinaigrettes. And incorporate nuts (like walnuts), seeds (like chia, hemp and flax) and salmon for a boost of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Swap out the salt
To keep sodium to a minimum, replace some of the salt in recipes with salt-free seasoning blends or your favorite dried herbs and spices. Aromatic vegetables, like onions and garlic, release aromas and flavors when cooked into dishes, enhancing the overall taste of a meal. And pass up the saltshaker in favor of fresh herbs and vinegar or lemon juice, which boost flavor when added just before serving.
Heart-Healthy Meal-Prep Lunch Plans
Take the guesswork out of what to eat this week with one of our heart-healthy meal-prep lunch plans. All of these recipes meet our heart-healthy criteria, which limits sodium to 600 mg and saturated fat to 4 g per serving.
Take cauliflower gnocchi to the next level in these hearty, plant-based meal-prep bowls. Look for store-bought pesto made with olive oil, or use homemade. To keep these bowls vegan, try making our Vegan Pesto.
Step 1: Roast vegetables
Cook a double batch of Roasted Butternut Squash & Root Vegetables. Set aside 4 cups for this week's lunches. Refrigerate the leftovers to use in other meals, like grain bowls, salads or as side dishes throughout the week.
Step 2: Prepare cauliflower gnocchi
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 4 cups frozen cauliflower gnocchi and cook until browned, about 5 minutes.
Step 3: Drain and rinse beans
Drain a 14.5-ounce can of no-salt-added white beans and rinse well; set aside.
Step 4: Portion out pesto
Spoon 1 tablespoon pesto (store-bought or homemade) into each of 4 small lidded single-serve containers and refrigerate.
Step 5: Assemble lunch containers
Divide the roasted vegetables among 4 single-serving containers (1 cup each). Top each with 1 cup gnocchi and one-fourth of the white beans; stir gently to combine. Seal and refrigerate for up to 4 days. To reheat 1 serving, vent the lid and microwave on High until steaming, 2½ to 3 minutes. Toss with 1 portion of the pesto before serving.
These simple, yet totally satisfying, spinach salads require minimal prep but deliver on the heart-healthy perks. Spinach is a good source of folate, berries add fiber, and the walnuts and vinaigrette are full of healthy fats.
Step 1: Cook chicken thighs
Prepare a double batch of Oven-Roasted Chicken Thighs. Set aside to cool, then slice into bite-size pieces.
Step 2: Prepare vinaigrette
You'll need 6 tablespoons of Balsamic Vinaigrette for this week's lunches. Prepare what you need, or make the entire recipe and refrigerate the leftovers for up to 5 days to use throughout the week. Measure 1½ tablespoons vinaigrette into each of 4 small lidded single-serve containers and refrigerate.
Step 3: Slice strawberries
Rinse, hull and slice 1 pint of strawberries (you'll need 2 cups total).
Step 4: Assemble lunch containers
Divide 8 cups of prewashed baby spinach among 4 single-serving containers (2 cups each). Top each with one-fourth of the sliced chicken, ½ cup sliced strawberries and 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts. Seal and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Dress with the vinaigrette just before serving.
Set yourself up for a week of super-satisfying lunches with these south of the border-inspired meal-prep bowls. We're cutting back on sodium—without sacrificing flavor—by using a bold salt-free seasoning blend and fresh cilantro. Adding a little crumbled queso fresco at the end goes a long way here.
Step 1: Cook the squash
Cut a 2½-to-3-pound spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Place the squash halves, cut-side down, in a microwave-safe dish and add 2 tablespoons water. Microwave, uncovered, on High until the flesh is tender, 10 to 15 minutes; set aside to cool.
Step 2: Prepare the filling
Heat 1½ teaspoons canola oil In a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium. Add 1 pound lean ground turkey; cook, crumbling with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add the remaining 1½ teaspoons oil to the pan; heat over medium heat. Add ¾ cup chopped green bell pepper and ½ cup chopped onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add 1¼ cups cubed yellow summer squash; cook, stirring, just until the squash is tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the turkey, 1 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes (drained), 1¼ teaspoons salt-free chile-lime seasoning, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional); heat through.
Step 3: Shred the squash
Scrape the squash flesh from the shells with a fork (you'll need 4 cups total).
Step 4: Assemble lunch containers
Divide the spaghetti squash among 4 single-serving containers (1 cup each). Top each with 1¼ cups of the turkey mixture, 2 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco and 2 heaping teaspoons chopped cilantro. Seal the containers and refrigerate for up to 4 days. To reheat, vent the lid and microwave on High until steaming, 2½ to 3 minutes.