Meal prep has its perks, but sometimes it can feel like you're eating the same thing day in and day out. And bland lunches, mean opting for takeout more often. If you're tired of the grilled chicken breast, brown rice, and steamed broccoli grind, I've got you covered. Here are 20 mouth watering healthy seasonings and toppings to add to your weekly meal prep recipes without messing up your macros. Along with some culinary tips to help you become a master of flavor.
Lose weight without having to sacrifice on flavor. Build your ultimate meal prep menu with this free meal prep toolkit designed to simply the process and help you get results.
- Dried Seasonings List
- Fresh Herbs List
- Citrus Zest and Juice List
- Low Calorie Sauces and Dressing List
- Cooked and Pickled Veggies List
- How to Season Your Meal Prep
Dried Seasonings List
Dried seasonings are essentially calorie free. They are made from dried herbs and veggies, that have been ground into a shelf-stable spice, bringing you a wide range of concentrated flavor.
Use a variety of dried seasonings in your cooking process - flavoring your proteins and veggies multiple ways - to keep things interesting. Or add them to prepped food to take the flavor up a notch, satisfy your cravings, and make your lunch feel a little less boring.
Moreover, including a variety of spices in your meal prep may provide some health perks (1). Explore your options, mixing and matching spice blends until you find what you like. Then keep challenging your taste buds.
Here's your complete list of seasonings to expand your palate.
10 Staple Spices
You probably have some of these in your spice cabinet already. These common pantry staples are widely used in recipes and enjoyed by most people, making them a fairly safe bet to try if you are new to the seasoning world.
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
- Cumin, Ground
- Dried Oregano
- Dried Parsley
- Chile Powder
- Red Pepper Flakes
Skip the salt in the cooking process to cut back on sodium and instead, add a sprinkling to your meal right before you eat. This won't add much sodium, but will really open up the flavors and bring some life to any pre-cooked dish. Try a nice finishing salt like Maldon sea salt flakes, or pink Himalayan salt.
Kosher salt is the staple salt used across the culinary industry. Ditch the regular table iodized salt. Why? Two reasons.
- First and foremost, the coarseness of kosher salt helps you season your foods in a much more consistent and control manner. You are able to both feel and see how much salt you are adding to your food.
- Second, iodized salt has an undesirable metallic taste. Kosher salt's flavor is purer and doesn't leave any unwanted flavor. If you need a fine salt for baking or seasoning fish or delicate vegetables, use a fine sea salt.
8 Aromatic Spices
These fragrant seasonings tend to have a floral, hearty, and sometimes herb-like scent and flavor that can bring a heart-warming and fragrant taste to grain dishes, baked goods, and many proteins.
- Star Anise
- Cinnamon (sticks or powder)
2 Spicy Seasonings
While many seasonings can add warmth and spice to your dish, there are really only two common dried seasonings that will turn up the heat (heat as in piquancy). Use these in moderation to add some serious kick to your meals. In my cooking, a piquant factor is always present. I like to say that piquancy always adds a good spice to life.
- Crushed Red Pepper
Bonus: Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (not dried spice but a good addition)
5 Earthy Spices
Similar to aromatic spices, earthy spices also add some warmth, hearty, and deep flavor with more earthy tasting seasonings. These are labeled 'earthy' because of the resemblance of where they come from. The tones of flavor closely mimic the soil of earth in a savory way. These tend to pair well with proteins and more savory dishes - think stews, crackpot dishes, and chili.
- Bay Leaves
- Beetroot Powder
3 Smokey Seasonings
Smokey seasonings are those known to have a vague but close resemblance of aroma to wood. Use this with grilled proteins, roasted veggies, and tomato based stews and chili.
- Chipotle Pepper
- Smoked Paprika
- Bonus: Juniper Berries
4 Sweet Seasonings
While these are not "sweet" like sugar, they can add a slight touch of sweetness and spice to your dish. Note that some of these may be repeated from other sections. This is due to the fact that spices range in various aroma and flavors.
Cardamon though smokey, is also used to increase sweeter notes in various Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Don't think too much into it, but know that one spice may provide a variety of flavor tonalities.
Try some of these seasonings with baked goods, grain bowls, and chicken dishes.
- Fennel Pollen
2 Zesty Spices
Add some zing and a hint of citrus using either of these spices. Zest in itself adds both a citric and slightly sour factor to dishes. Much like a straight acid, zest is a great addition to round up dishes and brighten them up. A small amount goes a long way, so don't over do it!
- Lemon Pepper
4 Exotic Spices
Get creative and out of your comfort zone with more hard-to-find seasonings like these. Used in many staple dishes around the world, trying some more international flavors can add a hint of Indian, Asian, or Latin to your meals.
- Saffron - a repeat, but very much so an exotic spice
- Achiote (Annatto) - widely used in Mexican dishes
- Nutritional Yeast - umami, cheesy
- Gochugaru - Korean chili pepper
10 Seasoning Blends
Seasoning blends pack the most flavor. Pair the following with a hint of salt and you're good to go! Try these different blends on various proteins and meals to see what suits your fancy.
- Adobo - be careful with salt levels!
- Taco Seasoning
- Garam Masala
- Everything Bagel Seasoning (already salty and does not need more salt)
- Schichimi Togarashi
- BBQ Rubs
- Chinese Five Spice
Fresh Herbs List
Fresh herbs and micro greens not only add beautiful color, but can also make a pre-cooked dish taste and look vibrant and refreshed. Herbs add a slight yet unique bitter tone along with their unique flavor profiles that round up the orchestra of flavors in your meals.
You can also find dried versions of these for a similar flavor profile, minus the freshness.
- Thyme - my personal favorite
Keep your fresh herbs packaged separate from you meal prep dishes to keep them from wilting and going bad. You can wrap the herbs in a damp paper cloth and keep them in a drawer neatly organized.
Citrus Zest and Juice List
Similar to the zesty spices, citrus juice and zest add a kick of finishing flavor, helping to brighten up everything. And it's not just all about a lemon garnish over seafood, feel free to get innovative and try different citrus and food pairings to see what works. Like I said before, a little goes a long way!
Low Calorie Sauces and Dressing List
Think of sauces as the identity to your recipe. In culinary school, one of my chef instructors told our Soups & Sauces lab that, "the flavor of the dish is defined by the profile and by how good the sauce is." Sauces add moisture, depth of flavor, and a specific identity to your meal - dullness be gone!
With this in mind, I highly encourage you to prepare or pick 3 to 4 sauces to add extra oomph to your meal prep, and dress your dishes with them. You can make your own or buy them at the store. Here are some easy to find, low calorie store bought condiments to try.
- Sambal Sauce (Chili Garlic Sauce)
- Coconut Aminos, Soy Sauce, or Tamari
- Hot Sauce, like Cholula
- Light Mayonnaise
- Greek Yogurt Based Dressings
- Pico de Gallo
- Green Tomatillo Salsa
- Red Salsa
- Sugar Free BBQ Sauce
- Low Sugar Teriyaki Sauce
Calories from certain sauces can add up quick, so be sure to use portion control and track anything additional. To help cut out too many added calories, watch out for sauces high in fat and added sugar by checking the nutrition facts labels.
If meal prepping for weight loss, aim for less than 50 calories per serving to help keep your macros on point!
Cooked and Pickled Veggies List
Pickled vegetables have to be the most useful addition to any dish. Aside from the possibility of adding some bright colors, pickled veggies add an acidic component to your dishes, brightening the flavors of your overall food!
Moreover, some research suggests fermented foods may provide many health benefits such as anti-microbial, heart health benefits, and positive health benefits for diabetics (2). Not to mention, these roasted and pickled veggies are fairly shelf stable - helping you get more mileage out of your produce.
- Pickled Cucumbers (aka pickles)
- Pickled Ginger
- Pickled Red Onion
- Pickled Radish
- Pickled Sweet Peppers
- Jalapeno Peppers
- Roasted Red Peppers
- Roasted Garlic
Learn how to pickle your own veggies with this easy pickling recipe!
How to Season Your Meal Prep
Flavor is defined by The Flavor Bible as "Taste + mouthfeel + aroma + "The X factor"" (the "x factor" being what the mind, body, and spirit feel due to taste). Individually, seasonings can add character to your food, but learning how to combine them is a an art of itself!
Favor is a harmony of sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, sourness, and umami. Think of it as an orchestra. All instruments get to play in a harmonious manner in order to create a beautiful sound - the same applies for flavor. Too much or too little of one will hinder the balance and offset the product.
You can begin to master this by test and trial of flavor profiles - it takes experience, succeeding and failing to identify mix and match flavor profiles that work for you. All cuisines have a specific mix of spices. To help you get your juices flowing, here are a few flavor profiles to get you started.
Go the basic route and add salt, pepper, and garlic to any chicken or fish dish in the cooking process. Round up your dishes by finishing them with a hit of acid like lemon or lime juice, and a sprinkle of fennel pollen.
Want to add a little heat? Swap the black pepper for chili flakes! Or opt for paprika or smoked paprika.
Try this with orange zest, hint of white pepper, and fresh mint on whitefish!
Asian dishes use a combination of vinegar (acid), soy sauce (salt), umami, and typically something spicy or sweet, or both!
Prepare your dish with garlic, coriander, and ginger and then toss in a splash of soy sauce, a splash of brown rice vinegar, and a bit of sugar (try honey) to create a basic Asian inspired sauce.
Turn up the heat with chili flakes, sriracha, or gochugaru and garnish with fresh chopped scallions!
- Hunan chicken bowl
- Sriracha honey sesame chicken
- Korean beef bowl with kimchi
- Tempeh garlic ginger soy bowl
The latin world is vast and filled with unique blends of spices. For example, Peru and Bolivia use both aji amarillo and rojo (yellow and red pepper blends) to make their dishes unique. Both countries have a flora and fauna that is very unique due to their high altitudes. Central American countries, along with most Caribbean use cumin and coriander widely, much like Mexican cuisine. Argentinean dishes are known for their heavy salt use on meats and their beautiful pastas as an influence from Italy.
However, a basic "safe" Latin/Mexican style blend uses a basic blend of paprika, cumin, garlic, onion, and chili powder to season while cooking. Then garnish with some fresh cilantro, sea salt, and a squeeze of lime.
You can also add a dollop of Greek yogurt to balance out the heat and add a smidge of protein.
Get creative and swap out the chili powder and paprika for more unique pepper flavors like dried chipotle peppers, smoked paprika, or achiote.
Indian style cuisine can feel intimidating, but once you grasp the basic seasoning blend, it's incredibly easy to make your own Indian inspired dishes. Not to mention, many store bought curries and curry seasoning blends can do a lot of the hard work for you.
Combine a curry seasoning blend with some chili flakes or cayenne pepper (adjusting the heat as you desire) and you're good to go! Garnish with cilantro and parsely.
You can make this flavor even more complex with a sprinkle of garam masala and some fresh ginger and garlic in the cooking process.
- Curried cauliflower and quinoa salad
- Paleo curried chicken salad
- Coconut curry chicken bowl
- Vegan veggie curry
Become a pro at deep, warm, earthy flavor combos by cooking with a basic blend of garlic, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and cumin. Then add some heat with cayenne pepper or chili flakes and garnish with some fresh chopped cilantro.
You can also toss in some dried fruit for a little more sweetness and complexity.
This flavor profile works great with grain bowls, stews, and mixed dishes using hearty veggies.
Want to become a meal prep machine? Grab this free meal prep toolkit - complete with everything you need to plan and execute your perfect meal prep menu.