This post is all about how I make my life easier while ensuring that my week is full of solid, energy-sustaining meals from AM to PM. This approach to cooking has dramatically altered my ability to sustain healthier eating habits while still having a life. I’m so into making Meal Prep part of my weekly routine that I thought I could elaborate a little more (or a lot) to share the benefits and answers to questions I commonly get from people when they ask me how I always have so many meals on-hand. This post is a resource for anyone that is thinking of trying this cooking approach but doesn’t know where to start, has tried and failed, or doesn’t think that this is a system that will work for them but is still interested in knowing a little more.
There are a lot of misconceptions there that meal prep is a time-consuming, one-size-fits-all approach to eating boring, tasteless meals that last all week long. I’m hear to tell you that is wrong! Meal prepping is not a prison sentence, it is a gift to yourself. I will agree that this approach to cooking requires shifting priorities and spending a block a time on 1-2 days each week (we will call this Prep Day) to be in the kitchen. However, I find the return on this time investment to be priceless. Having a fridge full of prepared meals that are now grab-and-go makes it so easy to stay on track eating a well-rounded meal 3x/day and frees up time during the week to be spent elsewhere than in the kitchen.
Not ready to dive-in head first? You can adjust your approach week to accommodate the level of time involvement and prep work to which you are willing to commit. Consider Meal Planning or somewhere between the two as highlighted below:
Meal planning – low time investment; high level of flexibility; more time spent cooking each day
Meal planning and some prepping – moderate time investment; a mix of cooking each day and grab-and-go meals throughout the week
Meal prepping: high time investment on 1-2 days each week; prepares 3 meals/day for each day of the week
Benefits of Meal Planning, Prepping and the in-between
Time management: More time spent during Prep Day means time better spent during the week for my other hobbies, unanticipated events that pop-up, or last-minute urges to order pizza because I’m too tired to cook. And, because most of my meals are prepped for my work days, I spend less time thinking about what’s for dinner and more time going straight into the meal.
Saves Money: I buy only the grocery items that I need. Ever walk into the grocery knowing you need eggs and milk, only to walk out with a cart full of food?? Here is my solution: I plan my base meals for the week (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner with a couple snack options time allots) and compile the grocery items necessary to make these meals happen. I go into the grocery store with a categorized list of items and stick to it. No more getting sidelined by the chips that are on-sale or the candy calling your name while you’ve got that sweet tooth.
Less Waste: This also goes along with saving money but, more importantly, I am a huge proponent of little-to-no waste. This is different than the “clean your plate” speech that you got as a child at the dinner table. This is specifically aimed at minimizing the amount of rotting fruits and vegetables on your counter or in the fridge each week. Did you know that food waste contributes to an estimated 21 percent of solid waste in landfills? Food is a precious resource. Produce takes a long time to get from a seed in the ground to a fruit-bearing plant (not to mention the time spent producing nutrient-rich soil) and wasting it is a selfish act, one that could easily be reduced (if not avoided). In short: Have a plan for the food, get the food and then eat the food.
Customizable: Prep Day can be customized to accommodate the level of time commitment available for that day. If you know that you don’t have time to spend prepping all of your meals, go ahead and prep your breakfasts and lunches. I find that breakfast and lunch are often the quickest meals to get together. Or vice versa. This isn’t rocket science, do what works for you. Once you start getting in the habit of doing this week to week, you can get the notion of what does and does not work for your weekly routine.
Adequate Intake of Nutrient-Dense Foods: What better way to ensure that you get adequate intake of your fats, proteins, greens and micronutrients than to plan it out at the beginning of the week? This is simple. At the end of a busy work day, you’re probably looking for the quickest way to get a healthy meal on you (and your family’s) plate. If you put time in at the beginning of the week and have gone the extra mile of prepping an array of solid meals, that nutrient-packed dinner is waiting for you in the fridge when you get home.
Common Obstacles & How to Tackle Them:
Cooking Skills, a.k.a. I’m not a wiz in the kitchen, or I don’t even know the proper way to slice an onion: There is no easy way to get around this one. Truthfully, investing in yourself via learning how to properly prepare food and cook a meal is worth it. Do you plan to (or already have) children? Do you have a spouse? If the thought of spending time in the kitchen suddenly has you feeling overwhelmed then it may be best to get help from a pro. Searching YouTube will get you a long way with this, but if you need hands-on teaching then look to Groupon for Cooking Classes in your area. Third option, invite a friend/family member over to cook dinner together. When they arrive, pour a glass of wine, take a seat and observe her technique. Keep her busy with some good conversation and before she realizes it, dinner will be ready and you just got yourself a free, live-in-person cooking show. Learning how to navigate the kitchen is an invaluable skill that you will only improve upon over the course of your lifetime. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Boredom, a.k.a. I don’t like leftovers, or I get bored eating the same thing everyday: Meal prepping doesn’t have to be boring! It can be as exciting as you make it and you do not have to eat the same thing everyday. Grilled chicken and veggies for dinner can become eggs with veggies for breakfast and grilled chicken on a salad for lunch the next day. I like to use my Meal Plan Matrix to get a good visual on how this will play out during the week (coming to the blog soon). Bonus: More cookbooks are starting to come out with this cooking approach in mind like Whole30 Quick & Easy, Ready or Not! By Nom Nom Paleo and 21 Day Sugar Detox Daily Guide that show you how to prepare food that can be repurposed in other recipes.
Creativity, a.k.a. I like to come up with my own kitchen creations: If this is you, I applaud you. While I can cook up a tasty meal from my imagination every now and then, I gravitate towards tried and true recipes to save time and streamline my process of food-to-table. Just as some of you like expressing creativity with your meals, some of us like the structure of a recipe. Those that claim meal prepping hinders creativity are likely the people that enjoy the act of cooking and being in the kitchen each night. Or, maybe you have little ones at home you want to get involved in the cooking process so the act of cooking a meal together is teaching time. My recommendation is to go with the Meal Planning option. Better yet – Recall one of those food reality shows where you are given a box of ingredients from which you have to make a meal. Treat meal planning in a similar manner. When you’re making your grocery list on Sunday, choose what ingredients you are going to put into your Tuesday’s box. And then Wednesday’s and Thursday’s.
Commitment, a.k.a. What if Tuesday night rolls around and I don’t like what I put on my meal plan?: Some people don’t like the commitment of having written something down, knowing they are going to have to stick to this day-to-day for the next seven days. I would refer to these people as Rebels and the best recommendation I have for self-identified Rebels who want to find a middle-road for this whole meal-prepping approach is this: Have a variety of prepared meals and know that you can mix them up during and throughout the days of the week. Put the kabosh on the “eggs are only for breakfast” thinking and consider any of your meals as breakfast, lunch and dinner options.
Have I covered it all? I hope I have given you some tips and ways to overcome any fears you may have of the thought of meal prepping. If not, leave a comment on the page below. I plan to elaborate more on each step of the process in later posts.
For my week, I have compiled my meal plan and kept my prepping to a minimum. I have meal prepped my breakfasts for the week (egg casserole loaded with veggies, hashed potatoes and chicken sausage) and prepared a crockpot for a Roast I will be letting cook tomorrow. In addition, I’m going to be experimenting with some recipes from Wired to Eat and cleaning out the freezer with last year’s meat, which will alternate between lunch and dinner meal options.
Have a great week and best of luck on your future meal prepping endeavors!