Meal prep can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. I see people moaning and groaning about the work involved, or the fridge space, or getting bored of eating the same things all the time. Well, those people are totally right, but don’t forget all the benefits of meal prep! With a few hours on the weekend set aside to cooking, you can have an entire week’s worth of lunches (and/or breakfasts, dinners, and snacks) DONE.
Stuck late at work on Tuesday? No problem, because dinner is already DONE. Feeling tempted by the vending machine? Not today, snacks are DONE. Usually skip breakfast because it’s not worth the effort? Too bad because breakfast is DONE.
If you’re new to meal prepping, I’d recommend trying to prepare only one meal, breakfast OR lunch OR dinner, until you’re more practiced. It’s lower risk in case the recipe fails, and your new budgeting system takes some getting used to. I typically only prep lunches, and will use that example moving forward.
Planning a week’s worth of food
Unless you want to eat the same thing every single day forever, start brainstorming. What meals have you cooked that make great leftovers? Which had terrible leftovers? Good options include soups and stews, stir-frys, and generally meals where the individual components are separated. Things that don’t keep/reheat well include: french fries, anything with bread, leafy salads and creamy pastas. Check out Pinterest if you’re uninspired.
Next, pick your favorites. You can cook five separate meals for five totally different lunches, but you’ll probably end up pulling your hair out. Instead, try a “base” that you can customize for each day (see “bored,” below for ideas). Here’s your template: ¼ protein, ¼ carbs, ½ vegetables. Think:
- Chicken, rice, broccoli
- Tempeh, sweet potatoes, green beans
- Lean steak, roasted potatoes, asparagus
- Lentils, hummus, grilled peppers
- Pork loin, pasta, green salad
Next, make your shopping list. Say you’ve chosen chicken, rice, and broccoli. You’ll then need five servings of chicken (2.5 chicken breasts), five servings of rice (2.5 to 5 cooked cups, to your preference), and five-ish cups of broccoli (2 heads or so). Make a specific list with the item, the volume needed, and any add-ins you might want (see “bored” below again for ideas). Buy the food. Celebrate with wine.
Actually preparing all that food
This is probably the easiest part. As long as you can set aside a few hours say, Sunday afternoon, it’s a cinch to make a week’s worth of food. Just think of the effort required to boil water, bake chicken, and steam broccoli: not very much. Meal prep is really just scaling up those processes, and then portioning food into containers.
The only real consideration is keeping items separate that could get soggy. For this, I strongly recommended partitioned containers or bento boxes. To use the chicken/rice/broccoli example, I would put the rice in one compartment, chicken in another, and broccoli (which was steamed and therefore, wet) into its own spot. Ideally, keep sauce in its own container until right before eating. If that’s unavoidable, I typically put the sauce over the protein as it’s the least likely to get soggy.
My biggest struggle with meal prepping isn’t the actual prep, it’s eating the same thing all week. Thankfully, I’m a sauce and spice MONSTER. Half my fridge is condiments, which I highly recommend for meal prep.
Take this example: brown rice, steamed broccoli, grilled chicken.
- Stir fry = oyster sauce, soy sauce, garlic powder, black pepper, and red pepper flakes
- Honey mustard = equal parts honey and mustard
- “Everything” = some “everything” seasoning, or onion powder, garlic powder, white and black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and sea salt
- Sweet and spicy = equal parts honey and sriracha (more honey if this kicks your ass)
- Tex-Mex = chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, paprika (smoked if you have it), oregano, and optional lemon/lime zest or a splash of juice
- Vietnamese = soy sauce, fish sauce (this is fantastic!!!), sugar, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, lime, and optional cilantro
- Your obvious flavors/sauces/dressings: BBQ, buffalo, ranch, Italian, etc.
My best advice is, take five bowls and season each differently. You’d be amazed how fresh your lunch will seem with totally different flavor palates each day.
Have any of you tried meal prepping? Any pointers, tips, or tricks? Let me know in the comments!