School is in session, y’all! Welcome to Meal Prepping 101. By the end of this post you should be well-equipped and empowered with all the inspiration, recipes, and tools you need to start [or enhance] your meal prep journey. It is a journey, folks, not a destination. Because, if you’re like me, you’ll fall off from time to time and want to eat out or buy something premade. BUT If you remember what you learn here and apply it even half the time, you should be ok.
Why should you prep?
Typical meal prep motivations include:
A. Saving money
B. Saving time
C. Attaining/maintaining health goals
D. Learning about/having fun with food
Since I’ve always been an overachiever, my motivations include all of the above. 🙂
I have been known to say “Sunday evenings were made for meal prep.” Really, it just depends on what works best for you. I briefly mentioned my Sunday routine in this post, which explains why that’s my day of choice. As my life and schedule changes, that may change too. I have also had success doing a few meals on Sundays, then the rest on Wednesday evenings. Like going to the gym, studying, or any other “good for you” thing, the toughest part is getting started so make it easy on yourself! Set aside the time, lay out all of your necessary items, turn UP the music that puts you in beast mode (the new Gucci Mane is my current go-to), and do. it.
Containers are key. Ever hesitantly open a kitchen cabinet with the fear of being buried under a cascade of mismatched Tupperware? That’s a scene from my childhood. On replay. My family has [thankfully] de-cluttered a bit since then. I made the switch from plastic to glass containers a couple of years ago and am very pleased. In my opinion, glass is easier to clean, more sanitary (when your plastic gets permanently stained or smelly, it’s really not clean anymore), and easier on the environment. I also don’t feel uneasy when heating up my lunch in a glass container. Of course, if you won’t be heating your food, plastic may better suit your needs. The containers I prefer at the moment are the Pyrex Simply Store round kind, which you can find pretty much anywhere. They come in all the sizes I need. One thing to be mindful of, though, is that they have plastic lids, which can stain or retain smells so take that into consideration when deciding what to store in them and for how long. I’ve come a long way from microwaving cup noodles in their radioactive Styrofoam cups at my high school cafeteria. 🙂
What to make and how to store it mainly depend on if you will have access to a microwave and refrigerator during the school or work week. I’ve recently taken to storing each meal component in its own large container and fixing a plate at each mealtime as opposed to pre-portioning each meal in smaller containers. For example, I used a gallon-sized zip top bag and the jar pictured to store my perfect salad and homemade dressing for work a couple of weeks ago and just served some up in a bowl each day. This is ideal for meals with components that should be served at different temperatures or meals with sauces (think spaghetti). For me, it allows for a bit less clutter and quicker cleanup but each method has its upsides. I store a plate, bowl, fork, spoon, and knife in a cubby in my office at work. If you don’t have somewhere to store (and wash!) dishes, it’s probably best for you to pre-portion your meals. Pans with lids like this one or this one from Wilton are helpful for when I make dishes like casseroles or baked oatmeal because, once cooled, I just snap the lid on, stick it in the fridge, and carry it to work the next day.
Don’t forget about what to drink during the week. The progress you make when eating healthy, thoughtful meals can be easily undermined by washing them down with sugary drinks. [I’m looking at you, soda.] During college and grad school I only ever drank water or unsweetened herbal tea during class and this habit has stuck with me into the work world. A good water bottle helps me stay on track. Kind of like shoes, different styles serve different purposes. Don’t have water fountains nearby to refill with? Consider a bottle with a built-in filter like the one below on the left. I like traveling with it because I feel comfortable filling it up anywhere. Are you trying to make water more fun or tolerable? Try infusing it with fruit and/or herbs in a bottle like the bottle in the middle which I use on and off. I used the one on the right all through grad school and really liked that it had a straw (though, my braces wouldn’t let me fully vibe with the bite valve). If you want capacity, a good old-fashioned gallon jug or canteen is probably the way to go.
This is where your creativity (or Google-ing) skills come in. Each picture below links to one of my favorite recipes for the work or school week and they all travel quite well. I won’t get mad if you copy.
Snacks – I typically snack on fresh fruits, sliced cucumbers, nuts such as almonds or pistachios, and seeds but here are a couple of cooked options:
Slightly undercook your veggies. Since you’ll [likely] be cold-storing and reheating them, this helps prevent rubbery, overcooked, grossness later. In order to reap all the benefits of meal prepping, you have to eat the food! It helps if you actually want to eat it. 🙂
Multitask. Employing a crockpot (see crockpot recipes above) can help but you can increase your efficiency even with traditional cooking methods. For example, while something I made for lunch something bakes, cools, or whatever, I usually throw together the oatmeal mix linked above.
Did I fail to cover something you want to learn? Step into my office hours (comments) below? 🙂 Thanks for reading!