Meal prepping is such a huge part of my life (sometimes by necessity) and I get so many questions and comments from people who are just like me, busy, students or working full time, who love seeing my meal preps but just don’t know how to do it or where to even start.
I was where you all are about a year ago when I started being envious of Instagram accounts that showed these elaborate meal preps and didn’t think I had the time or skill for that!! Slaving away in the kitchen all day? No thanks! But, I’ll be the first to admit, it’s easier than how impressive it looks and I genuinely enjoy doing it now (after figuring out what foods work for me and what don’t). I wanted to do a post for you so maybe your experience will not be so hairy or you can skip making the same mistakes I did and of course, to offer moral support! If I can do it…so can you! Trust me.
But first… a little bit of background. I am out of the house at least 10 hours a day for work Monday – Friday and my daily commute. On the days I have school, it’s even longer because I’m not home until 11 p.m., leaving little time to prepare for the next day before I need to hit the sack. I know some people just take leftovers from dinner each night the next day for work but that only works if you are home each day to make dinner and are good at disciplining yourself at the end of a long day. This is where meal prepping comes in handy for me, I usually prepare 4 lunches and snacks for my boyfriend and I and make dinner fresh most nights (sometimes I’ll pre-prep pesto or roast spaghetti squash on the weekend to make dinners easier). Since I also have school some nights, I also prep my dinner (and his dinner) as part of my meal prep.
What I love about meal prepping and why it works for me:
Meal prepping will save you MONEY. We all know money doesn’t grow on trees and any little bit I can save and keep in my pocket for my vacation, or house fund, is one step closer to those things that matter more to me.
Here’s an example to break it down for you:
On average, a food court or street cart lunch will cost me anywhere between $7-$12. Let’s make it easy and pick the round number like $10.
Calculation: $10 x 5 days per week x 4 weeks in an average month = $200/per person
I usually make overnight oats as a snack so I’ll compare to oatmeal cups from McDonalds or Starbucks that will cost around $3.
Calculation: $3 x 5 days per week x 4 weeks in an average month= $60
So just for 1 lunch and 1 snack a day, I’m spending $13 a day…doesn’t seem like THAT much but if you do that each day for two people. I would be spending ~ $520 a month. That my friends, is more than my monthly grocery bill, which includes a lot more food than just this. I’m sure you could do well with a few extra 00s in your bank account too.
Have you ever taken food court food and ever put it on a plate? The portion is usually almost DOUBLE what I would normally pack for myself. You don’t notice how much you are eating when it’s tasty and you wolf it down quickly and therefore, overeating more than you have budgeted for.
Additionally, the salt content of most prepared foods is outrageous. You can easily spend your daily recommended salt intake of 1500mg-2300mg in one meal.
Life is always about finding a balance between living and being healthy but on the regular, I don’t want to be way over my daily values day after day.
My top 8 tips for the meal prep newbie:
- Start with a plan – write down your grocery list, your meals you plan on making, if you don’t know what you’re making – do some research ahead of time. The most frustrating thing is starting to meal prep and then finding out you don’t have rice or whatever you need. I also like to buy my meat as close to my prepping day as possible to keep it fresh. I like to pick a primary protein source, carbohydrate and vegetable each week that I want to focus one. I rotate this week to week for variety but I find it easier this way then try to and prep elaborate meals with too much variety.
- Start small – there’s no better way to fail than to try overhauling your life all at once. I’d suggest preparing meals on Sunday for Monday – Wednesday and then again on Wednesday for Thursday and Friday. This will help you know which meals last all week and which can’t. For example, salad likely will not last until Friday without getting soggy. If prepping twice a week doesn’t work for you like it doesn’t work for me, I just prep on Sunday for Monday – Thursday and then either go out for lunch on Friday or make something in the morning.
- Buy pre-packaged snacks – since starting school, I have started having Square Protein Bars or Coconut Yogurt and Granola as my afternoon snack. It takes very little prep to make the granola or get this snack in order. Obviously, buying snacks adds up in comparison to making them yourself but I just don’t have the time to make muffins or banana bread in addition to all the other things I am making.
- Use cooked vegetables – When starting out, stay away from raw vegetables until you figure out how to properly prepare them. I find vegetables like sweet potato, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts are great additions to your meals that don’t change much aka they will be as soft as you roasted them to be and not get wilted as the week goes on. If you do want raw vegetables, I would use them up earlier in the week for optimal freshness or don’t cut them until the day of.
- Washing Fruit – Don’t wash your fruit on Sunday. Unless your fruit is washed and dried completely, it can begin to grow mold by the end of the week. I like to put a napkin on the bottom of the container and take my fruit unwashed or wash it the morning of.
- Picking Protein – There are ways to prepare your protein so it doesn’t taste dry by the last lunch. My favourite ways to prepare my meat is BBQing in the summer or making hamburger patties in my oven. I like to mix my Turkey meat with Beef to keep the Turkey moist yet still healthy and tasty. It’ll take time to find what meats you like. My favourite vegan proteins for meal prep are tempeh or chickpeas.
- Portion Control – Meal prepping is a great way to practice portion control. When eating out, you usually get WAY too much food that you should be consuming in one sitting but when it’s packed into a Styrofoam box, we eat it all. If you’re looking to lose weight, this is a great time to start counting your macros so you have an idea of what you should be eating and the balance between your macronutrients.
- Lower your expectations – Harsh but true. The food isn’t going to taste like you JUST prepared it. Most foods taste different microwaved just like they would at home. That’s just what it is…I choose to compromise taste a bit to eat healthy and not worry about making poor choices last minute in moments of hunger during my work week.
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