How to Become a Meal Prep Champion
Making healthy choices when your schedule gets crazy and you are on a budget can become super difficult if you do not plan ahead of time. After an early alarm, a hard workout, a long work day, and then taking care of chores and tasks at home, there is hardly any leftover energy to cook a well balanced meal. Cue frozen and pre-packaged, pre-prepared foods for weeknight dinners, and vending machine snacks for breakfasts and lunches.
Eating like that is okay every once in a while, but certainly not a way to maintain health and healthy habits. If you want to fit it all in, including nutritious, delicious, and satisfying meals, you simply have to do a bit of meal prep work. To beginners and meal prep novices, it can seem extremely daunting. But all it takes is a little organization and thoughtful planning and soon it will become part of your Saturday or Sunday routine to prep a few meals for the week ahead. And as an added bonus, it can save you BIG money in the long run! Plus, you can get as creative as you want and experiment with new recipes, foods, and eating styles that best fit your nutrition goals.
Pick Your Meals and Recipes
This is the bit that takes the most creative genius (unless you simply do not care about the actual taste and enjoyment of your meals – in which case you can basically just pick any recipe you come across and go with it.) Figure out what your diet looks like, what kinds of foods you want to incorporate into your weekly meals, and make sure you are looking for recipes that nourish and satisfy. For me personally, I always pick a breakfast casserole and a crock pot dinner dish. If time on the weekends permits, I also like to do a baked good-type snack.
Lunches do not require as much ahead of time prepping because I can throw them together during work, but if you just don’t have time for that either, then pick something else you can make and cook ahead of time. I always make sure the recipes I have for each meal contain each macronutrient, and that snacks are protein-packed to keep me satisfied between meals. I also do my recipe searching early on in the week so that I know what I need to add to my grocery list before I go at the end of the week.
Now that I’ve been at this a while, I’ve comprised a nice little collection of some standard “go-to’s” so I don’t have to spend as much time researching recipes as I did when I first started – and eventually you won’t either! You’ll find some good ones you keep on rotation pretty regularly, which makes the whole meal prep process even more streamlined.
And before I start looking for recipes, I browse my local grocery store’s weekly ads to find what is fresh and what is on sale so, if possible, I can incorporate the fresher, cheaper ingredients into my week and budget! So, for instance, on this weekend’s meal prep calendar is the following: a ham and egg quiche, BLT sandwiches with a fruit salad for lunch, baked protein balls for a snack, and chicken, sweet potatoes, and green beans from the crock pot for dinner. Yum!
Next, it is time to make your grocery list and pick up all the ingredients you’ll need. If you have scoured your weekly ads and have coupons, make sure not to forget those! Any little bit helps. It is also helpful to go to the grocery store at the same time each week. Now, that is not always feasible for everyone but carving out a chunk of time each week for each of these steps ensures you are well on your well to meal prepping like a champion. Set a reminder for yourself if you have to, but then after a few weeks of sticking with it, it will become like second nature to you. For me, Thursday evenings are my grocery store run after work. Routinely going at the same time really helps me get everything else done, and helps me manage my time well.
I also pack a snack! Sometimes, at the end of the day, we can be so tired and hungry that the last thing we want to do is go run errands after work. But because I meal prepped, I was able to make some snacks to help tide me over until I can get home to eat my meal-prepped dinner, and so that I don’t end up buying a ton of stuff that was not on my original grocery list because I made the poor decision to grocery shop on an empty stomach.
Making of the Meals
This is where you really get your hands dirty – in a good way! If you know ahead of time what you have to do, most meal prepping can be done within an hour or two depending on how complicated your recipes. Again, the key to success is sticking to a plan and schedule that works for YOU, ideally in which you do all of your cooking, baking, chopping, and preparing at the same time each week – sometime after you have had the chance to collect your recipes and go to the grocery store.
For me, that is always Sunday mornings after church before my family gathers for Sunday lunch. I whip up the breakfast casserole and get that going in the oven, prep any meat that needs searing or cutting and dice/chop vegetables for the slow cooker and throw that together, then mix together the baked snack item and throw that in the oven along with the breakfast casserole. (Another thing you’ll need to get good at is making sure you have a way to keep different timers on so you know how long one recipe has been in the oven/cooking versus another and when it needs to come out.)
Finally, I chop veggies to snack on, put together the lunch fruit salad, and do any other lunch prep work that I can, like sometimes I go ahead and portion out lunch meat servings and throw pretzels or some form of carb into a snack-sized bag.
The last step (which might be at the end of the day if you’re using a slow cooker) is to put everything into containers. If you don’t already have them, investing in about 20 meal-sized containers is worth it. I use plastic for breakfast and lunch because I am usually eating those on the run and don’t want them to break. For my dinners, I use bigger glass or porcelain containers that hold a lot at once, and then dish it out in the evenings depending on how hungry I am.
If you’re still intimidated, don’t be! You’ve got to start somewhere so just jump in! Find a few recipes that sound good and give it a go. You’ve just got to find your routine and rhythm. You’ll quickly find that it becomes way too hard to pass up conveniently pre-prepared meals and snacks, and that you really just have to have them. Plus your bank account and waist line will thank you.