Doesn’t meal-prep always look amazing?
You see these beautiful pictures of carefully crafted dishes portioned off perfectly into a sea of matching tupperware and packed away into the fridge, like little presents, for a week of home cooked, easily accessible goodness. Well, heads up, this post is NOT going to look like that. If you know me, which I presume you do as my current blog audience are mostly friends/family who are kind enough to indulge my hobby (hi mom!), you KNOW that I could never do that pristine meal prep deal. I barely have 2 tupperware containers that have their original lids.
Regardless, I think that I’ve figured out some secrets to successful meal “prep” and thought I would share. So who am I, the lady with 1.5 complete sets of tupperware, to tell you some tips around the subject? Here are my current credentials:
In 39 days:
- I have spent 224.65 cents on food (not counting a 4 meals out for special occasions) coming out to around 1.50 a meal
- I have bought lunch 1 time
- I have lost weight
- I am not going insane
Aside from the obvious advantage of saving money, meal prep has a few other perks. For one thing, you know what you are eating: no surprises here! If you cook it, you probably know what went into it. The dicey part comes if you are using processed foods to make lunch so I always try to go fresh. You’ll also get weirdly good at different skills in cooking without evening know it. For example: I have diced so much food, I feel like my knife skills could compare with Geoffrey Zakarian. If you don’t know who GZ is, then my first tip is definitely to watch more Food Network.
My meal prep is more of a thought out shopping list of versatile foods that are very functional. I’m not someone who can eat the same lunch 5 days a week…I need some spice in my life! Also, food sitting in Tupperware all week freaks me out so I like to make my lunch the night before or morning of which is definitely not traditional meal prep. But, I’ve found that with a well prepped pantry and fridge, my meals are still easy and accessible.
*Disclaimer: there is no “right” and “wrong” way to do meal prep.
Ok , actually this is wrong…
but so right….
What i mean is depending on your circumstances (accessibility to the grocery store, how many people you are trying to feed, other responsibilities and time) some of these tips aren’t going to seem realistic. I’m just sharing what I, a 26 year old living with (and feeding) her boyfriend, have found helpful. I have made time to invest into what I’m eating and its made a huge difference. Read with an open mind and hopefully, you take something helpful away from it!
Decide on a Plan-Day
I do my planning on Sundays. Planning includes a 2 major steps: Deciding on meals and the big ordeal, grocery shopping. Some grocery stores are manic on Sundays but luckily the small Giant near my apartment is rarely ever bumpin. Thank goodness. Whatever day works for you is the right day.
Decide on your Dinners for the week
Suggestion: 3 Different Meals
I used to make the mistake of choosing 5 different dinners for 5 evenings in the work week. While this would have been the ideal situation, it it was never realistic. Events would pop up during the week that would prevent me from cooking a meal from start to finish, I didn’t have the energy to cook a meal from start to finish, or we couldn’t eat the meal from start to finish and would have a ton of leftovers that we weren’t going to eat because the next night had its own dinner. It doesn’t sound like a huge problem but what you end up having is a ton of food in the fridge that becomes lost and forgotten and eventually trashed. What a waste! I’ve found that 3 dinners gives Steven and I a good portion for the evening and leftovers for lunch or dinner the night after.
Decide on what you like to eat for lunch
Suggestion: Salads, Sandwiches, Wraps
What do salads, sandwiches and wraps have in common?! Almost everything. I usually buy the same ingredients for lunch but am able to purpose them for different meals. Again, the name of the game is highly-functioning foods. Greens, a protein, veggies can sit by themselves or in a wrap or sandwich. Just add a piece of bread and VOILA, new lunch.
Have a few good pieces of tupperware
Suggestion: Systema Cube, Sweet Green Salad Container
The Sistema Klip It Lunch Cube is great because it has 1 large closed off compartment (about the size of a sandwich) and another large compartment divided in to two sides. It keeps things from touching and getting soggy and is super convenient. The Sweet Green Container is $5 bucks (and you get 50 cents of your salad every time you use it) and has lasted me over a year. It has a separate place to put the dressing so your salad is ensured to be crisp and delicious even if you pack the night before. You can pick these up in store.
Decide on a Grocery Game Plan.
It took me 3 or 4 weeks of trial and error (buying too much, buying too little, having to throw away things that went bad) to finally figure out what my grocery list should look like. I have a few staples that I will share with you but for the most part it is just being practical. Recipes are awesome to follow but often lead you to spend extra bucks to fulfill the entire ingredients list. “Martha Stewart’s award-winning Chicken Pot Pie recipe is calling for 3 Unicorn tail hair? I MUST HAVE IT!” The truth is, you don’t. Most of what you want to make, you will be able to make once you figure out what foods are staples in your diet. Here are my detailed suggestions. I pick and choose out of each of a category…I do not buy ALL of this:
- A dozen eggs
- **Spinach in a bag (2)
- A Complex Carb: Options: English Muffins, whole grain flatbread, multigrain wheat bread, quinoa, brown rice (1 or 2 choices)
- Fruit: Normally I go for what is on sale but I always look for grapes, apples, bananas. I love blueberries but they tend to be expensive so I always get a FROZEN bag of blueberries. They taste exactly the same once thawed. They taste exactly like rocks when they aren’t. (2 different varieties)
- Quick Snacks: Bars- right now I’m into the Nature Valley Sweet and Salty type. There are usually deals for bars (4 for $10) which I would highly recommend. They don’t go bad and you won’t have to buy it the next week! Maybe pretzels or rice cakes or almonds.
- Fresh Veggies: Bell Peppers (2) brocollini, avocado, Onion, potatoes, carrots. *asparagus (frozen)
- Protein: Chicken. There is almost always a sale and I’ve stopped limiting myself to just the breast. There are a lot of great ways to cook all different parts of chicken. Fish (something is usually on sale but I look for wild caught atlantic salmon) *shrimp (frozen)
- Cheese (because why not?)
- Almond milk/chocolate Silk Milk: Great for recovery after workouts and a sweet treat that isn’t horrible for you.
- Canned Goods: Black beans, artichoke hearts, diced tomato, beets.
*Frozen foods get a bad rap and I’ll admit, there are some things that are not so great frozen. But, a lot of veggies are pretty good and keep much longer so you have less waste. I usually quickly zap my veggies in a dish with a little water until they are thawed but still a tiny bit frozen and then finish them in the oven or sautéed in a pan. This makes it taste like you picked up straight from the market and ensures won’t over cook it. Frozen shrimp is also great and makes for a nice break for boring chicken.
**Spinach in a bag: I use spinach all the time. It is an easy way to modify a meal to make it a little healthier. Steven and I are having burgers, I’ll put the burger on top of a bed of spinach instead of on a bun. I use it in salads (duh) with my breakfast, sautéed and in sandwiches (instead of iceberg lettuce). It is a superfood you can feel awesome about eating and your skin and nails with thank you too! The protein, iron and other health benefiting nutrients don’t hurt either.
In my pantry I always have (so i buy bi weekly or…tri weekly…or monthly):
- A pasta sauce or two
- 2-3 different types of whole grain pastas
- Peanut Butter
- Macaroni and Cheese (In case of Emergency)
- Bullion cubes (chicken and beef)
- Variety of spices (Thyme, Rosemary, Parsley, Oregano, Bay Leaves, Paprika, Garlic powder, Garlic Salt, Chili Powder, Cumin…)
So now that you have my list- here is how I choose to use it.
Breakfast: Egg (cooked a variety of ways), with avacado, english muffin or a piece of toast and a fruit. If you aren’t someone who wants to wake up early enough to eat breakfast and have access to a microwave at work, I would HIGHLY suggest buying one of these contraptions. I cook an egg in it every day in 30 seconds at work with some spinach on top and its perfect. Saves dirty dishes at home and lets me sleep another half hour!
Lunch: Salad made from Spinach, bell peppers, artichoke hearts or beets, maybe chicken. Dressing balsamic vinegarette. Maybe throw all of that into a sammie or wrap…
Dinner: Slow cooker chicken, pasta with shrimp, flatbread pizza, soup, a protein with fries and a veggie, a stew, black bean burgers….
As you can see… its definitely not a science. All of these things come straight from the list and you’ll find as you shop that you won’t have to buy all of that stuff each time and that you’ll always be able to make something when you are hungry rather than ordering it or going out to eat which is the goal!
LONG post but if you have any additional suggestions, feel free to comment below!