Meal Prepping (V). The act of preparing food for yourself ahead of time; performed when having a busy schedule or simply desiring to feel like you have your life together.
Full Meals: One way to go about this is to decide on entire meals you’d like to have for Breakfast, Lunch and/or Dinner and multiply the meal(s) by the amount of days you are preparing for.
Batch Cooking: Another way is to pick some base ingredients to have on hand, usually separated into Protein sources, Carb sources, Fat sources, veggies and snacks. You can make large quantities of whichever types you prefer/are feeling for the week, then assemble meals the day of.
Feel free to mix and match the approaches and ultimately do whatever works the best for you personally – make food that will be appetizing to you, use what time and space you do have, and don’t think there’s any right/wrong way to go about it. Have fun with the process and bask in the extra relax time you have during the week.
Why Should I Meal Prep?
Save $$$: Eating out can be expensive, whether it’s at a restaurant, salad bar or grabbing some snacks. When meals/food are already prepped and ready to go you are less likely to give into an urge to buy something on a whim. It’s easy to remember your lunch when it’s already made and waiting for you to grab it. Cooking in bulk also allows you to buy less individual items and reduce food waste by not having random bits left over at the end of the week (think: throwing out food = throwing out your money).
Save Time: Utilizing one day to cook the basis of your meals gives you the ability to simply grab and go throughout the week. Cooking less means less time cleaning up during the week and this also saves time from trying to decide what to eat prior to each meal. Batch cooking base ingredients is also super time effective when compared to making separate servings individually.
Help you reach goals: Whether you are trying to eat healthier, achieve a fitness goal, lose or gain weight etc. preparing food in advance can make it much easier. This takes the stress out of decisions in the moment of hunger, and takes away the excuse to get takeout or give in to cravings when you’re tired at the end of the day.
Where should I start?
Write. It. Down: Do not walk into the kitchen and wing it, it will take more time and be frustrating. Take a few minutes to write out what you need for the week, what you plan on cooking and how much of each item you’ll need. Having a game-plan will make this process a lot easier.
Start with the items that take the longest to cook first: Since you’ve already made your game plan, you now know what is going to take the longest to cook and what will be pretty quick. Start with the most time-consuming items so that your prep will take less time.
Prep for your prep: Making a stir-fry? Roasting a pan of mixed veggies? Making something sweet with multiple ingredients? – prep all those small things, cut them up and measure them out, so that when you’re ready to cook it the process is smoother.
Layout containers ahead of time: Instead of having completely cooked trays of food with nothing to put them in yet, make sure all of your containers are out and ready to go, speeding up the post-cooking process.
Clean up as you go: No one enjoys a sink full of dishes, and when you’re cooking in larger quantities you better believe the amount of dishes is going to mimic the amount of food. Do yourself a favor and take a minute or so while things are cooking to stay on top of your clean up.
Turn on some jams and enjoy your time in the kitchen!: Meal prep can be an excuse to tune things out for a few hours, have some fun in the kitchen, and unwind. This doesn’t need to a daunting task, make it fun and you’ll feel even better about doing it!
Sample Meal Prep:
*Note: This is a vegan meal prep, on a college student budget and schedule. This is only an example and not a recommendation on what you “should” make meal-wise, but what I personally like to eat.
Time: 3 hours (including all clean up)
Proteins – Baked Tofu, Black Bean Burgers (similar recipe here), Roasted Chickpeas
Carbs – Baked Regular Sweet Potato, Lentil-Quinoa Pasta
Veggies – Roasted Broccoli , Veg Mix for Pasta (Zucc, Bell pepper, Squash), Raw spinach, Cucumber
Snack – Coconut Protein Balls (similar recipe here)
Additions (unpictured) – Avocado, Nuts/Seeds, Hummus (all will be added as desired per meal)
(Breakfast is not included, because I personally always make that the day-of, but here’s some good prepped breakfast ideas: Chia Pudding, Breakfast Bars and a Make-Ahead Frittata)
- First I stick the sweet potatoes in the oven, as they take a long time and require little maintenance. After I put them in I typically cook any other carb sources (here – Lentil/Quinoa pasta) and while that’s cooking I cut up any ingredients I’ll need later.
- Once the stove stuff is finished I get the Chickpeas, Tofu and Broccoli in the oven, as they take around the same time to cook. While they cook I make the burger mix, form the patties and get them on a tray.
- When the Chickpeas/Tofu/Broccoli is done, I put the burgers into the oven. I also check to see if the sweet potatoes are done.
- Then, I’ll make the vegetables for the pasta I cooked – Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Red Bell Pepper and Red Onion seasoned with garlic, crushed red pepper, basil and nutritional yeast.
- Lastly, after the oven and stove items are complete, I’ll make any homemade snack I’ve decided on for the week (here – Coconut Protein balls)