A friend and I were recently talking about how we feel like all we do at the backend of the week is grocery shop, cook, and clean. We were swapping stories over how often we clean our bathrooms and how we feel like our food never lasts long enough in the fridge.
This concept of “adulting,” made popular by millenials, can be cheeky and used to poke fun at my generation that feels personally victimized by simple life responsibilities. However, if you haven’t read this article about millennial burnout yet, go read that and come back to this after.
With that being said, I’m all “how-to-adult” in the best way possible, always thinking about I can maximize my time and effort. While I love to cook and have learned to find joy in the mise en place-ing of it all, it’s taken time to get here. However, I’m confident that I can inspire at least one person reading this post to shift how they think about meal prepping.
Let me back up and answer the question, why meal prep? At the most basic level, it takes the thought out of what you’re going to have for breakfast/lunch/dinner during the week, so you can focus on other important things: your partner, your job, your side hustle, your friends, your family.
It can save you money. Let’s do some quick math: if your sweetgreen salad costs $15, and you’re getting that salad for lunch every day, that’s $75/week. I spent $60 on my grocery shop this week (a lighter week, as I wasn’t stocking up on a lot of pantry staples), and it went into lunches and dinners for at least 4 days this week, plus some meals for the freezer, plus some fresh produce, as well as a few canned items that I will use for future dishes. That nets to less than $8/meal this week!
It can make you healthier. Meal prepping allows you to know exactly what’s going into your food and how it’s being prepared. This is game-changing. You can control the amount of oil, the amount of salt, adding everything you want and leaving out everything you don’t. Eating whole foods and a variety of these whole foods is key, and something I strive for during my meal prep.
OK, so what can you do to take the dread out of meal prep?
It sounds simple, but, plan ahead - do your recipe research during the week! I love the NYT Cooking app and Instagram to find inspiration
Look for recipes that require one pot, which will always save time
Look for recipes that require stewing/simmering, which means you’ll be able to walk away while your dishes are cooking
I like to choose two recipes that require a lot of the same ingredients, but are different enough so that I won’t get bored during the week(s) of eating the same thing, e.g. my personal favorites right now: spiced chickpea stew and coconut curry lentil stew
Plan to freeze at least one or two containers of whatever you make so that your freezer will have a variety of items to choose from on weeks where you’re traveling or otherwise don’t have time to meal prep
Make a very detailed grocery list - even down to the ounces or cups of dry ingredients you’ll need. You can buy in the bulk section of the grocery store to save money, not buy more than you actually need, and will save time during cooking as you’ll have the exact amount ready to go
Spread your grocery shopping out over more than one day - avoid the Sunday scaries! You can buy canned goods on Saturday on your way back from yoga, and grab fresh ingredients on Sunday after brunch with friends… less time in the store each time, less to carry each time
Prepare your storage containers ahead of time - make sure you have enough to hold all of your delicious meal prep. Have them out and ready when you’re done cooking!
Label ahead of time, if you’re going to freeze some for later - I like to put the date it was frozen and what’s in the container
On your meal prep day of choice, spend time doing your “mise en place,” which means prep all of your ingredients before you start cooking
May sound counterintuitive to spend more time before you get started, but it will ultimately 1) save time during the actual cooking process, and 2) allow you to focus on your recipe in the moment
Clean up as much as possible while your dish(es) are cooking
Meal prep isn’t just for dinner - expand your horizons and prep breakfast, too! I love making chia seed pudding (recipe below) for a grab-and-go nutrient packed breakfast for after a morning workout
Shift your mindset - aside from all the physical prep you’re doing, do some emotional prep. Think, “I’m doing this because I have respect for my time this week, and I want to create delicious, healthy meals that will make me feel great inside & out.”
Invite a helping hand - this will save time prepping your ingredients, plus it goes along with shifting your mindset to make meal prep into a desired activity rather than a chore
Chia Seed Pudding (1 Grab & Go Serving)
3 TBS chia seeds
1/3 - 1/2 cup milk of your choice (less milk = more thick pudding)
Mason jar with lid
Toppings of your choice - sliced banana, peanut butter, cinnamon
Pour chia seeds and milk into the mason jar, and secure lid. Shake until chia seeds are thoroughly shaken up with milk. Take off lid, add toppings of choice, re-seal lid and keep in fridge overnight.