Not to be dramatic, but meal prepping can change your life. You’ll save money, eat more healthily and have the comfort of knowing that you don’t have to cook for the rest of the week! Plus, it minimizes the amount of time you spend deciding on meals and at the grocery store.
Preparing your meals in advance can seem daunting, but if you get into it, you’ll learn that it’s simple and easy. You don’t need to be a chef, and you don’t need to spend half the day in the kitchen – you just need to be willing to learn and plan.
I’ve outlined four steps to help you to do just that. I’ve also added tips that I wish I knew earlier.
Plan your schedule and the number of meals
You need to know how many meals you need to make and the amount of time you have to make them. For beginners, I recommend starting meal prepping only lunch or only dinner. Pick simple recipes and you won’t need more than an hour. You’d only need to make 5 meals based on 2 recipes, so you can have one on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the other on Tuesday and Thursday. You could even start with just once recipe – I know some people out there don’t mind eating the same meals. That way you’ll dip your toes into meal prep without feeling overwhelmed.
I typically make six lunches and six dinners, and maybe something extra for breakfast or snacks if I have time. I spend 1.5-2 hours a week on making the meals, now that I’ve been doing it for over a year. As someone who gets bored of having the same meals, the biggest obstacle I faced was thinking I’d need to cook up 10-12 different meals each week. I thought ‘ain’t nobody got time for that!’ However, my current meal prep is based on 3-4 recipes using many of the same ingredients. I make small changes to the spices, seasonings, carbs, and dressings.
Plan your meals
I recommend choosing simple meals that you already know you love. There’s no need to try your hand at handmade dumplings or pasta! To minimize food waste, have a look at your pantry and determine what you can already make. Make sure you have room to keep all your meals too. I also recommend freezing anything that you’re not eating in the next three days for maximum quality.
Some easy go-to meals that freeze/chill well are: soup, a bagel with a side salad, a large chopped salad, a sandwich or wrap, a stir fry, or a curry. They’re all easy because they pretty much require either just one pot or pan, or no cooking at all. You’ll need to take into account the best way to store foods, e.g. sandwiches and wraps will need to be stored separately and assembled on the day (at school or the office) to prevent sogginess.
If you want to meal prep breakfast, some easy options are: overnight oats, smoothies (prepare ingredients and portion out in advance), oatmeal (freezes well).
This week, I went with granola, lentil salad, curry, stir fry, and oven roasted vegetables. I switched up the meals with couscous or soba, which were both really easy to cook. I also had a sandwich too, which helped add variety.
Shop for ingredients
I’m not a fan of this phase, but grocery shopping is a necessity. It’s self-explanatory, we’ll move on to the fun part quickly. I recommend keeping a few staples in your pantry if you find that you often use them for meal prep. Depending on what you like to cook, you might want to have beans, lentils, frozen vegetables, rice, couscous, pasta, olive oil, soy sauce, garlic and onions on hand. Spices such as dill, sage, rosemary, thyme, cumin, and paprika are also nice to have. A pro of buying only what you need is you’ll decrease food waste though, yay!
Follow your schedule
Ah yes, after all that planning, it’s time to follow through.
Whether you enjoy cooking or not, the beauty of the meal prep is at least it’ll be quick. As a rough guideline, I recommend blocking out time to meal prep, allowing 0.5-1 hour for 1 recipe, 1 hour for 1-3 recipes and 2 hours for 3-5 recipes. Considering you’d probably have to cooke nearly every day if you didn’t meal prep, it’s a huge time saver. I usually meal prep on Sunday morning. In a particularly busy week, I’ll break meal prep up into Wednesday evening and Sunday morning, and prepare half the meals on each day. Put on your favourite music and make it an experience – this way you can enjoy it rather than feeling like it’s another chore.
After increasing meal prep, I recommend taking note of your favourite meals, and what could’ve gone better. Over time, you’ll have a list of go-to meals (it might look similar to mine above!).
The results of my meal prep this week were:
Lunch: Couscous with curry, soba with roasted vegetables, avocado sandwich with roasted vegetables
Dinner: Lentils and soba with hummus, Stir fry and couscous, soba and curry
As you can see, they’re pretty simple, but definitely wholesome and delicious.
I hope you give meal prepping a go, and that it will help you too!