Cooking can be an incredibly fun and rewarding activity. But at the end of a long day, it can also feel like a chore.
Who hasn’t come home from work tired to the bone, willing to order a pizza just to get food on the table?
Or what about during the day? In the morning, it can be tempting to skip breakfast, rather than take the time to cook — especially when you have a family on the go in ten different directions at once! Or lunch? When you don’t pack a meal ahead of time, it’s a lot easier to give into cravings and hit up a nearby fast food restaurant.
Over time, eating out can have a pretty substantial cost on both your waistline and your wallet. And restaurant or delivery meals are often a lot less healthy than foods you’d make yourself at home.
One way to turn the tide in your favor is to focus on meal prepping, or meal prep. In the face of busy schedules, long commutes, and the temptation of takeout, meal prep can be a great way to get organized, and find ways to eat more joyfully, mindfully, and healthfully.
“What Is Meal Prep?”
In essence, meal preparation is all about coming up with a system for planning and preparing meals ahead of time. This way, you always have healthy, filling, and delicious foods ready to go, right when you need them!
There’s no one universal practice for meal prep, and it’ll look different for different people. Your schedule, your nutritional needs, your comfort level with cooking, and your budget will all play a part in determining what type of meal prep will work for you.
Looking for inspiration? Eating Well offers a few types of meal prep methods that may be worth a try.
- Make-Ahead Meals. With a menu plan in place, you can make an entire meal ahead of time, then take it out or reheat it when it’s time to eat. Casseroles, soups, salads, and meats can all be cooked ahead of time, and are great options for speedy dinners when you need them.
- Batch Cooking. Some meal preppers like to prepare entire dishes in bulk (in other words, they’ll double or triple recipes), which they can then freeze and store for later. Soups, chilis, rice and pasta dishes can all hold up to freezing for some time.
- Individually Portioned Meals. Think “grab-and-go.” Meal prep can be a great way to get all of your lunches packed ahead at the beginning of the week, or prepare healthy breakfasts that you can have waiting when you get up in the morning, without having to lift a finger. This is great for when you’re running late!
- Ready-to-Cook Ingredients. Getting ingredients prepped ahead of time will let you cook a meal in much less time. By pre-washing and chopping veggies or marinating meats the night before you need them, cooking at the end of a long day can be all that much easier and more enjoyable.
It might take some trial and error to find a strategy that fits into your lifestyle and routine, and that’s okay! By even starting the process, you’re thinking more mindfully about what, when, and how you’re eating. That small change can have a pretty significant impact in its own right.
“Are There Any Benefits to Meal Prepping?”
While meal prep may not work for everyone, or all the time, finding a strategy that fits your needs could have plenty of benefits over time.
- Saving money, by shopping smarter and eating out less
- Saving time, by not having to spend as much time in kitchen every day and having a more organized schedule
- Reducing stress, thanks to avoiding last minute decisions or rushed preparation
- Helping you maintain a nutritionally balanced diet, and one that’s in line with your wellness goals
“How Do I Get Started?”
Feeling ready to give meal prepping a try, but not sure where to start? That’s understandable. There are a lot of things to consider, and it can seem daunting to change up your routine.
Here are five tips to focus on as you get started with meal prep:
1.) Pick the days that work for you
As you get started with meal prep, find the days of the week that will work for menu planning, shopping, prepping, and packing, and set a schedule to follow. Be realistic about when you’re going to be able (and willing) to get stuff done. Don’t be afraid to space your meal prep out over several days in order to keep your workload manageable. To help you keep everything on track, you may want to use a calendar or spreadsheet. When you’re menu planning, it might also help to think of “anchor days” at first, so you have goalposts to look forward to. “Stir Fry Fridays?” “Meatless Mondays?”
As you set your meal prep schedule, consider choosing a time to prepare make-ahead foods that you can slot in during the week when you need them. Chopped fruits and veggies, pre-washed greens, hard-boiled eggs — these tasty, versatile foods can all be used in salads, snacks, and more.
2.) Stock up on staples
It may be a good idea to stock up on reliable goods that stay shelf-stable, such as rice, quinoa, dried herbs and spices, nuts, healthy oils, canned tomatoes, and canned or dried beans. Buy in bulk and have these handy ingredients ready to go. Many cooking websites and blogs offer great lists of pantry goods to keep on hand, so don’t hesitate to do a little digging and see what works for you!
3.) Choose the right containers
As Meal Prep Haven points out, proper storage is an important foundation for good meal planning. You don’t want your prepped foods to spoil before you get a chance to tuck in! For the fridge or shelf, make sure containers are airtight, to keep your foods fresher. Many people love mason jars, which can be used for storage and serving. For some meals, such as make-ahead lunches, you may want to look into containers with partitions. This way, you don’t need to worry about ingredients spilling together and mixing into a goopy mess. For the freezer, airtight containers, and zip top freezer bags can work for soups. Always leave a little room at the top of the container, in case of expansion.
4.) Switch it up
When you’re consistently preparing food ahead of time, it might be easy to fall into a rut, and do the same thing over and over. You don’t want your prepped meals to start to feel monotonous or boring! This could push you to dig out those takeout menus again, and defeat the whole purpose of prepping. Remember that variety is the spice of life! As you shop, look for coupons or deals that could inspire you to prepare something new. Consider different spices or seasonings. As the seasons change, focus on fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.
5.) Make meal prep fun
Depending on your commitment level and strategy, meal prep may take some time, especially early on. Do what you can to make this time fun and memorable! For instance, you might want to get your kids, family, or even roommates involved when you cook. This way, you have someone to chat with during all that chopping and storing. Who knows? They might even help lighten the workload! Similarly, you can make menu planning a bonding experience with your family. Listen to their suggestions and come up with meal plan that everyone can enjoy together.
Are You Ready for Whatever Comes Your Way?
Do you have any meal prepping stories, tips, or tricks that you think our community should hear? Let us know over on Facebook, where we love to keep the health and wellness conversation going!
Meal prepping is one way to plan for the future. Insurance is another. Having the right health and life insurance coverage in place can make all the difference in a difficult time. It’s always better to be prepared!
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