A lot of us are trying to stay healthy as we kick into the new year. And we all know what the Internets golden advice for this is – Meal Prep. But even for those just looking to save on the oh so valuable resources of time and or money, meal prepping is still one of the best solutions.
And yet for the longest time, the thought of meal prepping, quite frankly, terrified me.
Every book cover, health app, or youtube series seemed to be trying to guilt me into ‘Meal Prepping’, like some kind of deranged cult of Tupperware wielding soccer moms. Everything I read online always seemed so endlessly complicated. All of the organization, the separate containers, the itemized grocery lists. It took me years to learn the diabolical truth:
Meal Prep is just making leftovers
That’s it. Really. That is all there is to it.
Every complicated shopping chart, menu catalog, and Tupperware organizational system ultimately came down to… making leftovers. The only stressful thing about the entire process was why it made me so unreasonably terrified to begin with – the guides I had found for Meal Prep were all insanely detailed. These references were overwhelming and overcomplicated a problem that I didn’t even have to begin with.
So if you are still feeling a little uncertain about where to begin but want to avoid the same overwhelming feelings I experiences, a few simple questions that can help un-complicate the process and prove, once and for all, that meal prepping isn’t really all that hard after all.
1 – How many meals do you want to prep?
One of the most common mistakes people make when first trying meal prep is thinking you have to plan out every single meal of every single day. The simple reality is – you don’t.
Life happens, plans change. Maybe you don’t eat your lunch on Thursday because someone brought in free pizza, or you really weren’t feeling the chicken and broccoli you brought that day because you’ve had it for four days in a row.
Planning for every meal locks you into a rigid schedule which can turn your meals into a chore and, because, you know, life happens, often ends up with extra uneaten meals at the end of the week.
If are just starting with the meal prep monster, start slow and build your way up. Even making a couple of meals a week is a great place to start. You can slowly work your way up as you get more comfortable and work this into your regular routine.
Start by making two big meals a week, with enough leftovers for two to three servings of each. That means 4-6 meals are already taken care of.
Continue with 2 big meals, and add in a single breakfast option. Try one of our Fast and Easy Breakfast Solutions and make 3-4 servings.
Add in some snacks. Something as simple as a granola bar in your bag or as fancy as your own little charcuterie box for snacking on at work.
You can add on from there. A third large meal in the week (3 servings) is totally doable, but any more and you can easily end up over-scheduling your own life. With 2 meals, a handful of breakfasts, and a reasonable selection of snack options you still have about half of your weekly meals are already taken care of.
2 – What Recipes do You Already Like?
It is surprisingly obvious. But so many people get caught up in the process of meal prepping that they forget about the actual reality of having to eat the same thing for several different meals.
Starting with recipes you already know and like makes the transition into creating regular habits smoother and easier.
I like buffalo chicken. So one of my meals, more often than not, is just cooking a bunch of chicken tenders, sometimes with a cooked side but usually just with carrots or celery sticks. I will then buffalo them up and pack a few little boxes of buffalo chicken with veggies and a small side container of blue cheese dressing (not ranch!) for dipping.
Boom. Three to four meals are done and, for me, it’s something I know I won’t get sick of and will enjoy eating throughout the week.
Like pot roast? Make pot roast. Like Stir Fry? Make Stir Fry.
Start with recipes you already know and love and, as you get more confident and comfortable and it begins to become routine, stretch yourself a bit. Tweak recipes you already know. Try something relatively simple but outside of your comfort zone. Recipes don’t have to have five million components to be a success. Sometimes it really is as simple as making chicken tenders.
Sometimes your recipes will flop, and that’s okay. Annoying, as you are now short a few lunches for the week, but survivable. You are building a growing catalog of meals that you can choose from at any point in the future and know you can accomplish with relative success. For every recipe that implodes catastrophically, you will have two that turned out pretty okay.
3 – When is a good time to cook?
Again, seems fairly obvious, but this is not a question you should skip. For me, Sundays and Thursday evenings are usually reliable times.
Find times that work for you and are somewhat consistent. If you only have one afternoon (or even morning) a week that is absolutely fine and completely doable. A crockpot can help this process if time is at a premium.
Because I have more free time on Sunday than Thursday, I do most of my cooking and all of the grocery shopping then. Not to say I don’t have to occasionally stop off for the odd ingredient that I’ve forgotten, but it’s mostly taken care of. Knowing that have the things I need at home is a huge resource for me and a huge relief for my mental checklist.
Sundays I put together a few breakfasts, a handful of snacks, one of my bigger meals for the week. Bonus point- because I nibble while I cook I rarely eat dinner that day. Additionally, I sometimes start marinating or soaking a protein for Thursday, but not always.
Keep Things Simple
A lot of times meal planning guides come with colored charts, labeled containers for individual meals, irritating reminders, or promptly delivered boxes of single-serve meals (not the most environmentally friendly option). Sometimes, they help. Some people like the organization of a spreadsheet. Others prefer to pin their favorite recipes for easy review later. But all too often, those new to meal prepping will find their zeal is in the new hack or app and quickly loses its luster… along with their interest in meal plans.
Meal Prepping is supposed to create LESS work. Not more.
I will tell you right now that if you are getting frustrated with meal prepping, it is probably more about the method than the actual prep. Finding what works for you can be a difficult and frustrating challenge for some, especially if you are relying on rigid or pre-prepped systems. But, again, the biggest mistake is typically in trying to over complicate things.
Meal Prep is not the scary monster of mass organization and itemized lists it sometimes seems. It is the simple act of making the foods you already love, with enough left over to enjoy a second and even third time.
That’t pretty much it. Really.
And you know what? It only ever gets easier the more you try.