When it comes to planning ahead, meals often fall by the wayside, causing stress later on. To avoid problems when you’re hungry and don’t know what to eat, I’m sharing my tips for how to be a meal prep superhero and what that looks like for me this week! Make sure to give them a try and see what works for you.
“So, what you’re saying is, you cook every day? Like, every day?”
Practically speaking, yes. Obviously there are days when that looks like grabbing a spoon and mixing peanut butter into yogurt, but for the last two years those have been few and far between. To me this feels right because I’m actively taking charge of my health on a daily basis. As I’ve learned, though, many people find this shocking purely because by the end of the day, who wants to spend hours in the kitchen slaving over a hot oven?
Okay, let’s hold up right there.
You don’t have to spend hours, nor do you have to crank up the oven. You could become a raw foodie. Granted I don’t think I could ever go that extreme, but I won’t stop you from leading a life of salad. Rabbit food, as my cousin likes to call it. The main point, though, is the timing. I lost count of how many people have scoffed at the idea of meal prep. They claim lack of time, organization, storage space, know-how. I’m sure we could come up with a few extra ridiculous excuses now, between you and me.
Except we won’t because our time is better spent banishing food stress once and for all. No one needs to add “worry about what I’ll throw into a bowl when I’m super hangry” onto their to-do list. Instead, you can be the next meal prep queen.
While I started learning how to meal prep in high school, when I packed lunches the night before, it began in earnest once I moved into an apartment. For nearly two years I’ve been off a college meal plan and solely responsible for feeding myself every day. Stressful? Heck yes. I suddenly needed to figure out how to get groceries, when to cook, and what to eat for 3 meals a day every day of the week.
At first I only cooked right before a meal which, in hindsight, was a bad idea. I was so hungry that by the time the food was ready I had eaten about half the ingredients anyway. Other days I had to run to class because I took too long packing lunch. We won’t talk about how many times I stayed up past my bedtime because dinner ate into my homework.
I started getting the hang of meal prep back when I did Whole30. It took until now to finally get it right, putting me in superhero mindset for the start of the week.
Build it into your schedule.
Whether you’re doing it once or twice a week, this is the key first step. Sit down and map out how you spend your days during a typical week. Then, find a time when you can go grocery shopping and another when you can focus on prepping/cooking food. This year I dedicated Sunday as grocery day and cook either Sunday or Monday night. Depending how much you need to make this could take a couple of hours, but it gets quicker with practice. I know that seems like a lot of time, but compare it to how much time you’re saving for those busy days. Doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?
Write it down.
It doesn’t matter where or how you write it, so long as you won’t lose it. You need to make a list of what to buy and at least a general idea of what recipes you’re going to make. Otherwise you end up with a fridge full of ingredients but no dishes to make. I also recommend checking what needs to be restocked because you don’t want to reach for the bottle of mustard to make Sheet Pan Harvest Salad only to find it empty.
I like to split it by proteins, vegetables, fruits, and breakfasts (yes, that gets its own category) instead of creating a menu. Don’t fret if your list always looks the same. It’s entirely yours and no one else has to see it. Once you find what you like, stick with it! Shopping gets even faster that way.
Some days it can be a bit of a stretch (heh heh heh), but it’s probably the most important step. Things don’t always work out the way we plan. Maybe I wanted to have one thing but it’s out of stock or crazy expensive, so I’ll swap it for another in the store. Or perhaps I planned to prep everything that night, but ran out of time and needed to cook the day of instead.
One of the joys of meal prep is that you can be flexible. It’s entirely what you make of it. For some people that means tackling a few days at a time, whereas for others it means a full week. I’ve tried putting together entire meals in containers to grab-and-go and also just cooked components for a more mix-and-match approach. (I prefer the latter. It gives me more room to listen to what my body wants, as well as reduces my own stress of trying to predict exactly what I’ll want to eat at lunch 4 days from now.)
There you have it. Almost seems too easy, but I promise that’s all there is to it. Just like any skill, it takes some practice. Play around with different approaches to see what you like best, what works and what doesn’t. To show you it in action, here’s a glimpse into what I did this week.
My grocery list
This list includes restocking on some thing that will last me longer than one week.
Proteins: tofu, eggs, feta cheese, siggi’s yogurt
Vegetables: baby arugula, red bell peppers, mini cucumbers, mushrooms, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, zucchini, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, string beans, sweet potato, avocados
Fruit: apples, bosc pears
Staples: peanut butter, tahini, unsweetened original almond milk, coffee beans
My meal prep
- Roast the zucchini (2 tsp avocado oil + 1/2 tsp garam masala) and brussels sprouts (2 tsp avocado oil + sea salt + black pepper + garlic powder).
- Steam the string beans.
- Wash and cut half the celery for snacks.
- Take out Paleo Chicken Nuggets and pizza dough to defrost.
- Bake the tofu (cut into 1/4-inch thick squares and drain for minimum 30 minutes. Toss with avocado oil + seal salt + black pepper + garlic powder + onion powder + chili powder. Bake at 350°F for ~20 minutes each side, then broil for 3-4 minutes).
Now, I can spend this week food stress-free, knowing that my fridge is stocked with ready-to-build meals. And it took me a total of about 30 minutes active time in the kitchen. It’s doesn’t always take me so little time, but right now I’m craving lots of giant salads that don’t need cooking. Maybe that will change, but I’ll cross that bridge when it comes. It’s good enough to know that I have plenty of fruits and veggies to choose from.
My days are now freed up for more recipe developing for all of you, so I’d say that’s a win-win.
As a final disclaimer before signing off, this isn’t a perfect science. There are still days when I end up eating oatmeal for dinner because I don’t have the energy to put together anything else. It rarely happens anymore, though. Ever since I started to meal prep, I’ve had more mental space for other things in life. By ensuring that my body is getting the nutrients it needs, I’m able to keep that cycle moving in a positive direction.
You can have this top-of-the-world feeling, too. I know you can.
If you try any of these tips or recipes, I’d love your feedback. Leave a comment below, save it on Pinterest, or tag #lensesandlentils on Instagram so that I can see your creations!