I have a weird love-hate relationship with meal prep. My wallet and my time management love it so much. I don’t have to worry about what I will eat for lunch or dinner, which means I’m not tempted to DoorDash something as well. But, my struggle is that most of the time I meal prep, it usually isn’t my fixation food. And if something isn’t my fixation food (It’s a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich with some Rold Gold pretzel twists smashed in between two pieces of white bread.), then I don’t want to eat the same thing for dinner every night for the next week or two which makes meal prep more complicated than it has to be, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. So through my trial and error, here is a guide to meal prep.
Before You Start Cooking
Meal prepping is as easy or as hard as you make it, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind before you start cheffing it up. One of the most important things to remember when preparing meals is to ensure you have enough containers. Some people love boujee glass Tupperware or thick plastic containers with clasp-on lids. Unfortunately, I think all of those fancy Tupperware containers are overpriced. I use deli containers and the black to-go containers you might see at a Chinese restaurant. They are microwave and dishwasher-safe. They store in your cabinets perfectly. And you save more money buying cheaper containers. You just might want to buy one or two nicer containers that are more freezer safe.
Meal Ideas And Shopping
I’m a weirdo. I love grocery shopping. I’m so optimistic about who I am when I go grocery shopping. I lie to myself and buy carrots to snack on instead of the family-size double-stuffed Oreos that I want. (I don’t eat snacks that often. I’m just not a snacker.) I find a shopping cart full of fresh greens and vegetables gratifying. Plus, I find it easier to add junk food to my cart if I order groceries online. However, I will start throwing random things into my shopping cart if I don’t make a list.
Make A List
Sit down for ten minutes and plan what you want to eat for the week. Breakfast is the easiest meal for me to prep. I either eat Kodiak Oatmeal, blend up a smoothie, or, if I feel fancy, make breakfast sandwiches and freeze them for later. Find what works for you and run with it. I am not a morning person. I struggle with rolling out of bed as it is, so I need as low effort for breakfast as possible. Sometimes that means some toast and coffee.
For lunch, I like to eat sandwiches, wraps, or soup. I like things that are either super easy to make or don’t need to be heated up. Never know if I will find a microwave out in the wild. (And yes, soup is super easy to make. My favorite chicken noodle recipe is from Molly Baz. Although, I cut back a little on all the salt she uses in most of her recipes.) And for dinner, I let the creative juices flow. I try to make something new every week. It takes some trial and error, but you’ll learn which of your favorite dishes hold up after a few days and which needs to be eaten sooner rather than later.
After you figure out what you want to eat for the week, make a giant list of all the ingredients you need; otherwise, you might forget something or buy too much or too little of an ingredient you need for three dishes cooking. For example, I like spinach in my lunch wraps, but I also love to throw some in a smoothie or even an egg sandwich occasionally. Plan accordingly, and your life will be easier.
Meal Prep Cooking Tips
Mise en place
Yeah, I’m cool. I know a fancy french term used in cooking. Mise en place is a french term for having all your ingredients measured, peeled, cut, sliced, and diced before you start cooking. Everything should be ready to go before you ever turn on your stove. It makes cooking so much easier. You might use more bowls and dishes, but if you clean as your cook, then the mess won’t be as bad as you think it will be, I promise. Some dishes don’t need a lot of prep, and others have a crap ton. You don’t want to feel rushed to cut peppers while your onions are already cooking. Get it all done, then start cooking.
Freeze your rice
I love white rice. It is super cheap, easy to make, and you can prep a lot of it, freeze it, and use it whenever you want. I make about 8 cups of rice a week. (Get a rice cooker if you can. They are one of the single greatest kitchen appliances you can buy.) So, you’re probably wondering how I store 8 cups of rice. It’s super easy. I scoop out individual serving sizes of rice and plastic wrap them. Throw the bricks of rice into a big container and toss that container in the freezer. Anytime you want to eat rice, take the rice out of the plastic wrap, place it on a plate, add a teaspoon-ish of water, cover the plate with another plate or microwave cover, and microwave for two minutes. You will have rice that looks and tastes like it’s fresh out of the pot.
I love steamed veggies, but they do not hold up well after a day or two. They get all gross and soggy. So instead of steaming veggies for the week, I steam them every few days. It’s one of the easiest things to do for dinner and takes no time. I prefer fresh steamed veggies that I have to cook every other day over gross soggy ones. You can also buy broccoli and other veggies in bags you can “steam” in the microwave to make it even easier.
Keeping Spinach/Lettuce Fresh Longer
The worst thing about buying a huge container of spinach is that it goes rotten faster than you can eat it all unless you’re a herbivore and strictly eat spinach with every meal. To make your spinach last longer (4-7 days longer), throw a paper towel on top of the spinach in the container. The paper towel will absorb all the moisture that makes the spinach wilt faster than you might like.
Cooking Isn’t A Chore
I love cooking. I put on a baseball game, a Formula 1 race, whether it’s a race weekend or a podcast, and turn what is a chore into a peaceful time to relax and enjoy some well-earned me time. The single greatest cooking tip I can give you is that you should pick one day out of the week to meal prep. Turn it into a routine. I usually cook on Sundays. Friday nights are for friends. Saturday is for sleeping in, reading books, watching anime, and going to the dog park. But Sundays are for meal prep and cleaning my apartment. Find a system that works for you and stick to it. You might surprise yourself by how much easier life gets.