Meal Prepping: Is it Really Worth It?
Meal prepping is a social media rage. The stream of bloggers with the fancy pictures of their meals, inspire either envy of their dedication or secretly a little hatred. Truth is, it’s another fast food burger and fries tonight because the pantry is still empty.
There is just no time to cook before the kid’s basketball game or yet another late work meeting. The mornings aren’t much better, running out the door, forgetting the coffee and ending up in the cafeteria at work eating a doughnut and a Dr. Pepper again. There has to be a better way, but what is it?
Imagine this: still running late morning, but a quick look over at the food calendar reveals that this morning is Overnight Oats morning. Open the fridge, grab the oats, and out the door with a protein-packed, organic breakfast; no McDonald’s necessary.
It is possible, and actually not all that difficult, but it does take some strategy. So, how does one move from Egg McMuffin to Overnight Oats? And is it worth it?
Benefits of Meal Prepping:
When done correctly meal prepping allows cooking most of the week’s food in a short amount of time that fits the family’s schedule.
With a little help from a food planning calendar (more on this to come), meal-preppers can keep from consuming empty calories, make sure each day has all the required macro and micro-nutrients needed, and keep out of the fast food line.
Planning and cooking meals ahead of time can deter spending money spontaneously at restaurants. Also, perusing weekly ads can help base meals on what is on sale at the local grocery, saving more money.
Deciding what to eat can cause World War III in most households. Meal prepping can alleviate this battle altogether.
How To Get Started?
The best place to start is with a menu for the current week. Whether prepping every meal or just dinners, begin by choosing meals that the family likes. Here are some things to consider when choosing meals:
• Use what is in the house: The US Dept. of Agriculture recommends starting with what is already in the cupboard. Take a minute to assess the pantry. What staples are there that can be used this week? This will also save big money and don’t be afraid to get creative.
• Assess the sales: Everyone has a favorite grocery store or coupon app. Check the weekly sales and base the menu around the deals.
• Balance the plate: Whatever diet is preferred, making a menu will help with adherence. Trying Keto? Making a menu beforehand will help ensure that enough of the proper fatty acids are present to stay in ketosis while incorporating some non-starchy vegetables to get minerals and micro-nutrients.
• Make a visible calendar: A cute chalkboard right in the kitchen will work. For example, you could schedule 7 days, divided into 5 meals a day (3 meals and 2 snacks). That’s one preference, but it can be designed to fit any eating plan. Write down the menu for the week, keeping in mind nights that there won’t be much time.
This visual aid will help plan food to fit the family’s schedule and make it much more likely for everyone to keep to the plan. If snacking is a personal problem, consider making the calendar include all meals, including snacks and a time to eat each. This way, when going to the fridge, a specific snack is the target, no temptations to eat junk.
Putting the Plan into Action
Okay, so the meal plan is made, now what?
Pick a day to shop and cook:
If the plan is to prep the whole week, it is recommended to pick a day with 3-4 hours of free time to spend shopping and cooking.
Make a shopping list:
Go through the meal plan and make a shopping list. By making a distinct list and going after those items online, it may be surprising how much money is saved from avoiding impulsive buys. Don’t go to the store without a detailed plan.
Prep the Fruit and Veggies:
Wash all fruit and veggies. Chop all vegetables for use in cooking, like peppers and onions, and place them in an airtight container in the fridge, so they are ready to go.
Make easy-to-grab snacks:
Invest in some small glassware or snack bags if preferred. Make several snack-sized portions of nuts, hummus, and peppers, carrots, or whatever snacks the family likes. This is very quick to do, and it will save time those inevitable mornings when everyone is running to get out of the house!
The Actual Cooking Part
At least prep the hard stuff:
Even if all the cooking is not done in one day, Harvard School of Public Health recommends at least cooking the foods that take the most time (your proteins, whole grains, dried beans or legumes, and roasted vegetables) on cooking day. Easy to warm vegetables can then be added at dinner time to the staples already prepared. This is one option if short on time on cooking day.
While boiling water for that quinoa, the chicken can be baking and so can the sweet potatoes. Don’t forget to set a timer though.
Make enough for left-overs:
A favorite tip is to make an excess of each dinner meal to have leftovers for the next day’s lunch. It saves time, money, and stress. When it’s time to clean up after dinner, just put the leftovers in a small glass bowl with an airtight lid, and it’s ready for the lunchbox in the morning. Another trick is to make foods that can easily be turned into something else.
For instance, grill a ton of chicken, as it can be spiced differently and put in several meals during the week. Make curry lentils for dinner, then take the excess and throw them in some bone broth with a handful of the grilled chicken and have lentil soup tomorrow for lunch. The possibilities are endless. Now, turn on a favorite Pandora list and get cooking.
We called this leftover layering or premeditated leftovers.
Storing Your Creations:
When it comes to storing food, air-tight containers are usually recommended. Store the meals for the next 2-3 days in the fridge, and keep the rest of the week’s meals in the freezer. Then after work, pull out the meals, heat, and eat.
Is Meal Prepping for You?
The bottom line is meal prepping can save major time, stress, and calories! Meal Prep might seem overwhelming at first. The first week or two will take more time than anticipated, but with a little practice, it’s amazing how much time is actually saved and how much healthier the whole family will become. The planning, shopping, and cooking process gets easier and easier each time.
Quickly it will become evident what meals freeze the best, what meals the family loves, and what meals are the easiest to multi-task and cook with. In as little as a few weeks, there will be no more envy or disdain of another influencer’s food post ever again! So, what’s to lose? Give meal prepping a shot and leave the fast food line for good.
1. “Meal Prep: A Helpful Healthy Eating Strategy”. The Nutrition Source, 2019, Harvard University