Updated: Jan 30, 2020
The ball has dropped, the corks have popped, and the clock has struck midnight. Now that we’re a few weeks into the new year, the newness of those shiny little resolutions is probably starting to fade (you can check out my perspective on the whole “resolutions” thing here. The motivation you were feeling might be waning. Now you’re running on pure grit and determination.
But if you’re like over half of Americans that made resolutions to eat healthier this year, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed on where to start. Taking the guess-work out of healthy eating is the best way to remove as many of the barriers to entry. And the best way to do that is through meal prep.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, meal prep or meal prepping is all about putting in the hours upfront that get everything ready for the week as far as food goes. Some people have everything pre-cooked so that at meal time all you have to do is heat. Some people just do all the washing, chopping, and measuring beforehand. How detailed you get is up to you and you’ll find yourself a comfortable groove once you get going.
But first, you’ve gotta start. I’ve got a strategy that you can start THIS WEEK.
1. Calendar it out.
Whenever I’m meal prepping, I love to start the whole process on Friday night so that I can hit the stores Saturday morning. You really can start whatever day you want but I personally need to be prepared food-wise as I head into the weekend. Especially as schedules fill up, it’s so easy to throw in the towel when you know you’ve got an hour’s worth of work before you’re sitting down at the table. But if I know that when I get home from an afternoon hike all I’ve got to do is throw the chicken I shredded yesterday into tortillas and heat up the rice and veggies I already cooked, I’m way less likely to call an audible and eat out.
So first take a look at your calendar for the week and think through your 3 meals each day. Any nights you KNOW you’ll be gone or days you’ll have a lunch meeting? Those are meals you don’t have to worry about. Or if know you’ve got a practice that’ll run late into the evening, you can plan crock-pot chili ready and waiting for you at home.
2. Start simple
The easiest meal to prep for, in my opinion, is breakfast. But that’s because I don’t really have a ton of variation. Rotating through overnight oats, smoothies, and yogurt and granola gives me enough variety not to be bored but enough routine that I can knock that meal-prep out in just a few minutes. Find staples that you love and build on them.
Stick with what you know works. I know people that eat the same thing for breakfast eeevery day. Especially while you’re starting out getting into a great meal prepping routine, not changing things up very often can really help you. Just make sure that with your other meals, you’re having a variety of foods to get the whole array of nutrients your body needs. But for the first few weeks, it can be a huge life saver to know that your tried and true smoothie pack will be waiting for you in the freezer.
Side note: food boredom is a real thing. If you know that looking into the fridge on day 4 to find the same thing you’ve eaten on days 1, 2, and 3 is going to drive you straight into the arms of a McDonald’s drive-thru, give yourself freedom and plan some variety in there.
3. Don’t go bananas with new recipes.
Well, you can EAT bananas, but I mean just don’t go overboard with all the new ideas you want to try. Meal planning doesn’t mean things have to be new! One of the biggest mistakes people fall into when they start meal planning is that they turn to Google or Pinterest for recipes and inspiration. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it can bring on a whole lot of overwhelm. Can you imagine having to make 7 brand new meals in a week that you’ve never trie
d? Talk about expectations and stress! My rule of thumb is to try a new recipe each week if I want to add something into the rotation. That way you know you’ll have some tried and true successes thrown in there in case anything turns out to be a flop.
4. Plan things with like ingredients based on what’s on sale and what you’ve already got at home.
Ground beef can make approximately 7,398 different recipes. Burgers, meat sauce, meatballs, stir fry, tacos, I could go on and on. If it’s on sale or you’ve got a stockpile at home from previous weeks’ sales, plan your menu around that. Cooking up a big batch of one type of meat and divvying it up to cover your meals is a HUGE time saver for your meal prep.
5. Make your lists like a boss.
This is one of my favorite things to do for meal-prepping, because I do love me a good list. I keep one master grocery list and one meal-prepping list. I go recipe by recipe and add each ingredient to my grocery list and total up what I need. Going back to the ground beef example, if I plan to make tacos (one pound), stir fry (one pound), meatballs (two pounds) I know that I need a total of 4 pounds of ground beef. Then I move to my meal planning list. Of my 4 pounds, I need two of those cooked up in my skillet and 2 pounds made into meatballs. Or I might need some shredded lettuce but also some left in cups for lettuce wraps (ooo another great ground beef recipe!)
Before you head to the store, don’t forget to take a peek in your fridge, freezer, and pantry to see if you can cross anything off your list just by shopping from your own house!
6. Get to prepping!
Once you get home with your bounty, the magic begins. You can take your meal prep list and work right off of it. Because it’s combined by ingredient rather than recipe, you’ll be working on several meals at once. Once you get through all the washing/chopping/cooking you can divide it out by
meal. Or you can leave all the prepped ingredients together and just take out how much you need for each recipe as you make it.And voila! You’re prepped for the week. Now you can sit down for a celebratory glass of...water? Just kidding, you’ve got to go clean the kitchen. If you’re looking for some great meal-prep inspiration and tips, check out @cleanmondaymeals on insta. She’s turned her own personal meal prep into a meal delivery business in Utah, and shows step-by-step how she batch cooks everything once a week.