Meal Prep 101 – Your how-to guide

Aug 28, 2019 | Food and Culture

It is that time of year again, parents are sending their little ones off to school. University kids are moving out on their own once again. And, summer vacations have all but come to an end. Getting back into the daily grind can be a bit hectic, and overwhelming. Things get lost and fall through the cracks as time seems to slip by ever quicker. Eating well should not be one of the things that get away from us.

Today, we are going to talk all about meal prep. We’ll look at how you can maximize the time you have to cook to prepare food for a few meals at once without getting overwhelmed. The same principles apply whether you are a college kid out on your own for the first time, a young couple making their way in this crazy world, or a parent of three. Let’s get to it.

Meal Prep 101


Why meal prep?

Picture this, you just got home from work it’s about 6 o’clock and you are exhausted. It was a rough day. Everything you did just seemed to be not enough. There seemed to be something in the air that was making everyone a little cranky. Once you were finally able to leave work you got stuck in traffic for an hour. Now that you’re home you are starving since you haven’t really eaten anything since noon. The last thing in the world you want to do is cook dinner so you pick up your phone and order take out. It’s the second time this week and it’s only Wednesday. While you’re waiting for the food to arrive you snack on a bag of chips as you sit and zone off into space watching tv or scrolling Instagram.

Maybe your story is a little different than that one. Maybe you had to run around picking your kids up from different after school activities. Maybe it’s 7 o’clock by the time you get home. You aren’t going to be cooking too much at this point. More than likely you stopped at the grocery store and bought a cooked chicken and a premade salad. Or, it’s pizza night again.

The truth is that we are all busy. It doesn’t matter what our circumstances are, there are always things going on and there is never enough time. But we shouldn’t sacrifice eating well. It is a really important part of a healthy life.


So, what can you do?

The short answer is to plan your meals around your busy schedule and do meal prep. But how do you actually do that?

The key to this really is planning. Take a bit of time, between 15 to 30 minutes and map out your meals for the next week. Looking at your schedule figure out at least two days that you will have time, 1-2 hours to cook. Plan out when the best time to go to the grocery store is. I recommend around 9 pm. There isn’t usually anyone there and you can zip in, get what you need and zip out. Then cook based on the plan you’ve made.


How to build a meal plan

Building a successful meal plan is like doing a puzzle. There should be no spaces left and you shouldn’t have any extra pieces left over at the end. Start with the edges just like doing a puzzle. In the case of meal planning, the edges would be the main ingredient. This would usually be the protein. Now, fill in the rest of the puzzle with vegetables, starches, and sauces.

Buy as few ingredients as you can while still maintaining a varied diet.

There are some ingredients that you really can’t buy in small quantities. Things like cabbage for example. So, if you plan on making a stew or soup with cabbage plan on making coleslaw and using what’s left in a stir-fry. Essentially, the idea is that you buy as few ingredients as you can while still maintaining a varied diet.

Try at least one new recipe or ingredient each week.

Plan for variety. Try not to get stuck in a cycle of making the same meals every week. This will get boring to eat and to cook. Build into your meal plan the idea that you will try at least one new recipe or ingredient each week and it will keep things exciting. This will also make you a better cook.

You should also, on occasion, plan for a night out or to get take out. I think it’s important to build this into your plan once or twice a month. Acknowledge that you are going to order a pizza sometimes, or go out for burgers. By building this into the meal plan you are taking away any negative feelings and instead have given yourself something to look forward to as a fun night.

How do you stick to the plan?

Sticking to your meal plan comes down to practice. Really, you just have to do it. But once you do it for even just a few weeks, you will notice that you are less stressed, you are spending less money, and you are eating better. You may even find that you enjoy cooking a bit more because there is a lot less stress.

Try not to be too hard on yourself if you mess up. Life is ever-changing and despite your best efforts sometimes your plan will just go to hell. Live with it, learn from it, and get right back to it. But don’t beat yourself up over it.


Prepping your meal plan

Now that you have a meal plan in place it is time to prep it. Take that 1-2 hour every 3-4 days and cook. Cook 1-2 big items like chicken, roast beef, or chili. Figure out how you can use those in multiple meals. Chicken, for example, can be a chicken dinner one night, a pulled chicken salad with lots of fresh vegetables the next night and chicken soup the third night. All of that can easily be prepared in 2 hours. Roast beef can be roast beef dinner the first night, really great sandwiches with horseradish mayo, arugula, and cheese, served with a salad the next night, and beef and barley soup the last night. Again, this can all be prepped in an hour or two.


Containers

Preparing all kinds of food is great, but unless you have a way to properly store the food, it is all kind of pointless. Invest in some multi-compartment containers. They are inexpensive and will do wonders for your meal prep game. Just build your meals in them, then you can quickly grab one, heat it and eat it. The meal will be fully portioned and ready to go. You can find a variety of meal prep containers here.

The point

The point is that eating well, even on a busy schedule isn’t impossible. It isn’t easy, it takes work and effort but isn’t it worth it? If you think it is then it’s time to get going on it.

I have put together a little infographic and meal prep guide that you can use to get yourself on the right track. You can download it here.

Also, if this all seems like too much work and you live in the Halifax area I do offer a meal prep delivery service. You order 3 – 5 days worth of food, I prepare it and deliver it. You just have to reheat it. You can check that out here.

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