How to Simplify Meal Prepping in 5 Easy Steps Cooking your own food at home is a healthier option than grabbing takeout on the way to work in the morning or back from work in the evening. It’s even...
This story originally appeared on Calendar
Cooking your own food at home is a healthier option than grabbing takeout on the way to work in the morning or back from work in the evening. It's even a great idea to fix something from home for your lunches on days you don't have business over a lunch meeting. However, coming home to cook is sometimes hard when you're tired from a long day.
Or, maybe you don't know where to begin creating an elaborate meal, but there's no need for elaborate meals, especially when you want to keep your productivity up and your stress down.
Elaborate Meals are not Needed or Wanted in Today's World.
Making your food at home doesn't have to be a nightmare. On the contrary, it should be fun to get culinary. But, unfortunately, you might not have enough time to make healthy, home-cooked meals every night. If you are an entrepreneur or you work in startups — your time is even more limited — but you must eat well to be able to do those extra hours and late nights.
Meal prepping is a great way to enjoy nutritious, delicious meals at home without the hassle. It involves preparing food ahead of time so you can relax at the end of the day with a pre-cooked meal. When you designate a day for cooking or split up specific tasks, the task can seem less of a chore. Frankly, I don't even want to think about food — but is that attitude a problem in and of itself? Maybe — don't know.
A Side Note Right Up Front
A couple of us in the office hire one of our interns to help with meal prep. So three of us decided to do the lunch meal prep together. One guy in the office is quite picky, and his taste buds are a little more discerning than mine — he believes nothing can be fresh for more than a week. Me? Do two weeks prep for me, bro, and freeze one — all good for me.
So the intern buys, cooks, and divides up the food. Part of his payment is making his own food for the week (or two weeks). It's his choice to cook up chicken breast or chunk up chicken. Yes, something beef, yes, at least one fish meal. Our meals are basic — one protein source, lots of veggies, quinoa, brown rice, lentils, etc. Flavors? The intern decides the flavors, and we trust his judgment. He includes a bag of mixed greens for each of us on the side (sandwich bag size).
As of this writing, we are also experimenting with a morning shake. In the snack size baggie, our protein powder of choice, a small handful of almonds, and whatever else he wants to toss in — then we have blueberries and other berry stuff at work we might throw in — and blend. (We will have to upgrade the office blender, it doesn't do so well on some crunchy stuff.)
Then, we Venmo our intern for his work and the materials (food). I am pleased with the arrangement and hope he doesn't get sick of doing the job, and we also hope his university buddies don't use the expensive protein powder.
Below I have written information from professionals who work with this type of process; you can trust the information. My processes are productivity and having free time to do a few things I enjoy.
There are many benefits to meal prepping other than saving time. For example, Harvard University's School of Public Health reports that meal prepping can save money, reduce stress, and help you maintain a balanced diet.
So, what are you waiting for? Here are some helpful tips to get started on your meal-prepping journey.
1. Schedule Your Meals
Planning your meals in advance is essential to meal prepping. Spend time mapping out which meals you will have on what day of the week. Using scheduling software can be extremely helpful for tasks such as this. It can help you visualize your week at a glance, and stay more organized.
One way to efficiently schedule your meals is to put similar food groups close together during the week. Certain foods are very versatile and can create a variety of flavor palettes. Chicken is an excellent example of this. Just cook a good amount of chicken in advance, and use it for the following few days' meals. Add different spices and flavorings to change up the dishes. Then, prepare the chicken in alternate ways – diced chicken for a pasta dish, shredded chicken for chicken salad. Or, leave your chicken as a chicken breast or some tasty chicken cutlets.
Regardless of what you decide to prepare, ensure you're getting the most out of planning. Scheduling your meals is supposed to relieve stress, not add to it. Don't worry about making a complicated schedule. Stick with what's efficient, tasty, and healthy.
2. Make a List of Recipes
Similar to crafting a schedule, making a list can help you get your thoughts organized. It's not in your best interest to have to scour Pinterest or brainstorm ideas every time you have to cook. The point of meal prepping is to use your time wisely, so get out a pen and paper and get writing. I tend to ask other meal preppers — they keep track of these things, so I don't have to reinvent the wheel on this topic.
Use new or old recipes. Don't scrap all your tried-and-true foods. If you feel your list is too short, spend some time looking for new things to try. Eating various foods is better for you than sticking to the same few meals. Your body wants diversity. One piece of advice I've used in the past has been to get my favorite recipes and a couple of other people's recipes. We each cook up two dishes and then meet at one person's house to divide up a few weeks' worths of meals, and freeze the extras.
Want to make your lists even more organized? Categorize your meals by food group. Or, to get even more detailed, you can also split up the types of meat dishes. Chicken, beef, and pork tend to be different flavor palettes, so why not split them up?
Another tip for keeping this list as put together as possible is making your own cookbook. I had my mom help me make my own cookbook many years ago, which really helped — and I still use it. Of course, mom always had to add in the carrot sticks to the menu — but the cookbook was extremely helpful. She worked on three meals a day for a month.
Mom had to put in little jokes from newspapers or magazines (so that tells you how long ago it was). Maybe I should publish this somewhere for all of us who are too busy to take a moment to think too deeply on the subject of food. Contact me at Calendar or LinkedIn if you are interested in something like this.
But take a little time and write down or print your recipes on their own piece of paper, and store them in a binder. Then, you can organize them by food group or type of meal (breakfast, lunch, etc.). I also added a grocery list, so I don't have to waste time thinking about what I have to shop for.
3. Have a Cooking Day
Designating a day to make your meals for the week can help cut down on time. Pre-making your entire meal is great if you're looking to enjoy grab-and-go lunches for work or school. If you work a Monday through Friday job, consider making a weekend your cooking day.
Creating your week's cuisine doesn't need to take forever, either. A "cooking day" doesn't mean you have to take the whole day. Your meals can be as simple or gourmet as you wish. Review your schedule before preparing anything to stay on top of things. Pull out whatever ingredients you'll be using and have them sit next to you while you tackle that pasta dish.
A quick note on pasta — pasta often gets soggy in the freezer, so undercook your pasta and add a little cup of water to the side in the microwave when you are ready to eat it, and it works great.
Don't forget about breakfast while you're at it. If you find yourself too rushed in the mornings to make a quality meal, prep those too. Preparing your breakfast the night before can take a load off your shoulders. Quiet evenings are the perfect time to get organized for the next day. I know — who has a quiet evening? But you know those Netflix binging times? Now that's a good time to cook.
Another tip is to invest in a slow cooker. Every day can be a cooking day with one of those bad boys. Put your ingredients together in the pot, turn it on low, and let it cook itself while you're at work all day. It's the most hassle-free way to cook. Note: I finally bought a small slow cooker, and my slow cooker days have been better. I was burning food in my big slow cooker before I got a little slow cooker because too little food in a large cooker will burn that food.
4. Get Organized
It's easy to feel overwhelmed in the kitchen. Make your life easier by organizing your stocked-up items. Yes, tackle that fridge or pantry. Get rid of stuff you don't use or things that are out of date. How can you expect to function as efficiently as possible without a little organization?
Pair food groups together. Use that vegetable drawer in the fridge – they made it for a reason. Don't shove things on the shelves all willy-nilly. Instead, turn the labels toward the front, so you can see everything as soon as you open the door. Whatever helps you feel less stressed when you reach for something in the fridge, could you do it?
To take things a step further, gather all your ingredients together the night before your next cooking escapade. This way, you won't have to go find stuff while cooking. An organized kitchen is an orderly kitchen. You'll find your culinary adventures go much more smoothly this way.
5. The Freezer is Your Friend
Don't forget about the freezer. Did you know you can freeze just about every type of food out there? The majority of frozen foods even last around six months. So why not use this to your advantage when meal prepping?
You can freeze foods in bulk. Chicken breasts, vegetables, fruit, nice cuts of beef, always include a fish for healthy options — and cookies are just a few to name. Or, you can freeze large portions in multiple small containers. Separate by serving size – for example, one chicken breast could equal one meal. That means the night before you plan to use the food, take it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to thaw. Then, you'll have the perfect portion ready to go.
Another great way to utilize the freezer is by making your own frozen dinners. The kind you can buy from the store is full of preservatives, so make your own. One way you can have homemade frozen dinners is by freezing your leftovers. Pack them up in freezer-safe containers, and make sure to put the date on them. Another way you can do this is by cooking a full meal, then dividing it into portions to freeze. This method is perfect for making grab-and-go lunches for work or school.
Be sure to keep a list of all the foods you've frozen. This helps you remember what's there without having to go through everything. And it's another way to keep everything organized.
You know, keeping a list is the advice of food professionals, and I'm not too much for this. Throw the stuff in a good freezer bag and date the bag and keep your office food at the top. That pretty much takes care of it. Toss it in the microwave at work and out onto a paper plate. Done.
No work, no clean-up, fast, easy-peasy. I'd rather get out and walk or play pickleball during lunchtime than fuzz around with food. (I know — real foodies think it's not posh enough — um-bah.)
Take it Easy
Don't forget to relax. Meal prepping is all about getting organized, so life feels less hectic. It can take the weight off your shoulders when you come home to a ready-made meal. Additionally, you're more likely to have a balanced diet.
Make sure to have fun with your food scheduling. Don't let prepping be a grueling task. Meal prepping is supposed to save you time and energy, so do what you can to ensure that happens. As a result, you'll find you have much more free time and less food-related stress. So, let's get prepping.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Karolina Grabowska; Pexels; Thank you!