Like most people these days, I live a fast and busy life—which makes it challenging to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. For a while I’d heard that meal prepping could help solve this modern-day conundrum, but it wasn’t until I actually put the practice to the test every Sunday that I realized just how much meal-prepping could change my life for the better.
Taking the time to nurture myself by creating a menu, shopping for ingredients, and preparing foods turned out to be a radical form of self-care: I now find that the more conscious I am of my dietary choices, the more in-touch I feel with my body and the happier I am.
While it may be a bit challenging to start a meal-prep routine, it’s totally worth it. Once you make the effort, you’ll see that each meal yields infinite possibilities. Plus, you save loads of money.
Making your meals in one long stretch is also a creative way to practice mindfulness. Slowing down and meditating on the texture of my food (say, a strawberry’s coating of tiny seeds and ripples) suddenly gives me a sense that everything is linked— the earth, the gardens, the people that grow our foods, my health. I crave that meaning, that awareness, and that connection to my food.
Looking to join the ranks of many joyful meal preppers but don’t know where to start? Here are some of my no-frills methods—hopefully they will inspire you to give it a shot!
Learning to make a variety of meals that will last a full week (and working to stretch the capacity of each dollar) takes a good amount of planning and patience. The biggest challenge for me? Staying organized. With meal prepping, it’s essential to always have all your ingredients on hand. Going to the grocery store for a forgotten item wastes precious time and distracts from the process. My solution: I use my phone to make a shopping list that I update continuously. It includes both pantry staples I’m running low on, as well as foods I need for the week ahead.
Since I usually cook several dishes for the week ahead, I use my phone to set separate alarms for each item— this helps the process go smoothly. I time out how long each item will take to be ready, and then cook the dishes that take the longest first.
I find that mornings are the most challenging time of the day to eat healthy, given I’m always rushing around. Especially Monday mornings. Meal prep is a life saver for anyone who tends to get caught unintentionally skipping breakfast.
I keep breakfast nice and simple, with lots of fresh fruit, like fresh pineapple, guava, and blueberries or strawberries. I chop up and portion out these tropical fruits (one cup of fruit per breakfast) and then stash them in round, glass Tupperware containers.
Dinner & Lunch
I use a crockpot to make the bulk of my lunches and dinners. I always start my crockpot dish before everything else, as they take the most time to cook. My favorite recipes are white bean soup, butternut squash stew, a white bean turkey chili, and “Cincinnati Style” chili. I dream of having two, or even three, crockpots going at all times.
After I get the crockpot going, I prepare—on the stove top—whole grains, which act as a base for other meals and can also be added to salads. Using grains in my dishes helps me save money and diversify my diet, since grains (and beans and legumes) are pennies per portion.
Polenta, rice, and steel-cut oats are all cost-effective and delicious, and quinoa is a staple in most of my meals, as are French Green lentils, which I spoon upon salads. I usually portion out a half cup of grains for each of my meals, and store them in glass Tupperware containers.
I love and live off of salads. To save time, I buy bags of julienned carrots and triple-washed boxed greens. Pro-tip: Arugula, kale, and spinach keep the best.
On Sundays, I portion out five days’ worth of salads, starting with five separate handfuls of greens. Then I prep and portion out the toppings (about one quarter to one half cup per topping). Once assembled, each salad is a ready-to-go meal, sans dressing and toppings. (Keep the dressing and toppings in small glass Tupperware containers or baggies.)
I want each salad I enjoy to be slightly different, so I shop in the bulk section to purchase nuts, seeds, and other healthy toppings like dried fruits. I love coupling candied pecans, crumbled walnuts, halved hazelnuts, or shaved almonds with crumbled goat cheese, dried cranberries or cherries (or fresh blueberries or strawberries, when in-season), and thinly-sliced red onions.
For protein and an energy boost, I also top my salads with chopped roasted chicken (about three ounces). Or, I add a can of sardines for a dose of heart-healthy omega-3s. Sometimes I add freshly-cooked and seasoned chickpeas, fresh from the crockpot).
Veggies and Peppers
Root vegetables—like carrots, fennel, beets, and potatoes—take the longest to cook. Each week I roast a huge tray of beets and a bunch of vegetables (which I later eat chopped on a salad or on a bed of rice or quinoa).
Faster-cooking peppers, zucchini, yellow and summer squashes, asparagus, onion, and garlic take less time, so I cook them later on during my Sunday meal prep session.
Pro-tip: Heating everything in the oven at once saves time and energy, and keeps the kitchen cool in the hot summer months.