Is this post about massage business? Nope! But kinda. It’s about meal and budget stuff and making my workday easier and really, it’s all related. I’ve been asked about my meal prep enough that I figured it’s worth a blog post. So here we go.
Here’s the story: Two days a week I work a long day at the office. I get in around 8am and leave around 8pm. If I don’t plan ahead and bring my meals, I will inevitably end up spending time and money eating food served to me through my car window for lunch and/or dinner. And I’ve got a little breakfast issue where I’m not hungry until and hour or so after I get up, then I’m usually on my way to work. So if I don’t pack breakfast, I’m likely to binge on a 600 calorie breakfast sandwich and an ice coffee. This all gets a little expensive and less than healthful. Obviously.
And yet, it’s been a real project to handle meal planning and preparation. I don’t like to eat the same thing a zillion meals in a row and I do want to be healthier and at the same time I’m very lazy. Trifect of hassle, huh?
It’s taken me a few years to get a good routine going. I checked my Instagram and my first documented meal prep was June 2017. But now it’s pretty smooth and I save a bunch of money and I’m prepping meals I actually want to eat. An added bonus is that I’m not wasting so much food and I’m in better shape health-wise.
This is not a complete guide to meal planning and prepping (you can Google or Pinterest that if you really want to dive in) but here are my favorite ideas, tips, and resources for getting started! And I’ve included all my favorite cheats and hacks, too.
Some questions to consider before you start prepping. For each meal ask yourself:
- How long will this last in the fridge? Firmer foods hold up better than liquidy meals.
- How may times will I want to eat this? Be realistic. If it’s just you eating the preps, cut recipes in half when needed or concentrate on meals that will freeze well.
- What is my schedule like this week?
I try to combine a protein, a healthy carb and a fruit or vegetable. That’s the combination that most satiates my hunger for 4-5 hours at a time. I’m eating less meat and subbing in more beans nowadays.
Here’s what that looks like in the simpler forms
Breakfast bento box with hard boiled egg, half an apple, pear or orange, maybe a few chunks of lactose-free cheese (no carb in this one). A lunch bento may also include a few slices of salami (sometimes I crave salty things!) or a little container of almonds or cashews along with a few crackers.
Salmon with a honey, soy and ginger glaze (pretty sure it was a pre-made sauce from a bottle) with jasmine rice and green beans. These were beans from my garden share, but off season I’m a fan of frozen green beans, edamame and broccoli to handle the veggie component. I buy in bulk. I get a bag of frozen fish fillets from Trader Joe’s or my grocery store.
This one is a little fancier. I tried a recipe for tofu with peanut sauce with whole grain noodles, and I added random vegetables from my garden share. This was my first time ever using tofu and I didn’t hate it. But it involved 2 or 3 steps of cooking so it probably won’t happen often.
Trader Joe’s Mandarin Chicken, rice and frozen green beans. It was quick and easy, not from scratch but still better than take-out.
The absolute easiest meal preps are some combination of rotisserie chicken, mashed or roasted potato and green beans. I’ll usually get a bag of salad mix and do a few salads with chicken on them, too. I freeze the bones to make stock and any leftover meat to throw in that future soup.
Sometimes for even easier meals I hit Trader Joe’s and get a box of frozen turkey or beef burgers, a jar of BBQ sauce, and some boxes of mac and cheese. I cook up 2 of the meat patties, cut up into bite sized pieces, top with a little sauce and put into a divider dish. I pair it with half a box of max and cheese with a bunch of frozen vegetables added. Is this the most healthy thing I could be eating? No. But again, it’s much healthier than the Quarter Pounder Meal Combo with an inevitable giant soda. So it’s a win!
Soups and stews
I love soups and stews, but I get tired of them fast. In the fall I try to make big batches of a few things that freeze well. Chili and butternut squash soup are my favorites and I freeze individual portion sizes, usually in ziplock bags. If I’m feeling motivated I’ll make and freeze corn muffins to pull out with the chili, too.
My favorite super easy and hearty soup recipe involves throwing a bunch of frozen veggies into a pre-made (or purchased) vegetable or chicken stock, adding frozen dumplings/gyoza or cheese tortellini and heating through. That’s it. Simple and yum.
Some meals have separate warm and cold components and don’t do well in a single-dish prep. I rarely bring a meal like tacos to work, but I love having them pre-prepped for dinner at home. I cut up all the cold ingredients, cook the meat and put in separate containers in the fridge. Then when I get home it only takes a few minutes to heat the shells and meat and put everything out buffet-style for assembly.
This is kinda huge for me. If I’m leaving work exhausted at 7pm and I know it’s going to take me 20 minutes to get home and 30 minutes to make dinner, I’m very likely hitting a drive thru. If I know it’s going to take 6 minutes to get dinner together, I’ll go right home, eat my tacos and save a bunch of money.
Places to find recipes
Work Week Lunch has a monthly subscription that gives you great weekly menus and recipes and an interactive meal planning calendar. All the meals are designed to prep ahead and hold up for up to 5 days. Most recipes offer vegetarian swaps and great ideas on simple changes to fit your preferences. I do the monthly subscription and it’s really helped me adventure past my boring standards.
I keep this magnetic notepad on my fridge, and I fill it out (loosely) on the days I prep. This helps the boyfriend and I figure out what needs to get eaten when.
I started with a stack of cheap reusable plastic containers from the grocery store. Slowly I’ve upgraded to glass containers. I like these Pyrex dishes, but the covers crack at the edges after some use. I got some of this type at my grocery store and I like them just fine.
Keep it relaxed
Resist the urge to get too fancy or pretentious in your meal prepping. Stick with simple, easy dishes you enjoy and forgive yourself if you slack off for a few weeks at a time. Sometimes the best I can do is a 4 pack of supermarket muffins and pre-made salads. That’s still a win over drive thru food!
PS- some of the amazon links are affiliate links.