Photo Credit: Wellness Wildflower
Did you know that Americans spend about half of their food dollars eating out? Seriously. The average American buys a meal or snack from a restaurant 5.8 times per week. That’s lunch every weekday, plus some. If you’re looking to improve both your financial and physical health, cooking your own meals is a good place to start.
Starting a meal prep habit can seem daunting. There are pictures all over social media of perfectly presented meal containers stacked high, or grocery carts overflowing with chicken and veggies and fruits. I promise it doesn’t have to be that hard. Here is a guide to meal prep for beginners—it’ll get you started in just 5 steps.
Step 1: Decide how much of your week you want to tackle.
Most people would say that step 1 is to plan your meals. I think you should start by figuring out how much of your food you want to prepare ahead of time, and how much effort you want to put into the meal prep itself. I make about 90% of my food for the whole week (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) over the weekend. But I definitely didn’t start out making that much ahead of time. If you want to jump in, go for it! But if you’d prefer to ease in, you might start prepping only lunches for the week and take it from there.
Step 2: Plan your meals.
This can be as fancy or as simple as you want. For the sake of simplicity, my lunches consist of pretty much the same thing every week: Mason jar salads, soup, a protein, and a fruit. I rotate salad dressings, soups, and protein sources, but the template is basically the same.
Some lunch ideas: you could make a big stir fry and portion it out for each day. Or make sandwiches and cut up veggies. You might make a casserole and save the leftovers, or you could go all in, cooking five different recipes for a different lunch each day. If you’re cooking for an entire family, you can prep slow cooker recipes and store them in plastic freezer bags. Simply put all of the meal’s ingredients in a freezer bag and freeze. When you are ready to make that meal, pull the bag out of the freezer in the morning, and put the contents in your slow cooker and you will have dinner ready in about 6-8 hours. That way you can make dinner for the day and pack your leftovers for the next day. Whatever you decide, write it down and make your grocery list.
Step 3: Buy your groceries.
Buy the things on your list (and, if possible, only the things on your list).
Step 4: Prepare your meals.
This can be the hardest part. I’ve had plenty of food go bad in the fridge because I had the intention to make something but never got around to it. That does not save you money and does not make your life easier. Don’t be like that.
Make a date with your kitchen. Write it down on your calendar if you have to. Set a time to start and hold yourself to it. If you think it’s going to take a while, get out your laptop or tablet, or rotate your TV toward the kitchen. A movie or a couple of episodes of your favorite show can immeasurably improve your meal prep experience.
Step 5: Portion your meals.
There is no wrong way to do this. I build out all of my Mason jar salads at once so they’re easy to grab and go. When it comes to my soup and chicken, however, I keep them in one large container and just divvy them out each morning before I head to work. Whether you portion out all of your meals at once or take care of it each morning is up to you—just be sure to do it.
If you have things that may not stay good for the full week, label your containers and put them in the freezer to pull out mid-week. Just don’t forget about them.
And really, that’s it! The hardest part, in my opinion, is making sure you hold yourself to actually doing the cooking. It takes me about 2-3 hours, on average, and the payoff for the time invested is always worth it. Take the time and your future self will thank you for it.
Author: Whitney Landon