If you’re anything like me, you made a New Year’s resolution to stop spending money on eating out, and by December 31st of the next year, you realize you’ve hit a record for the amount of money you spent on eating out over the last year. How? Well, there are a number of reasons.
We fall into this rut of being busy—so we eat out. It tastes better than our own cooking—so we eat out. We’re already on the go—so we eat out. It’s a vicious cycle.
Maybe you’ve heard of meal prepping. And maybe you understand the concept and agree that it could save dozens of dollars a week, but you don’t do it–why?
The number one reason I’ve discovered that college students abstain from meal prep is the lack of knowledge on how to do it correctly. So I’ve put together some steps in order to make you meal prep champions.
Step 1: The pre-shopping trip
The first and most important part of becoming a meal prep champion is to explore your resources. If you live like I do, you’ll know your pantry is either completely full of ignored food, or bare, with the exception of a jar of olives that you bought that one time you thought you were gonna make fancy cocktails.
Take some time to sit down and think about what your level of baking/cooking is–while it’s nice to try new things, it’s a good idea to play it safe when making food in bulk. Chicken, steak, rice, pasta, and vegetables are all good choices. Try some of these recipes to get yourself started.
Make yourself a shopping list based on what you want to prepare. Here is an example, but feel free to add whatever fits your own taste:
- Tuna/chicken salad
#SpoonTip: When you’re making a list, make sure you try to find ingredients that can be used in a variety of foods, that way, you can shake it up and you don’t get bored over the week!
Step 2: The shopping trip
Now that you’ve evaluated what you currently have in your kitchen and made a grocery list for the things you need, it’s time to make the trip to the store. Make sure you never go shopping on an empty stomach, as this can lead to you buying unnecessary food items.
Stick as close as possible to your shopping list, only breaking it to try out a new food item that you might like to add to your meals. Check out these ideas for shopping on a budget.
#SpoonTip: Coupons are totally NOT overrated. You know those annoying emails that grocery stores send you, or the mail that comes once a week? Check them out! Looking at coupons, as well as the weekly ad, is a great way to save a few more dollars each week.
Step 3: The meal prep
Finally, you’ve returned from the store with all your new groceries, and it’s time to make some grub. Sunday night is typically the best night to meal prep, so you can have food for the whole week. It’s super important to make sure that you set aside time to devote to meal prepping to be really successful. Meals can range from 20 minutes to an hour (or more), especially when preparing a lot of food, so make sure you have time to devote to it.
The best meals have variety. Make sure that if you're cooking your main dishes in bulk, but adding different kinds of food to change up your daily eating routine. For example, I made spaghetti for the week, but I have apples, bananas and granola bars to add as a side snack, so I’m not eating the same exact meal every day.
#SpoonTip: Even if you make your protein and starch in bulk, shake up the way you eat it. If you have a bunch of chicken and pasta, try adding Alfredo sauce one day and pesto another! This adds variety and makes you excited to eat your food every day.
Step 4: The great pack
Now that you have your food made, you can pack it away. You didn’t think to make the food was the last step, did you? It’s important to know how much a portion is when packing, so you don’t leave yourself too much or too little food to eat. If necessary, take a bowl (or plate) and put as much food as you would normally eat it before adding it to the storage container.
#SpoonTip(s): Make sure you're using good storage containers that seal your food completely. Failure to do this will result in faster spoiling food, and the wasting of more money.
Also, mason jars are surprisingly effective storage containers. Look into these for cute and useful ways to keep food good longer. Lastly, investing in a food scale is definitely helpful if you're trying to portion your food.
Step 5: The enjoyment
Congrats! You've made it through your first food prep. Make sure to store your food accordingly—the difference between refrigeration and freezing could result in how long you have your food for. As you become more comfortable with your cooking skills, you can advance your meals.
Meal prepping has the potential to become a huge part of your diet and making healthier or less healthy foods can have an impact. It's not hard to become a meal prep champion, but it does require dedication.
Like I said before—someone has to be a champion, so it might as well be you.