Cooking healthy in college can be difficult. Most of us barely have enough time to sleep, let alone cook a balanced meal. But there's no need to look toward instant noodles for every meal when there are simple ways to cut back on spending time in the kitchen and spending all your money on takeout. "How do I accomplish this?", you may be wondering. The answer can be found through a practice called meal prepping.

What is meal prepping?

Meal prepping is the easiest way to spend less time in the kitchen, but what is it exactly? Think of it as always having leftovers in the fridge, ready to heat up or enjoy fresh. There are multiple strategies involved in meal prepping, including batch cooking, individually prepared meals, and prepped ingredients.

Batch cooking is the type of meal prepping that most are familiar with: making more than enough for a single meal to have leftovers to enjoy later on. This can easily be achieved by searching recipes that feed multiple, so you can plan how many days of the week you expect to have the meal. If you don't want to worry about having the correct portion size later on, simply divide your leftovers into measured portions and add each into separate containers to have individually prepared meals ready to go in your fridge.

Simple soup recipes are a good start to batch cooking. You can also easily recreate a recipe for chili by throwing together entire cans of black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, and chopped tomatoes followed by the other requisite spices, vegetables, and broth into a large pot and saving the leftovers for later. 

#SpoonTip: Plan to cook on days when you have more free time, like on the weekends.

Another way to meal prep is through prepped ingredients. This saves all the time usually spent during the cooking process on steps such as cleaning your produce, chopping and slicing vegetables, and measuring out ingredients. By having your meal already planned out and ingredients ready to go, you'll have less excuses to order takeout and a less stressful kitchen experience overall. Overnight oats are the perfect way to incorporate prepped ingredients into your routine. Simply add 1/2 cup of oats and 1/2 cup milk (or any non-dairy alternative) into a mason jar sealed with a lid, and place in your fridge to be enjoyed the next morning.

#SpoonTip: Add chia seeds to your jar of overnight oats for additional protein and a thicker consistency.

What are the benefits?

As mentioned before, meal prepping is an excellent way to save time spent in the kitchen or scrolling through your phone looking up ideas for dinner. By planning your meals ahead of time, you can save money at the store and time at home without needing to figure out what meal to cook every night. 

On top of saving time and money, meal prepping is great for incorporating healthy eating into your lifestyle. When food is ready to go in the fridge, you'll hesitate the next time you go to place an order for pizza or ramen. You're way less likely to go for the not-so-great option when all you need to do is place your food in the microwave, making cooking healthy in college so much easier. In addition, it's great knowing exactly what ingredients are in the foods you fuel your body with.

How do I get started?

Before getting ready to plan out all your meals, you'll need the necessary tools to save and keep your food fresh. Amazon offers a wide variety of containers that won't break the bank. From kits designed specifically for salad bowls to easy twist-and-lock storage jars, these containers are perfect for taking on the go or tucking neatly into your fridge. You can even purchase a 12-piece container set that stacks neatly so you don't need to worry about finding room at your place for storage.

Once you've acquired the proper means of storage, it's time to plan ahead. Search for recipes on Pinterest, in cookbooks, or use a meal prep app. Write out in a planner or journal what days you will designate for grocery shopping and cooking, then create a list of recipes and all the required ingredients to make them. Grabbing frozen vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and whole fruits is essential for your grocery list, so make sure you've got all your favorites written down.

#SpoonTip: Dedicate a day out of your week to try new recipes to avoid getting bored of your basic go-to meals.

Meal prepping may be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it and can incorporate these new practices into a routine, your bank account will thank you. Cooking healthy in college does not have to be difficult, and as long as you dedicate some time in your week to plan out your meals and do your research, you're good to go.