This summer, I’m away from home and interning in San Francisco, meaning I can’t rely on always-available dining halls or mom’s home cooking. I’m lucky enough to be staying with my sister and living rent-free, but I knew going out to eat Monday through Friday wouldn’t look too pretty on my bank statement. Enter: meal prep.

In case you’ve missed the latest millennial trend, meal prepping is simply cooking and storing your meals ahead of time. The term seemed to pop up overnight, but is now seen as full-fledged #adulting lifestyle.

After a few weeks of packing lame lunches and spending too much money on salads, I took advice from my sister and started meal prepping my lunches. Not only has it saved me time, money, and general what-on-earth-am-I-going-to-eat thoughts, but I am now the envy at the intern lunch table at work. It’s as simple as choosing the right foods and memorizing a few good recipes. 

My Meal Prep Process


I grocery shop once a week on Sundays and buy everything I’ll need for the week ahead, including all of the food I plan on cooking for four days of lunches and five days of dinners. There are many ways to meal prep, but I find it’s easiest to pretend I’m cooking for a family of four rather than different meals for one person. I go out to lunch with the other interns every Friday so my social life doesn’t slip up, and all the more reason to treat yourself at the end of the work week! Throughout the week, I think of little ideas and jot them down on my phone’s notepad. I usually don’t go through hundreds of recipes online, I just think of one theme that I’d like to eat that week. Last week, I was feeling more of a Mediterranean vibe, so I meal prepped farro, roasted chicken, spiced chickpeas, and roasted eggplant. The week before, I tried pairing Asian ingredients like bok choy, edamame, and rice together. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of a Mexican theme for my next work week, with black beans, avocado, and roasted corn. Nothing there is too complicated to make, yet tastes amazing when it’s all Tupperware-d together.

Choosing your Meals

The key to meal prepping and not feeling like a flustered mess is to manage time well. If you’re roasting chicken and vegetables, cook everything at the same temperature but throw the chicken in the oven first, giving it plenty of time to bake through. And while that’s roasting away, it frees up space on the stove to boil water for pasta or sauté onions and garlic.

Leah Sheltry

If you’re unsure of where to start, pick a protein, one or two vegetables, and a complex carb. Protein found in animal sources like chicken and eggs build our bodies back up, and can also be found in non-animal sources like tofu and beans. Pick a couple of your favorite vegetables that can hold up in the fridge for a few days, like green beans, brussels sprouts, squash, sweet potatoes, and kale. Avoid leafy greens like lettuce and spinach, which will wilt faster than sturdier veggies. Some foods can also double-dip and serve more than one purpose. For example, potatoes are starchy enough to replace bread, pasta, or rice, even though it’s a vegetable. Beans and peas can be both your protein source and vegetable. I always like to have one green vegetable and one orange or red vegetable, like carrots or beets, just to make the meal more interesting. And it doesn’t have to be more elaborate than simply roasting the veggies with some olive oil, salt, and pepper in the oven at 400 degrees

Leah Sheltry

Choose a complex carb, like whole grain toast, brown rice, or quinoa. These will keep you feeling fuller longer and won’t leave you feeling empty like a slice of Wonder Bread will. 

Storing your Meals

Stack the food on top of each other so the flavor of the veggies and protein sink into the bed of whole wheat pasta, lentils, or whatever creation you’ve built. Store your lunch boxes in the fridge and the longer they sit, the more developed the flavors become. Cooking for the week ahead in bulk may seem daunting, but splitting up the food equally between four or five days will save you from throwing a handful of random snacks into your bag before work. It’s also helped me think about food differently. Now, when I go out to eat on Fridays, I look at the menu for items that incorporate colorful vegetables, lean protein, and healthy carbs, just as I would normally do if cooking for myself.

Leah Sheltry

San Francisco is a very expensive city for an intern on a stipend, and just by cutting out some meal costs and embracing grocery store discounts and in-season vegetables, it really has made all the difference.