Meal prep is such a hard thing to get started with but completely worth it once you get into it. If you are wanting to get into meal prepping or have tried and only find yourself feeling lost or without food only halfway through the week, this is for you!
When I turned 19, I moved out of my parents' house to a city that was 2 hours away from them for university. As I started this new and busy phase of my life of taking full-time classes and working a retail job in my evenings and weekends, I quickly realized that I needed to form my cooking and other food prep into a strategy that would work for my schedule and budget. That solution was dedicating an afternoon or day to meal prepping which would save me so much time and money in the long run.
Five years later, I still love meal-prepping, so I have a few tips for you to optimize your meal-prep strategies and use your time effectively.
Let's get into it!
Tip #1 - Pick one day a week to grocery shop & meal prep
I know this one seems obvious, but trust me, it keeps you from stopping at the grocery store every other day which usually leads to spending more money and time that could be spent elsewhere.
I usually dedicate my Sundays to meal-prepping because I work Monday to Friday and tend to have other things planned for Saturdays. If you work shift work or a different schedule, the day of the week may shift around but as long as you commit yourself to go one day a week ahead of time, you should be just fine!
During that day that you decide to meal prep, try to prep as much as you can. I try to do around 2 meals which will be our lunches and suppers until about Wednesday, which is when I would cook one or two more meals to last us until the end of the week. I also like to prep our snacks as much as possible for the entire week. This would include cutting the veggies, making yogurt parfaits, baking, or putting dips in containers - whatever we decide to have for snacks that week.
Tip #2 - Sit down, plan, and take inventory
This is one is the most crucial step in the meal-prepping process. If you don't have a vision of what you want to eat that week, your entire week will be spent trying to figure out what the heck to do with all the ingredients you bought at the store. Hence, no decrease in stress - which is not the goal of meal prepping!
Once you choose a day to go to the grocery store, perhaps take half an hour right before you leave to take inventory of what you have and write down your plans for all your meals and snacks for the week. If you take a look at your pantry, fridge, or dresser, you might see something that sparks your interest or need to use up that will guide you to a meal idea.
Try to think up recipes that use the same main ingredients with a bit of variety so you don't get sick of what you're eating but don't have to spend too much money on various ingredients that you won't use again and will have to throw out.
If you want to make this step easier and "aesthetically pleasing" I have a weekly meal plan template and grocery list templates here to help you organize your plans.
Tip #3 - Buy in Bulk
It is so easy to only want to buy what you need for the short term because of the immediate cost incurred. Trust me, when living alone as a student, I couldn't fathom spending $35 on chicken breasts that would last me 2-3 weeks. That would put me way over my weekly grocery budget and take up precious space in my tiny fridge freezer.
However, now that I have a lot more experience in meal planning, I understand that it is so much cheaper to think longer-term when grocery shopping.
This is where having a go-to bulk store will benefit you. I like bulk buying at Costco because they have a lot of great staple products and seasonal products at a fraction of the prices at normal grocery stores. Superstore is another store that usually has great prices for bulk items as well. I find that if I have a meal plan for the week or month, then go once a month to buy my snacks and staple ingredients and spend a few hundred dollars then, I usually only spend a lot less at the nearby grocery store the following weeks.
Tip #4 - Invest in storage
Another reason why people don't buy in bulk is that they have no storage space to put the bulk products. Like is said in the last tip, usually thinking in the short-term is going to cost you in the long run.
I recommend opening up even one shelf in your cupboard, buying a few Rubbermaid containers, or perhaps purchasing a small deep freezer or mini freezer fridge to store frozen products if you can. I have yet to buy a small freezer but need one ASAP so I can optimize my meal prep even more!
I understand that having space for a freezer is hard to come by if you live in a small space. If you don't have space, maybe ask a family member or friend close by who has a bit more space to store some things at their place. They might be willing to if you store some baking in that freezer ;)
Tip #5 - Have 2-3 go-to meals
If you have a few super easy recipes that you know the recipe by memory, you're good to go! Having a couple of recipes that are super easy, quick, and that you can meal prep will decrease your stress a ton.
I find that having ingredients in my pantry or freezer leftover from buying in bulk can help me in a pinch or for those weeks when I don't want to spend more money on ingredients. In this situation, having the ingredients for my 2 or 3 go-to meals is so helpful.
For example, I love anything Mexican (e.g., the tacked below), so I usually have tortillas and meat that I bought in bulk in my freezer that I can use for any Mexican recipe - all of which I can make super fast and easy from scratch. If I don't have time to meal prep, I can rely on these ingredients to be in my kitchen - in addition to one or two fresh ingredients.
Tip #6 - Keep your fridge and pantry organized
I know this is some people's worst nightmare! Cleaning and organizing can be so overwhelming and inconvenient. What if I told you it would save you food, money, and space (hopefully I've captured your attention)?
Like anything else, it'll probably take less time than you think and you will be SO glad you did it. Plus, it could give you something to do with all those containers and glass jars that have been lying around your house empty for months. Just me??
In all seriousness, having your food in clear storage (i.e., clear containers/organizers) both in your fridge and pantry will likely help you use up those ingredients quicker and save them from going bad. It also helps you take inventory from a quick scan and let you know what ingredients you're almost out of.
I recently switched over to clear organizers in my fridge for my produce and meal prep containers as well as jars for my pantry (see below). I even noticed in the past month that I'm wasting way less money buying ingredients that I already have or letting ingredients go bad because I didn't see that I had them.
If you're wondering, I got these organizers from Homesense and Dollarama.
There it is. Just a quick overview of what has helped me get my meal prepping from okay to pretty good! Do you have issues with meal prepping or are you a confident meal prepper? Let me know in the comments what's been keeping your meal prepping from thriving or your own tips!