Meal-prep is all the rage on YouTube, where there are countless videos on how to make your own meals for the week. I know several people who meal-prep and are very good at it, but normally a lot of people pick this up and by the fourth week they have gone back into old habits. Getting into meal-prepping can be intimidating–and to be truth, a bit labor intensive–but it reaps so many rewards.
Some of the benefits of meal-prep are:
- Healthy eating – you control the ingredients as well as portions; no more eating out for lunch!
- Time saver – you get more time on your lunch break because now you don’t have to go outside/to the cafeteria to get food.
- Cost effective – buying ingredients in bulk is considerably cheaper, and you can always freeze some of them in case you need them later. Plus, the cost per serving goes down compared to the store-bought versions.
This doesn’t mean you can’t eat out–in fact, meal-prep will enable you to eat out without guilt. As both an undergrad and grad student, the temptation to go out to eat was there all the time. After all, we are social beings and tend to bond over food. But with a tight budget I knew I had to be disciplined in order to not only save money, but to take control of what goes into my system.
I am one of those people that naturally likes and knows how to cook, but if you are not one of those people don’t panic! YouTube has helped tremendously in upping my cooking skills, from learning how to chop an onion properly to deboning a fish. You don’t have to be a pro or chop the onion as finely as the person in the video–believe me. Pinterest has also been a huge help in helping me catalog recipes and find new ones; sometimes I just type the ingredients I have and something comes up!
Now, let’s go over the basic principles of meal-prep.
- Buy poultry/beef/pork in bulk and freeze it when you get home.* No, I don’t mean throw the whole container of chicken breasts into the freezer. Depending on how much meat you get, divide into portions in freezer safe plastic bags (get all the air out!), and label them with the date. Poultry tends to last up to 9 months, ground meats up to 4 months, pork from 4 to 6 months, fish from 3 to 6 months, and raw shrimp for 6 months.
- Get freezer safe bags. Lots of them. Not only will you be using this to store your meat, but it’s great to have on hand for marinating any kind of dish (and freeze it for later, too!).
- Don’t overdo it. You don’t have to go Top Chef on all of your meals. Pick meals you like, are comfortable cooking, and don’t have ridiculous steps or require much time investment. You can always experiment down the road.
- Think about getting a slow cooker. You will save so much time with one of these, since you don’t have to be glued to the kitchen the entire time (just don’t forget to set a timer!)
- Pick a day of the week to meal prep. For me, that’s Sunday, and I devote it to cooking two dishes, one for lunch and another for dinner.
- Frozen vegetables galore! I remember the days when I found out that the veggies I really wanted to use but forgot about had gone bad 🙁 Now I buy a lot of my veggies frozen to save time. Not all of them are worth it, though!
- Get some microwave-safe lunch containers. I got mine from IKEA and I love them because they are affordable and are made of glass instead of plastic. If you do decide to go with plastic containers, make sure they are microwave safe.
*If you don’t eat meat that’s okay! I’ve heard tofu freezes wonderfully.
One of my favorite blogs for eating on a budget is Budget Bytes, as it gives me a breakdown of cost per serving and meal. Another great resource is Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day, which is a book that was written with the purpose bringing healthy recipes that fit the budget for those on SNAP.
Have you ventured into meal prep?