Open Instagram on your phone and you’re bound to see photos of containers with pre-portioned grilled chicken and rice, #mealprep. It’s a trend that’s blown up in recent years and, as someone who considers herself a relatively healthy person who stays up on what’s in, I decided to give it a try.
For those not keeping up on hashtags, meal prep (short for meal preparation) is exactly what it sounds like: You pick a day when you prepare all of the week’s meals (typically lunch or dinner, but breakfast works, too) and put them in individual containers. The goal? To make your week healthier and less stressful. That sounded like something I could definitely get behind.
Is a meal prep service more your thing? We tried that, too.
Here’s our entire meal planning guide.
Prepping for the First Time
The night before the big day, I perused the internet for the perfect recipes. I needed something that could be made in bulk, that wasn’t too complicated and that I would want to eat day after day for lunch. I landed on an Asian chicken rice bowl (yum!) and breakfast burritos.
Now it was time to roll up my sleeves and start cooking. I gathered my ingredients and my materials (i.e. a gazillion plastic containers—it might be time to invest in some new products) and got down to business. When all was said and done, it took me probably about three hours to complete my task. It wasn’t hard but it was very time-consuming, and I found myself envious of my boyfriend, who was lounging on the couch watching football while I worked away in the kitchen.
After a major time commitment like that, you might be wondering if it was worth it. Well, I definitely think so! Here’s why:
- Meal prepping made my morning routine much easier. I was no longer rushing around trying to pack a lunch; I simply grabbed a container out of the fridge.
- It improved my workday. Having a filling lunch made me way more energized and productive all day.
- Relying less on takeout and snacks was not only healthier, but more budget-friendly.
In fact, after this first week, I continued to do major meal preps like this time and time again. After a few months, I’ve learned a few lessons to pass along to other potential meal preppers. (Consider these meal planning tips from the pros, too.)
As I quickly learned, the prepping process is long, especially if you’re making more than one option. After that first time-consuming week, I had my boyfriend help me, which cut the time in half. Also, having him to keep me accountable and actually bring these meals every day—even when takeout sounded more appealing—was a lifesaver. So this is a smart project for friends and co-workers too! (And if you’re really craving your favorite Chinese takeout, you can prep some of these great copycat recipes.)
Pick something you actually like
Yes, meal prepping is supposed to be a healthy eating solution, but it should still be delicious. That means making a meal you will enjoy. In the past when I meal-prepped, I focused too much on what I thought was healthy and not what I actually wanted to eat. For example, that time I made a handful of salads: I’m not a huge fan of salad, but I thought that by having them prepped and ready, I’d sort of force myself to be healthier. Well, the plan backfired. That week, I ordered carryout because the pre-made salads didn’t fill me up or didn’t seem appealing day after day. To stick to it, you have to make food you will eat. (Plus, there are plenty of healthy non-salad options out there.)
These make-ahead lunch ideas will keep you on track.
Give yourself options
Even if you love a warming bowl of chili, chances are you’ll get bored of eating it time and time again. If you make more than one recipe while you’re prepping, you can change it up so you aren’t stuck with the same menu.
Once you get the hang of prepping the food, you can start playing around with more recipes, like these meal-prep smoothies. One thing I’ve learned after doing meal prep for a few months is that it pays to use a few ingredients in several ways to make a handful of meals. That means when I’m prepping boneless skinless chicken breasts, I can easily repurpose that ingredient in a stir-fry, a pasta dish and salads. Repurposing ingredients is one of the best shortcuts.
Remember that your freezer is your friend
Picking meals that can be easily frozen is a smart idea when it comes to meal prep. That way you can make large batches without worrying that you’ll end up wasting some. Whatever you don’t eat, you can stick in the freezer for a quick meal later on.
In the end, the #mealprep trend is one I’m happy to embrace. It just takes a little extra planning (and an armload of food containers!).