“Meal prep” as a method/phenomenon/social movement has taken on a life of its own. Sundays spent in the kitchen, filling tupperware containers with perfectly matched, perfectly portioned servings of high-protein, low-carb, all-natural, pinterest-worthy meals is a highly instagrammable pastime that is sweeping the #fitnation. I am here today to tell you that there are other ways!
It’s not that I don’t think meal prep is awesome. It is! It helps people stick to their goals, reduces temptation to go out for lunch with coworkers, and (most importantly) can make healthy eating compatible with a lot of different (read: insane) schedules. These are all excellent! And unless you’re sitting around all day doing nothing with all the time in the world to spend hours preparing lunch and dinner, you absolutely do need to plan ahead. But the clinical precision achieved by the meal prep army on the ‘gram can be intimidating and inaccessible for some people (myself included).
REASONS I DON’T LIKE TO MEAL PREP
- I like cooking. So does my boyfriend. A lot of the time, dinner is a team effort where we get to hang out, torment the dogs by waving utensils at them, and change gears after a long work day. We rarely ever use a recipe, just have a general idea of what we want to eat and it’s a creative and FUN process. I don’t want this to go away! Cooking dinner (even if “cooking” means repurposing leftovers in some way – and yes, I do mean making tacos) is a positive part of my day, and having a gigantic list of meals to make all at once would require that it be less creative due to the time crunch of cooking a week’s worth of meals. That is stressful. Mostly because…
- I do not like dishes. Dishes are the freaking worst. You know they are. Cooking a lot of things at once = making a lot of dishes at once and THAT SUCKS. Dishes, GTFO. I would much rather make one meal at a time and deal with one meals’ worth of dishes at a time and not go insane because there is no room to wash the dishes in the sink because the sink is so full of dirty dishes. I am stressing myself out just typing these words.
- Greater variety. While grilled chicken breast with sweet potatoes and broccoli might be nice on Monday, I sure as hell don’t want to be eating that on Thursday. Yes, you could make several different meals on the weekend, but that’s more dishes and also the whole point of meal prep is to streamline the process by cooking in bulk.
- Being nimble with food choices. You just got an insane craving for peanut noodles? Too bad, because you’ve prepped a week of spinach feta turkey meatloaf with green beans. Sometimes I’m just inspired to cook something, and I don’t want to be limited.
- I have better things to do with my weekends. Not to sound self-important or anything, but I’d rather spend that time doing other things, even if “other things” is cleaning the house, taking the dogs to the park, doing homework, or idk writing a blog post? One of the reasons I’ve been so shoddy at keeping this blog updated is because I have a lot going on but I also have friends and I life that I care about, and making time for those other things is super important. I do not need to be tied to the kitchen for an entire day. I do need social stimulation OR ELSE.
HOW I SURVIVE
Not doing the standard “meal prep” doesn’t mean that I’m not prepared for my week of eating, but there are other little safeguards that I put in place so that busy days go smoothly.
- Make a grocery list: This is my jam. I am such a good grocery lister. Need some tips? Read this. I go into the week with an idea of what we’ll eat when, and plan to have leftovers on nights when I have class or a group run or something.
- LEARN HOW TO COOK IF YOU DO NOT ALREADY: Guys, you just have to know how to cook in order to have an appropriate relationship with food. I had a patient tell me the other day that he ate a pound of ground turkey meat for snack. Why?? Because for some reason we don’t make sure kids can feed themselves before they graduate high school and putting meat in a pan and stirring it around a little is easy. It’s a scary world out there and ya gotta figure out how to grill, bake, broil, sautee, roast, and simmer before it’s too late. Hop to it. Additionally, I find that people (adults and children) learn to appreciate nutritious food more when they cook it – you realize that fast food/convenience foods actually taste like shit when you are cranking out things that are delicious. If you’re the type that requires every ingredient in a step by step recipe in order to begin the cooking process, it’s going to be tough to improvise and you’re going to make things hard on yourself at the grocery store. If you need some guidance, check out Hello Fresh’s recipe archives for simple tasty recipes with pictures!
- Big batches become little servings that go in the freezer: Homemade chicken soup is a gift from the heavens on day 1. By day 5, it is boring. If I make a giant batch of something, I like to save some for lunches in individual containers and immediately store them in the freezer (PB jars are great for brothy soups, and I like to use smaller containers for heartier meals like jambalaya). This way, four months from now you can pull out that soup and throw it in your lunchbox on a day that you don’t have any (wait for it…)
- Cook more = leftovers for lunch: Leftovers! Leftovers for lunch are the bomb. When you cook something, make sure you have extra so that you can have a serving for lunch the next day, whether eaten in the same form or repurposed into a sandwich or salad or something else (something else = taco, duh).
- Add frozen vegetables: I don’t know about you but I have eaten an entire head of broccoli for dinner before, so needless to say there’s not always vegetables leftover, but we typically have protein and starch left from cooking. If for some reason you are fresh outta veggies when packing up your leftovers for tomorrow, it helps to keep frozen vegetables around to round out the meal. My favorite? Green beans.
- Know your quick and easy favorites: Kale + eggs is mine, maybe with toast maybe not. I realize that this may be repulsive to some people, but just know what you like that you pretty much always have around and can whip up in a pinch. Here is a post all about quick proteins, so add a vegetable and a starch if you want, and you should be able to handle yourself, even with a crazy schedule.
- Pay the extra for the convenience if you need it: Chopped and washed kale? Yes please. Fresh broccoli florets instead of an entire crown? Perhaps on my busy weeks. Even services like the aforementioned Hello Fresh or a personal chef can be valuable tools. Paying a little extra for prepped veggies, meats, etc. is WORTH IT if it will save you a meal out, prevent you from eating cereal for dinner, snagging a bunch of granola bars from the office in place of a meal, or whatever other bad habits you have on super busy days. I get it, breaking down a head of cauliflower is a genuine pain in the ass, so if you need to save yourself the trouble. DO IT.
So there you have it! Ways to be prepared with healthy meals while still being totally realistic.