Weekly meal prep can allow you to add nutrition to your diet and relax after a busy day instead of slaving away at the stove. But what if you get tired of the same meal over and over and turn to fast food anyway? Or worse yet, what if you end up losing an entire day to cooking? Is that really worth the hour you save each weeknight?
Below are some tips to help meal prep fulfill its purpose: simplifying your life and improving your diet.
1. Meal prep doesn’t have to happen all at once.
When most people think of meal prep, they imagine cooking all day on Sunday or Monday and stacking dozens of containers full of matching meals into their refrigerator. If this works for you, great! However, most people would rather not eat the same thing for a week straight, and most food turns questionable by day 4 or 5. Sure, you can freeze your meals, but sometimes they lose a little pizazz in the freezer.
Instead of cooking all your meals at the beginning of the week, write out a list of what meal you plan to make every night and each ingredient it requires. This way you don’t waste any time planning during the week. Check your fridge and pantry for any existing ingredients before running to the grocery store. Bases like rice or pasta can be made fresh each weeknight without being too much of a time sink. For example, you could cook a meat sauce that lasts 2-3 days and serve it over fresh rice or pasta on busy nights. This saves time while eliminating dried-out rice or other old food at the end of the week.
2. Meal prep should be healthy—but be realistic.
Have you ever fallen into this trap? You finally decide it’s time to change your diet and you think you’ll be able to force yourself to eat perfectly if you prep a bunch of clean meals at the beginning of the week and can easily throw them into the microwave after work. You cook up some grilled chicken, bland vegetables, and plain white rice before you’re hungry, then save it in the fridge for later. When later comes, the last thing you want is such a boring meal. We typically fail to plan for cravings.
To combat food boredom, allow yourself a little leeway. When you’re meal prepping, think more about adding nutritious foods than banning guilty pleasures. Stock up on lean proteins and vegetables so that you have them on hand when you’re hungry. Make sure you have a full spice rack and experiment with several different spices to make every meal taste delicious.
It might also be a good idea to add snack foods to your meal prep. Divide out snacks in advance so you don’t lose track of your portion size when eating straight from the container. During meals, eat protein and vegetables first to fill yourself up, then if you feel the need to indulge in a few chips or a cookie, you’ll be less likely to binge.
3. Maximize Freshness
Maybe you simply don’t have time to cook whatsoever on weeknights, and the hybrid meal prep/cook bases from scratch method won’t work for you. In that case, you’ll want to do everything you can to maximize the freshness of your meals and maintain flavor.
Below are some tips from fitmencook.com:
- When prepping for the week, keep up to three day’s worth of meals in the refrigerator and freeze the rest of the meals.
- The temperatures of your refrigerator and freezer, as well as the types of containers you use, are vital in preserving freshness of your meals.
- Your refrigerator temperature should be 40F or below and your freezer should be at least 0F or below.
- If you are preparing several hot meals, you should allow the meals to cool down (nearly to room temperature) and then store them in the refrigerator or freezer within 1-2 hours of preparing.
- Glass containers are great to have in the fridge because you can see the contents and they generally can be used in most microwaves. If you use a plastic container, just make sure it is BPA free.
- If you are going to freeze your meals, make sure the containers are airtight! If not, the food may be susceptible to freezer burn and taste like ice by the time you reheat and eat the meal.
- Here is a helpful link with suggested food storage times.
- When defrosting your meals, place them in the fridge the night before you are going to eat them. It takes longer but has the less risk associated with it. Be careful if you’re planning to use the microwave to defrost your meals. Oftentimes the microwave will heat food up quickly, and if there was any bacteria in the food, it can start to multiply or spread. Plus, some parts of the meal will be frozen while others remain warm hot so part of your meal can be overcooked.
Click here for more meal prep and food safety tips.