When you think about it, we technically waste a lot of time individually preparing meals three times a day. Between compiling ingredients, following recipe steps, waiting for dishes to cook, and the headache of cleanup, that's a lot of energy to expend on tasks that can get repetitive and tedious when you're doing them daily. And let's face it, sometimes you're just too dang busy for all of that! Of course, there are folks who enjoy cooking and love to whip up extravagant meals at a leisurely pace, but maybe you work full time, are a student on a budget, or want to try eating healthier and controlling your portions.
Studies show that planning meals ahead of time leads to more diet variety and less obesity, helps you save money, and lets you free up mental energy to devote to other tasks. Think of it this way - the markup on food at restaurants is high, and fast food is getting more expensive and is not wise to consume on a daily basis. There's a lot to be said for making use of leftovers throughout the week, but leftovers don't necessarily account for all four food groups.
So why not give meal prepping a try?
The first thing you'll want to get organized after you decide to give meal prepping a try is your containers. You'll want plastic or glass containers that are BPA free, microwave safe, freezer safe, and are held together with strong, reliable seals. If you have a dishwasher at home, make sure to look for a dishwasher safe label if you want to minimize the amount of work that goes into your cleanup. You also want to make sure you have enough containers that on Sunday night you can reasonably store all your meals for the week in the fridge. If you plan on taking one lunch to work every day for the workweek, you'll obviously need at least 5 containers, and will probably want to have a few extras just in case. The other thing you'll want to consider is the sizing. Be realistic about how much food you'll be able to fit in one container, but also remember that your container needs to be able to fit in your lunchbox or whatever bag you take with you to work. Keep in mind that based on the layout of your fridge, it's a good idea to go for containers that easily stack so your meals fit in the fridge in a way that efficiently conserves space.
Depending on the types of meals you'll be making, it's also a good idea to invest in resealable plastic bags and mason jars with tops that screw tightly shut.
Depending on what technology you'll have available at the time of day you're planning a meal for, pick ingredients that you don't mind eating cold, or can be heated if your environment offers a microwave. Chicken, beans, and hard-boiled eggs are easy to grab from the fridge without needing to be defrosted. Grains like rice, whole wheat pastas, quinoa, and barley are versatile in that they can be used as sides or the base of a meal. If you're going for reheatable dishes, pick ingredients that are good warmed up and aren't altered too much by being thrown in the microwave. If you're keen on eating fresh every day, go for foods that can be frozen and defrosted without losing their freshness over the week - like fruits and veggies and meats. (Contrary to myth, you can totally freeze cooked meats and eat them when you're ready. Remember that you can freeze pretty much everything, but if you keep something frozen past its best before date, you only have about 24 hours to consume those items until they go bad.)
Breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day, but it can also be the most hectic. Even on days when you didn't hit snooze nine times, it can be hard to wrap your mind around setting extra time aside to eat when you could be sleeping later and skipping breakfast. Breakfast prepping is a great way to introduce yourself to meal prepping if you usually (and guiltily) let breakfast slide by.
This will be the meal that prepping in advance will likely save you the most money! Not only is buying lunch or going out to eat expensive, but unless you're reading all the individual menu ingredients every time, you lose track of what you're putting in your body on a daily basis. Portioning out your meals with Sunday night meal prep lets you control how much you're eating, making you less vulnerable to overeating and giving you one less decision to make during the day. Not to mention that you'll get to know exactly what's in your meals instead of wondering what mystery ingredients you'll be digesting throughout the afternoon. Just bear in mind if you're taking meals to school or work that there may be restrictions as to what those around you can be exposed to, especially concerning nut allergies. So check to make sure your pre-packed lunch won't be a hazard to others.
Dinner is a hard meal to predict. By the end of the day, sometimes you're either too tired to make something from scratch and you don't want the hassle of cooking and cleaning up, or you're too hungry and don't want to wait hours to eat so you end up ordering takeout. As discussed earlier, ordering in from restaurants isn't a habit that's friendly to the wallet or the waistline. The solution? Set yourself up for success by stuffing your freezer or fridge with pre-made entrees and side options that can easily be cooked together in a pan or microwaved.