Tip #1: Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Meal prepping can seem daunting, but I promise it is worth it. Spending an hour or two on Sundays cooking is a great way to de-stress, and there’s nothing like going into a busy week knowing you won’t have to worry about food. Have fun with it by trying to replicate your go-to campus meals like a Fresh Cafe bowl or a Chipotle burrito. Keep track of what you’re spending on groceries, and compare it to the amount you would have spent eating out (not to mention, cooking at home can be much healthier).
Tip #2: Get the Right Containers
When I moved into my first apartment, I gave myself a tight budget. I settled for some flimsy tupperware, and the second I put a salad in my backpack, disaster struck: dressing leaked everywhere. It’s so important to invest in high-quality, sturdy tupperware with strong sealed lids. Once I bought a set of multisized Rubbermaid containers from Fred Meyer (they’re often on sale!), my meal prep game became so much better. You can also purchase containers like silicone reusable snack bags or beeswax wrap, which are great for transporting snacks and minimizing your carbon footprint.
Tip #3: Plan & Portion
If you’re going to meal prep successfully, you can’t just go to the store and buy a bunch of salad ingredients; groceries will go bad, you’ll get bored quickly and turn back to Chipotle. Meal prepping is actually a great way to try new recipes. One of my favorite recipe blogs is budgetbytes.com, which is both meal prep and student budget friendly. Liv at itslivb.com blogs about simple but tasty vegan recipes, and her ideas have truly broadened my horizons (check out her DIY take-out recipe using seitan). It’s also important to be mindful of portions. This may take some trial and error, depending on how much you need to eat. Many standard recipes make only two or three servings, so I will at least double recipes to last through a whole week of meals.
Tip #4: Find Easy Ways to Switch it Up Mid-Week
I don’t mind eating the same thing for lunch every day, but I understand that it can get boring. Find simple, budget-friendly ways to switch up your prepped meals mid-week. Even changing your salad dressing or sauce, or adding a few new ingredients can make a huge difference in spicing up your taste buds.
Tip #5: Remember, You Don’t Have to Pre-Cook Everything
Meal prep day (I opt for Sundays) does not have to mean slaving over a hot stove for hours on end. If I’m planning on making a stir fry, for example, I’ll chop my veggies and keep them in a tupperware until I’m ready to cook the day of. Cook them too early, and you’ll have soggy, undesirable veggies by Wednesday. Rice and grains also dry out in the fridge, so I recommend using a little extra water and cooking them the night before, or leave them to cook while getting ready in the morning.
Tip #6: Have an Organized Fridge
Similar to Tip #5, I find it helpful to keep ingredients separate in the fridge and assemble in the morning. This is where having many sizes of tupperware comes in handy. If you put dressing on a salad on Sunday, but you don’t eat it until Thursday, the lettuce will be soggy and gross by then! Keep your ingredients fresh by keeping them separate until you’re ready to eat them day of.
Tip #7: Have a Cheat Day
If you completely restrict yourself from your favorite places to eat out, you’ll just crave it even more. There’s no reason you can’t treat yourself every once in a while! After a long week of meal prep goodness, you deserve it. Designate a day or occasion to get lunch at your favorite restaurant or pick up a treat from a local bakery.