As resistant as I am to it sometimes, one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, time-, money- and health-wise, is start meal prepping.
It kind of happened by accident. At my previous job, the office was in a less than desirable location, with only one cafe in walking distance. Yes, one. And we called it ‘the truck stop’. Think fried food, bad coffee and soggy foccacias. Appetising!
I had never really brought my lunch to work before this job. I knew I should be saving the $$ but it seemed fairly boring and tedious to me. Ah, how age makes us embrace the boring and tedious!
When I started at that job, I was super lazy with lunches. Two minute noodles, cuppa soups, dry rice cakes - let’s just say I was not looking forward to lunchtimes.
So I started to Google recipes you could cook in bulk and freeze. It took some time to get in the habit, but I can honestly say that (most weeks) I’ve never looked back. Below are my main learnings from a few years of meal prepping.
Make your list
Planning is key. Over time I have built up a bank of recipes that I enjoy and can make in bulk for lunches. I always thought I could remember the tasty things I had made, but I’d generally end up googling new recipes from scratch each week, which wasted some time.
I’ve now got a running Google Doc that I add to as I find recipes I like, and each week (usually around Thursday or Friday, as I grocery shop on the weekend), I go into the document and see what looks good for the following week. This also includes any dinners I might be cooking at home.
Now I’m not completely strict, so I usually make one dish in bulk for lunch, have it for three-ish days, then buy my lunch for a couple of days.
I make a grocery list in my phone and then when I’m out and about on the weekend I pick up all the ingredients I’ll need.
If you’re thinking of getting into meal prepping, I’d also recommend grabbing some new tupperware containers. They’re fairly inexpensive and it’s more motivating to use new ones, rather than having to hunt around for random lids of old takeaway containers you’ve had for years.
Set the scene
I usually set aside around an hour each Sunday to get the cooking done. But, like most ‘good’ habits, sometimes we lose momentum.
If I’ve had a few too many vinos the night before or I’m just fed up with being a grown up (does anyone ever feel like that or is it just immature me?!), I bemoan the idea of spending time on a Sunday stuck in the kitchen.
When this kind of thinking strikes, I gently remind myself that it’s only one hour out of my whole day and I try and set a motivating environment.
I’ll make an icy smoothie to sip while I cook, I’ll find a fun Spotify playlist to listen to or, when I really need motivation, I’ll put on a Nigella cooking show and let her propel me forward.
And if I really can’t face it… see below...
Get a step ahead (inadvertently)
Like most habits, I try to allow for some flexibility in the meal planning. If a friend wants to grab dinner on a Monday night or we have a farewell lunch at work on a Friday, I don’t say no because there's a tupperware container waiting for me in the fridge.
If I won’t get to eat a meal I’ve made, or if I’ve cooked extra, I throw it in the freezer and watch the containers build up.
Then when we’re away for a weekend and I have no time to cook, I can defrost a few containers for the following week’s lunches.
Also, if we’re too tired to cook in the evening or my husband is out, I can pull something out and voila, dinner is served.
This also works on those Sundays when I really can’t face the cooking - I know something will tide me over from the freezer and give myself a break if I need it.
It does take some discipline and preparation, but I no longer feel guilty about spending money on lunches and I can make much healthier choices with the right planning.
Want a peek at my recipe list? Want to share some recipes you like to cook in bulk?