With everything we have on our plate; work, kids, chores, other commitments… it can all be difficult to organize and navigate. Finding downtime for yourself is crucial and has been proven to lead to a happier, more energetic temperament throughout the day. Eating while standing, cleaning while cooking, or studying while exercising, are all signs that your booking your schedule too tight. Life can be a blur and even with all the tools and technology at our fingertips, it can be tough to find free time for ourselves. One way to calm the madness is to meal prep. Not only is this a great way to free up time in your life, but a much healthier and cheaper option than eating out.
If you’re going to enter the world of meal prepping, you’ll need to invest in a quality tupperware or glassware set. You want something that’s not only durable but microwave safe and appropriately sized for the quantity you normally eat. Having tupperware or glassware you can beat up is a gamechanger and worth a paying a bit more for. You’ll be reheating and washing them constantly, so they’ll need to handle abuse in order to last long into your prepping career. If you’re bringing your lunches to work regularly, glassware is the preferred choice over plastic tupperware. It’s nice to simply reheat your meals in the container you brought them in without having to worry about contaminants seeping into your food. If you need quality containers, check out Pyrex. They have very durable plastic and glass containers that are perfect for prepping.
Meal prepping is a habitual activity and only works if you set a routine for your prepping. Most can find free time during the weekends to do it and having meals ready for the busy week ahead provides great peace of mind. Get accustomed to taking screenshots or notes of interesting recipes you find online or on social media that you’d like to try throughout the week. Mark the ones you’d like to make again and delete the ones you don’t. This is a natural way to build up a portfolio of recipes without having to do much research.
The more you prep, the more efficient you’ll get both at the grocery and in the kitchen, which will maximize the time you get back in your life. To expedite the learning process, it’s good to get in the habit of timing yourself while prepping. Limiting the amount of time you give yourself to cook for the week will help instill some muscle memory throughout the process, forcing you to become more efficient.
Cutting corners can save you loads of time when cooking and shopping. Buying veggies, chicken and other food products pre-cut is much less time consuming and, for most, totally worth the extra cost. Another way to cut time and cost is cooking with recipes that share common ingredients. There’s an endless number of recipes that use chicken, rice, pasta, etc. Buying and cooking these items in bulk and understanding how to repurpose them in new and exciting ways is a huge time saver and cuts down on waste from ingredients only partially used and eventually thrown away. There’re only so many things you can do with cumin, eggplant or horseradish. Another clever habit to adapt is learning to shop at the same one or two grocery stores. Getting your spices at Trader Joe’s, produce at Whole Foods, meats at Publix and canned & dry foods at Kroger makes things harder than they need to be. Find one or two stores in your area to visit regularly and learn the layout inside and out so you know exactly where everything is.
If you have a large oven and multiple burners it behooves you as a meal prepper to get good at multitasking by cooking multiple items, sometimes for different meals, all at once. Real meal prep ninjas have mastered the art of cooking multiple items for different meals, all at the same time. It takes a keen eye and razor-sharp attention to ensure that each item is getting cooked appropriately. When mastered, this more closely resembles a tightly choreographed dance than your typical chaotic dinner prep. This is more of an instinct than a science but once you get it down, you’ll be a next-level prepper!
Prepping is not finished after you’ve cooked and packaged everything up. It’s important to stay organized, your health depends on it! Food doesn’t last forever so you’ll want to make sure everything you’ve made is properly labeled and doesn’t get lost in the back of the fridge or freezer. Label each container with the contents and the date helping you keep track of what will keep and what won’t. Keep older food near the front so it’s eaten sooner and foods that expire quickly at eye level.
Don’t let your hard work spoil in the fridge! Make sure you’re up to date on how long different food items last…
Milk & Yogurt 7 days
Ground Meat 1-2 days
Lunch Meat 1-2 weeks
Cooked Fish 3-4 days
Cheese 3-4 weeks
Eggs 3 weeks
Butter 1-3 months
Soups & Stews 3-4 days
Condiments & Sauces 3-6 months
Uncooked Fish, Meat and Poultry 9 months
Opened Wine 4-6 months
Veggies & Fruits 6-12 months
Peanut Butter 3 months
Nuts 10-12 months
Pasta & Noodles 3 years
Canned & Dry Foods 1-4 years