It's not easy to eat healthily when you're busy, and I believe that's a fact....unless you plan ahead of time and meal prep.
I've been getting a taste of what it's like to be a normal, working adult who's out of the house for 9-10 hours of the day, and let me tell you: you will not have the energy to make dinner, nor will you have the desire to prep your lunch for the next day, after a long day of work. That hangry phase will get you, and you'll get even hangrier as you're trying to fight the urge to grab convenient snacks for dinner.
So to everyone out there who's looking to eat more healthily while maintaining their crazy schedules, I highly recommend meal prepping. Plan ahead and you won't be sorry! Not only will you save time, your weekly grocery trips will be far more time & money efficient :)
Here are my tips for meal prepping:
1. Have a "Recipe Bank".
I like having a digital recipe bank because I can click "Ctrl + F" to search for single ingredients; this makes the next step of planning my weekly meals a lot easier because I can save time thinking of recipes that use similar ingredients and save time making all of these recipes because I can batch cook ingredients.
In my recipe bank, I like to have a variety of vegan to omnivorous meals.
snippet of my recipe bank:
2. Plan Your Weekly Meals
While I'm at research, I'll start to think of the meals that I want to make for the next week (Mon-Fri) ;)
For 5 days worth of lunches, I'll have 3 different recipes (two recipes are double batches). I'll make about 2-3 different recipes for dinner (I might use one lunch recipe for dinner another day to minimize cooking). This minimizes the number of recipes that I make each week and makes my actual Sunday meal prepping day easier.
I mostly eat vegetarian meals; out of my 3 meals (not including snacks, which are always vegetarian), only 1-2 (max) contain meat. I think that meat is a great and convenient source of protein, but I like to eat as plant based as possible, so I aim for mostly vegetarian days. No hard and fast rules or labels around here anymore, though.
What about the weekends? Well, I'm usually at home or doing something out and about; I may plan to eat one meal out and just whip something up spontaneously at home for the other meals. Weekends are still busy, but they're far more relaxed than weekdays and I have more time to play around with my cooking, so I find that there's really no need to be as deliberate with planning my weekend meals.
example of planning weekly meals (not all of the details are written out since I know what goes into these go-to recipes ;)!):
- 2x: oatmeal spaghetti + marinara + meatballs + mushrooms & broccoli
- 2x: wild rice + tofu vegetable curry + broccoli
- 1x: wild rice + market strawberry tempeh salad
- 2x: peanut tempeh satay salad with corn + bell peppers + craisins
- 2x: whole wheat + turkey + mayo + spring mix, side of watermelon
- 1x: scrambled veggie omelette "breakfast nachos"
3. Do all of your meal prepping on one day
There's not much to this! I tried doing half of my meal prepping on one day and making as much as I can fresh, before each meal, but I just find that I have absolutely no energy after long days of work to even spend 10+ minutes making my dinner. Now, I cook everything (aside from assembling salads, since that is manageable and tastes nominally better when fresh) and portion/pack all meals in food prepping containers each Sunday. I'm in the kitchen for about 2-3 hours max, but it works and I'm gonna keep it up! I sometimes batch cook and have a lot of extras for future weeks, so I'll package it up and stick extras in the fridge. This minimizes time spent on future meal prepping days.
4. Make what you can from scratch
For a while, I made almost all of my meals from scratch - the bread, the pasta sauce, etc. This is an ideal goal, but to be very honest, it's not realistic. Bread, for example, is simple to make, but making it every week, on top of all the other meal prepping tasks, becomes burdening. At the same time, don't close yourself off to trying new brands and products. So make what you can from scratch, and buy the rest. Be smart about the brands you support; always read through ingredient labels - a general guideline to consider is, "if you wouldn't add a certain ingredient to your food yourself, then you probably shouldn't buy a product containing that ingredient".
Now, for a simple chicken salad sandwich recipe, since this sandwich was a part of my meal plan this past week. (Note: I generally eyeball the quantities of the ingredients, so adjust to your own taste!)
Recipe: Simple Chicken Salad Sandwiches
2-3 stalks of celery, finely chopped
two 4 oz. chicken breasts, chopped or shredded
lemon juice, to taste
salt & pepper
mayonnaise, to taste (I found organic mayo on sale! there are fewer ingredients)
(opt) handful of craisins
whole wheat bread
handful of chopped spinach
1. Mix all of the chicken salad ingredients together and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
2. In a hot pan, place one slice of whole wheat bread and top with spinach. Add the chicken salad on top of the spinach, and top with another slice of bread.
3. Cook on both sides (or press another hot pan on top of the top slice) until golden brown.