A row of chicken breasts and veggies submerged in sauce covers my kitchen counter — 10 bags to be exact.
I’ve spent most of the afternoon chopping veggies, sprinkling spices, and dividing food in plastic freezer bags as I prepare for a quarterly meal swap with some neighbors. I will make 10 of the same meal and exchange them with the other participating women, leaving that evening with 10 different freezer meals to use in a pinch, when I’m out of groceries or just too tired to cook. While this type of meal prepping is a little aggressive in large doses, it’s manageable every season or so.
This is just one of many ways to prep meals. Some people batch cook for extended periods of time (I know of one lady who would occasionally do an entire month’s worth of cooking over a weekend). Some just double the portions of whatever they’re making that week and freeze the extra portion for later. Most people dedicate a day each week to prep and cook for the meals ahead. It just depends on what works for your schedule and what you’re willing to do.
We all know life gets busy and complicated. When you’re tired from a long day at the office or your brain is fried, the last thing you want to do is open the door of your fridge and think of what to do with the groceries inside. By creating a menu and prepping food in advance, you can lower your stress level and always have something on hand.
Making a plan to prepare meals is a great way to save time, energy, and money while also encouraging you to live or maintain a healthy lifestyle. Because meals are planned and thought-out each week, you don’t run the risk of ordering out or consuming unwholesome meals out of ease or hunger.
Meal prepping can lower stress because you’re not coming home after a long day having to start from scratch or wondering what it is you’re going to eat that night. And because you’re not cleaning up as much, it also decreases your workload throughout the week. On the day of food preparation, you use and clean your cookware and utensils in one fell swoop rather than doing the whole process for each meal. And it is a good way to save money. When you go to the grocery store, you’re getting exactly what you need that week without being tempted by all the extras.
I used to go to the grocery store without a plan, perusing each aisle and stuffing my cart with whatever seemed appealing. Then I’d get home and have to creatively think about ways to use all the random ingredients I had gotten. I realized I was typically unable to finish everything, resulting in food waste. By planning and preparing my meals ahead of time, I’ve found that having a set list each week of what I need is more cost-effective, reduces food waste, and frees up my evenings in order to spend time doing things that are meaningful and rejuvenating — like being present to my family, reading a book, or catching up with friends.
For those interested in giving meal planning a try, here are few tips to help you get started:
- Pick a day to plan your meals on a weekly basis.
- Choose and organize recipes for each day. You don’t have to confine yourself to a specific order. As long as you have everything you need, you can change up which days you decide to eat which meal. Create your grocery list based on what the recipes call for and make sure to add any staple items you might need or be running low on.
- Get your groceries.
- Choose a day to prep and cook what you can for the week. For example, you can chop vegetables for all your meals so that they’re ready to be thrown into your recipe or you can cook your meat ahead of time.
- Label and organize your food into containers, preferably clear ones.
- Save and freeze extras or meals made in advance.
The meal swap I did with my neighbors was a fun way to get lots of food prepped in my freezer and introduce me to new foods. In the past, we’ve made a social event out of our meal swaps by gathering over wine and cheese. A meal swap like this might be a good way to introduce you to the concept and try it with friends.
There are many ways to prep meals, so it’s important to look at your schedule and budget to determine what will work best for you. If you feel like you’re in a cooking rut and want to save time, energy, and money, consider giving meal prepping a try.