“Bring your lunch to work!”
It’s a common piece of advice given to people looking to cut back on their spending and/or eat better. But let’s be real – if you’re faced with the choice between a turkey wrap from home and that yummy Mexican place across the street, burritos win every time.
Luckily, there is a solution and thy name is meal prep. While the idea of making advance meals is not new, meal prep takes it to another level as it involves assembling about a week’s worth of food in one go. And it’s a pretty popular trend – there are over 2.4 million #mealprep posts on Instagram and trust me, there are no sad sandwiches to be found here. Only rows and rows of containers filled with delicious and convenient food.
Okay, so I’ve convinced you to try this out, but you’re not sure where to start? Not a problem – here are the 6 key points to achieve meal prep success.
Use meal templates
If you’re someone who struggles with deciding what to eat, meal templates can be a huge help. Essentially, these are flexible recipes that you can modify depending on your mood and what you have in the fridge.
My personal favourites are bean salads, chili, and rice bowls because A) they pack well, B) they are easy to batch cook and portion out into individual meals, and C) they have a good balance of protein, fats, and carbs, so you’ll feel good about what you’re eating and stay full too.
Create a weekly meal plan schedule
By the end of the previous week, I like to start brainstorming ideas for meals for the next week based on what I want to try and what ingredients I need to use up.
While some pro meal preppers schedule their meals a month or more in advance, I prefer planning week-by-week because it allows me to take advantage of the specials at my local grocery store.
Invest in good meal containers
The best choices are made out of glass or BPA-free plastic. Furthermore, many companies will bundle food containers and sell them in huge sets. While these might seem like the most cost effective option, I found it worked better for me to buy 5 individual meal-sized containers that I know I will use, versus 20 that will take up unnecessary space in my tiny Toronto apartment kitchen (the storage struggle is real).
Additionally, ‘bento box’ style containers (or any kind with compartments) are great for when you want to keep the different parts of your lunch your separate – no more soggy salads!
Don’t forget breakfast and dinner
If you’re like me and prioritize sleep over pretty much everything else, consider preparing your breakfast in advance as well. Muffins, pancakes, and mini frittatas are great options for this, and it’s easy to find recipes that adapt to your dietary needs.
Additionally, after a long day at work, it’s easy to go straight to your phone and order up something for dinner. However, having some cooked chicken breast or lentils on hand that you can easily throw in a wrap or on a salad is a lot faster than delivery, and a whole lot healthier too.
Pump up the flavour
Sure, you can keep things simple with a sliced bread sandwich, but will you actually want it come lunchtime? To create a more appetizing meal, swap out those basic carbs for something a little fancier (focaccia perhaps?) so eating a packed lunch feels more like a treat than a chore.
Some other ideas: dip veggies in tzatziki sauce instead of hummus, top your pasta with feta instead of mozzarella, and dress your salad with chili oil instead of plain olive oil. While these upgrades might be a little pricier, I think it’s worth it if you want to avoid “sad desk lunch” syndrome. I find even sprinkling some pepper or fresh herbs on my food before I pack it makes it a lot more enticing when I reheat it later.
Pack some snacks
Lastly, if you’re the kind to get a little peckish in between meals, throwing in some snacks along with your lunch will keep you from getting hangry. Snacking can get a bad rap, but the key to not going overboard with the calories is portion control. My go-tos: granola bars, clementine oranges, apples, and cheese strings. Bonus: these options require no prep – just toss ‘em into your bag and go.
While meal prep can seem a little intimidating, I promise you – setting aside a couple hours a week will save you loads of time and money in the long run.