There are a lot of things I see on Pinterest daily that I skip over happily while thinking, "Well, that will never happen." Filed under this "never happening" category are things like "butt-burning" moves, two ingredient kale-based cookies, and, until recently, planning healthy, make-ahead dinners for an entire week. It's not that I don't like all those ideas; in fact, it's often the opposite. But in general, I usually skim over them while thinking, "That's nice, but probably not going to work for me." It usually takes a dozen or so skim-overs for me to finally say, "Alright, Pinterest people, let me try this for myself." Recently, I kept seeing meal prep photos and plans pop up left and right, and I was so amazed by it all. All the perfectly portioned meals for the week, prepped smoothie baggies, the dozens of colors from all the fruits and veggies — I was in awe, but didn't think it was for me. And then one day I just told myself I could do it... and I did! And guess what? So can you. Here's how to prep meals for your whole work week.
First thing's first: I should mention that there are a million different ways to do this, and I am by no means an expert in the art of meal prep. However, what I do know is that without too much intense planning, I was able to make breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for my whole work week in about four hours on a Sunday evening. It was even kind of fun, but I'm a little weird like that. My point is that if you follow these tips and tricks, odds are you'll get it all done even faster than I did.
1. Find Some Containers
As a girl who loves organization, containers with individual compartments for meals is a pretty exciting thing for me (again, I'm weird like that). There are a lot of different options out there that really range in price, but I went for the cheapest choice. I chose this 10-pack of microwavable containers. They're not the most sturdy of options, but you can microwave them, they're cheap, reusable, and there are 10 of them — enough for two sets of meals for a whole work week. Below are some other options for containers that work just as well, though. You're also going to want some plastic baggies, but everyone seems to have those around to begin with, so you won't have to look far for those.
2. Go Grocery Shopping
Surprise! You need to buy food now! The great thing about meal prep is that you can pack whatever you want to eat. I tried to go the healthy route, which is what most meal preppers are aiming for, so if that's what you're interested in, then feel free to follow what I bought to a T — but if not (or if you would rather eat vegetarian, vegan, etc.), add, subtract, and switch whatever foods you'd like for your meal prep. It's your food, after all. What you want to focus on here is buying some sort of protein (I go with chicken), a grain, and a lot of produce — the first two of which you can cook in bulk for the whole week. The rest is negotiable.
Your grocery list:
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (at least 4)
- Plain Greek yogurt (I literally eat this with everything — it's a PERFECT sour cream substitute in homemade burrito bowls, by the way)
- Whole grain pasta
- Turkey deli meat
- Individual cheese squares
- A LOT of fruits and veggies (all kinds)
- Dark chocolate-covered almonds
- "Toppings" (For me this includes: lemons, limes, Sriracha (I'm obsessed), and avocados, but I'll get to that later.)
3. Cook The Big Stuff
By the "big stuff," I mean the things that will be staples in your meals. For me, it was chicken and quinoa. I also made a batch of six or so hard boiled eggs to add into meals and use as quick snacks. You can let this stuff cook as you prep some of your other snacks, or do something else — it's totally up to you.
4. Prep Fruits And Veggies
Wash, cut, and peel whatever veggies you want to use for the week. A lot of people are worried about fruit staying fresh for five days, so if you'd rather keep some compartments empty and add fresh-cut fruit throughout the week as it becomes necessary, that works too. However, I've found that fruit generally stays good throughout the five days — sprinkling a little lemon juice over everything helps too.
I tried to include fruit or veggies of some kind in one or both of the smaller compartments in my meal boxes. I also tried to add a little treat to every box — a few dark chocolate-covered almonds, or some peanut butter with fruit. A girl needs her sweets.
5. Make Smoothie Baggies + Snack Baggies
The smoothie baggies are what I used for breakfast (I use a NutriBullet, which is awesome, by the way). For every bag, I used a combination of fruit (it honestly doesn't matter what kind, but I usually use half a banana and add berries of some kind), a handful of spinach, and a tablespoon of flax seed and/or steel cut oats in every baggie. I simply added almond milk to the blender in the morning with the contents of the baggie. So easy, and quick clean-up!
Once you're done filling out all your smaller compartments for your lunch and dinner boxes, you should have some leftover fruit and vegetables. Take the extras, and fill up plastic baggies with fruit or vegetables for snacks throughout the week. For a little extra boost, add some nuts or cheese. This is where I added the small squares of cheddar cheese.
At this point, you should have 10 baggies (five breakfast smoothie bags, and five snack bags for throughout the week), and your protein, grains, and/or hard boiled eggs should be done cooking.
6. Fill Out Your Main Meal Compartments
Everyone's taste is different, but personally, I have a handful of basic meals that I love and switch up every now and then. For my main meal compartments, I stuck with basic, meatless salads with loads of veggies and maybe a cut-up hard boiled egg or cheese. For others, I added chicken and quinoa to make a burrito bowl of sorts. For some, I did bell peppers and chicken. I also made a small batch of whole grain pasta with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers to add to some of the compartments. Like I said — it's all up to you. Whatever you want to eat. However, there are two things you want to keep in mind here:
- Get creative. If you pack the same meal six times, odds are you aren't going to want to eat it by the end of the week. Try to at least switch things up a little if you know you'll get bored. You don't want to end up wasting the food.
- Keep in mind when different foods are going to go bad. This, of course, depends on what you're preparing, but if you are very cautious and/or paranoid about keeping things fresh, try planning your meals accordingly. Mark the lids of your containers with Monday through Friday labels so you know when to eat what.
7. Keep A Supply Of Toppings
It's good to have a solid supply of "toppings" to add some zest to your meals. Of course, when you prep, you don't really want to add a ton of sauces or liquids for fear of everything getting soggy. Keep a supply of avocados, lemons, limes, and Sriracha or hot sauce to add to your meals if you know you'll get a little bored, or you're going to want to keep things less than bland.
8. Prepare For A Clean Up
It's going to be messy. Between going from a cutting board to the boxes and back again, odds are that things will fall on the floor, counters will be covered, and your work space will look a bit insane, to say the least. Try your best to clean up throughout the meal prep process — this should help things go a little more smoothly.
9. Take A Picture Of Your Work At The End
Be proud! Look at what you've created. You have a whole week of meals all taken care of, plus snacks, not to mention it's pretty to look at. You are a superstar. Feel free to Instagram and answer casually as people ask you, "How did you do that?!?" You know, just in a day's work.
Images: Getty; Olivia Muenter (4); Giphy