I was too afraid to touch it.
The lunch I left in the office fridge no longer resembled the kale salad that I brought in the previous week. There was even some condensation on the inside of the container.
I knew what was coming — this wasn’t the first time I had to remove an abandoned lunch from the fridge to quickly dump the smelly mess in the trash and take the container home.
Sometimes I just chucked the whole plastic container of spoiled food in the trash, not wanting to stink up the office.
This was back when I was 22, working my first job out of school and just starting to learn how to cook.
Yeah, this is really how I looked on my first day of being an adult. Sigh.
I wish I could go back and tell my adorable 22-year-old self to start meal prepping right then and there.
What motivated me to cook and meal prep at first was saving money and losing weight without spending too much time in the kitchen. (Like most people)
Six months of chowing down on free bagels, pizza and Cheerios during the work week and indulging in expensive brunches on weekends resulted in weight gain and money anxiety.
My gut (no pun intended) told me bringing lunch to work instead might be the solution to both problems.
I was a terrible cook at first — so terrible that by lunchtime I’d look at the soggy stir fry in my Tupperware, throw it out and buy Chipotle instead.
Making a simple meal was like doing a messy arts and crafts art project. My veggies were always soggy. I didn’t know a thing about cooking oils or spices. My meals barely resembled food. There’s a reason why there are no photos to prove it!
But like anything else, cooking just takes some practice.
So I kept going.
Fast forward three years.
Meal prep has become an integral part of my routine and I couldn’t imagine life without it.
Planning, cooking and eating balanced meals every week has helped me in so many ways:
- I don’t have to count calories anymore.
I used to be completely obsessed with my weight. Every day, I’d drag my ass to the gym and do the same thing over and over with no results. But when I started cooking (and stopped eating processed crap and large portions), the weight dropped off.
- I save at least $200 a month.
Saving money always gets me excited. Over the last three years, meal prepping helped me get my food budget under control. Before I started, my monthly food spend was in the $700/month range — almost the same amount as my rent! Batch cooking puts me in a much more comfortable $450-$500/month range so I have room in my budget for more important stuff like travel.
- I’m an amazing cook now.
For me, the benchmark of cooking success is to be comfortable enough to cook for other people. Now, I meal prep for my mom and boyfriend all the time, and sometimes host dinner parties where I cook for my friends. Maybe one day you’ll see me on Master Chef? 🙂
Meal prep makes healthy living easy.While it takes trial and error, it’s completely worth all the screw ups. When you get it right, it feels like magic.
That being said…
I don’t want it to take two years for you to learn these important meal prep lessons, so that’s why I put them all here in this post.
1. When in doubt (or in a rush), just use salt, pepper and garlic.
Sometimes you just don’t have enough time (or energy) to look up a recipe or get fancy with your meal prep.
The thing about batch cooking is that keeping it simple saves your precious dollars and your precious minutes. Your food will taste fresh and good with a dash of salt, pepper and minced garlic. I promise.
I’ve done my research on this — most recipes have these 10 common flavors and aromatics, so you don’t need to stuff your spice cabinet full of exotic flavors to create tasty meals either. These ten will do.
Healthy and tasty food isn’t complicated, and it took me awhile to wrap my head around that.
It’s simpler than it looks:
2. If meal prep feels like a chore, get creative about enjoying it.
I’ve talked about this on the blog a lot, but this is a huge game changer if you’re someone who “doesn’t like cooking.”
You can learn to like it. First of all, when you’re GOOD at something, you will naturally start to enjoy it more. Your success in the kitchen and the feeling of accomplishment you get after cooking a meal will motivate you to keep going. And when you start to see the effects (on your bank account, your body and your schedule) you’ll be even more keen on keeping up.
But if you’re someone that just doesn’t like being in the kitchen, my number one piece of advice is to find ways to ease the pain by listening to podcasts or music, talking on the phone (my meal prep time is also calling my entire family time) or catching up on TV.
I was able to watch all of the newest seasons of Veep and Orange Is The New Black last month during my weekly meal preps!
3. Batch cooking ONLY helps you avoid wasting food IF you have a meal plan.
I only started making my own weekly meal plans a year ago and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I have followed many meal plans before (GOOP, Tone It Up, Kalya Itsines’ BBG, Whole30) but when I started making my own I actually stuck to it. There’s something empowering about getting ahead of your eating habits.
Before I started meal planning I definitely had a food wastage problem. But using a visual meal planner like the one below helped me waste less food. Instead of randomly picking out a few recipes I could easily visualize my schedule and grocery list and see how it all fit together.
Now I can open my fridge on a Saturday and there’s not one leftover veggie or fruit to use up, which means I’ve done the job right.
The best part about customizable meal plans is that you can incorporate your own schedule to avoid cooking more meals than you need on a busy week. This way you can factor in social engagements, travel or those days when you know a yummy lunch will be catered at work.
4. Eating healthy food does not mean eating unsatisfying low-carb, bland food (or expensive “healthy” takeout).
When I started bringing lunch to work, I made salads in an attempt to be healthy. They were gross. They tasted awful. But healthy food is supposed to taste bad, right?!
I was so, so wrong. My meal prepped food got more appetizing when I started recreating “unhealthy” meals at home.
My burrito bowl is my most-viewed recipe on my blog. Why? Because it’s what you’d buy for lunch at work and feel bad about later, but when you cook it at home there’s no guilt. If you use clean ingredients, there’s nothing to feel guilty about!
Do you love mac ‘n’ cheese? Great. Find a way to make it healthy by using plant-based pasta and adding tons of veggies.
Are you a french fry addict? Learn how to make them in the oven at home — it’s easy.
Is pizza completely irresistible to you? You can make your own crust from scratch (it’s so easy) and go nuts with fresh vegetables as toppings.
And if you’re someone that buys expensive “healthy” food at fast-casual places like Sweetgreen, Blossom, Dig Inn, Roast Kitchen, by Chloe etc, that’s fine. Just remember that you don’t know exactly what’s in it because you didn’t cook it yourself.
Fact: you could make homemade mac ‘n’ cheese that’s more nutritionally dense and balanced than a salad from Sweetgreen.
5. Meal prep supports having a healthy mindset too.
This was an unexpected lesson for me. As a food blogger, I would be lying if I said I don’t think about food a lot. But instead of thinking about calories and macros, I think about food in terms of my blog and what I want to meal prep next.
Before getting into meal prep, I obsessed over each bite that went into my mouth. I would eat restrictively and cut out random food groups (like not eating any bread or fruit) to lose weight and get “lean.”
I’ve written about this before, but six months into meal prepping, I dropped 10 pounds seamlessly, while still working out a few days a week, of course. This is going to sound crazy but, I felt like I wasn’t even trying!
How did that happen? I focused on the process (meal prep) instead of the goal (weight loss). This is so important because to reach your goal, you need a habit or a process in place… or else it’s never going to happen.
That’s just one example of how meal prep helped me improve my mindset. The other way was even more unexpected.
Instead of spending hours and wasting my precious brain energy on thinking about food and fitness, I now have all this brain space to put toward more productive things.
Like this blog. Like my life dream of moving to Colorado and become a ski bum (true story). And working on improving myself on as a person, not improving my appearance.
Meal prep created more time, freedom and space in my life to focus on things that are much more meaningful than a number on a scale.
I can consider the health box “checked” and move on.
I hope you learned something valuable from this post.
These lessons are my gift to you on Workweek Lunch’s one-year birthday but there’s more where that came from.
If you’re already on my email list, then you’ll see what I’ve been working on free meal prep meal plans just for my readers that will help save time and waste less food. I’m so excited to show them to you guys!
If you haven’t signed up click here to get the meal plans directly to your inbox when they’re ready.