Meal time is a sacred time. Much like the old adage correctly says, the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach...or at least that’s the way to mine. But eating a delicious, home cooked meal comes with a price to pay—actually cooking it. There is nothing worse than having to come home after a long day and figure out what to make for dinner. Even packing a lunch in the morning can be stressful (I don’t know about you, but making sandwiches at 7 AM is not my specialty). This is where meal prepping comes in.
We’ve all seen fitness bloggers and Instagrammers getting hyped up about the wonder and beauty of meal prep. They post pictures of their perfectly healthy meals all stacked up in their fridge in a million different storage containers. They rave about how it saves time, saves money and reduces the stress of having to cook all week. It seems like all they need is a slow cooker and they can make a feast in under an hour. I decided it was not enough to simply just stalk the #mealprep life on Instagram, but join in full force.
The prep before the meal prep
Before I started cooking, I consulted an expert. There is an overwhelming amount of information online about meal prepping, so I needed professional insight. Talia Koren, who runs the popular website Workweek Lunch, has been living the meal prep lifestyle for years, so she walked me through what a beginner should know before they just start aimlessly cooking.
Talia originally started prepping her lunches in order to save money. Her culinary skills have evolved from someone who once needed supervision cooking pasta in college, to making multiple meals in under two hours. “If you can cook an egg, I’m sure you can meal prep. There are so many different recipes available online for different skills in the kitchen.”
The number one mistake she sees first time meal preppers make? Not going to the grocery store with a plan. “People will go to the store and they don’t know what they’re going to make. You have to make a list, go to the grocery store and then once you get home you already know what you are making.” She also stressed the importance of having a well stocked pantry. The more basic kitchen foods you have in your pantry, the less shocking your grocery bill will be. Some weeks, Koren could spend only $40 for two people.
What I made the first week
Meal I would be prepping: Lunch
Day of week it was made on: Monday
How many meals I got out of it: 6
After perusing through endless recipes online I decided to stick with what I knew, so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed the first week. I found a recipe for stuffed peppers (which I’ve cooked plenty of times before) and headed to the grocery store. Mostly everyone I saw meal prepping online was doing so on Sunday nights, however, I had been away at a bridal shower all day and honestly, didn’t feel like cooking. Monday night was a great call for my schedule. I came home and started to cook dinner like I normally would, but just made more servings.
From chopping the peppers, creating the stuffing and then finally baking everything in the oven, the entire process took approximately an hour and a half. My goal wasn’t about rushing the process of cooking, it was about savoring the enjoyment of not having to worry about packing lunch in the morning. I took my sweet time making sure my veggies were chopped into miniscule pieces so I could make my brain think I was really eating rainbow sprinkles instead of a million vegetables. Then, I sat down to a hot dinner and stored the rest of my peppers in a large dish in my fridge, so I could take them out one by one as the week went on.
How my first week of meal prepping went
The only difference between me and the hardcore meal preppers at this point was that I had only prepped one meal for the week and my fridge wasn’t filled with a bunch of individual storage containers. Yes, those containers look amazing when people post pictures of them, but I didn’t really find it necessary to go out and buy a bunch more. I simply would wash out my container every night and reload it with a new pepper.
Did my food stay fresh all week? Yup, even on Friday when I popped my final pepper in the microwave it still tasted phenomenal.
Did it save me time in the morning? Absolutely. I would load a pepper into my storage container every night when I got home from work and throw a few pieces of fruit into my lunch bag as well. Boom, lunch packed in under a minute.
Were my coworkers jealous of my culinary skills? Actually, I got a lot of comments about how good my pepper looked and how delicious they smelled. This obviously inflated my ego and I sat in the kitchen feeling like Martha Stewart every day.
What I made the second week
Meals I would be prepping: Dinner and lunch
Day of week it was made on: Sunday and Monday
How many meals I got out of it: 9
The following week, I decided to step it up a notch and prep two meals. “I suggest splitting my prep up into two batches, Sunday and Wednesday night.” Koren informed me during our conversation. “On Wednesday I just do breakfast and lunches, since you don’t need as much food on the tail end of the week. That helps switch things out and the food also stays fresher, so you’re not eating on Friday something you made Sunday.”
While this way of splitting up the prep seemed like the most logical, the point of meal prepping is how it fits into your schedule. For me, this meant not having to do any major prep during the middle of the week, so I decided to spend some major time in the kitchen on Sunday afternoon and Monday night.
Sunday I prepped my dinner for the week and made the meal prep classic of a big old pot of chilli. Much like the previous week, I perused the internet for recipes but then ended up just sort of throwing everything into a slow cooker and hoping for the best. This was incredibly easy and took a half hour to prepare. The hardest part was having the delicious smell of chili fill my house for hours and having to patiently wait for it to be done.
Though I prepped both lunch and dinner, I only got a couple more total meals out of it this time. This was not due to lack of poor food planning, but mainly a lack of realizing my brother would be at my house watching football Sunday, therefore instantly eliminating half the chili in the pot. Also, I obviously had to share with my roommates, because I’m not an awful human. They’re a super adorable old couple, so it’s easy to share with them (I’ve also been sharing with them for years, because my roommates are my parents).
Monday night as I ate my already prepped chili dinner, I once again made stuffed peppers for my lunches for the week. Should I have been more daring and tried a new recipe? Probably. But coming from a girl who wrote her college essay on how she had the same thing for lunch every day throughout school, this was normal for me. Plus, my stuffed peppers were delicious and they made me look forward to lunch every day with extra enthusiasm.
How my second week went
Prepping another meal, especially such an easy one in the slow cooker, saved me hours from being in the kitchen throughout the week. Also, by the time week 2 rolled around, I was getting used to having fancy hot lunches that did not come with a big price tag from a restaurant, and enjoyed keeping up with that.
Was it worth it? Yes, yes and yes again. I can’t recommend this enough to people. Like Talia Koren from Workweek Lunch said, you don’t have to start off prepping breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe you just want to save time during the week so you prepare only one type of meal ahead of time. Or maybe you’re tired of spending so much money on all the great lunch spots by your office, so you prep your lunches. You can meet a multitude of different goals when you meal prep and it’s all about finding what works best for you and your schedule.
Did the food ever go bad from sitting in the fridge? Based off the simple recipes I made, I did not experience any of my food going bad or tasting gross days after I cooked it. However, this all depends on what sort of recipes you are making.
Will you continue to meal prep? Yes, meal prepping lunches brought me a weird satisfaction on Monday nights. My coworkers can expect a plethora of peppers in the kitchen over the next few months.
Are you going to quit your job and become a famous Instagram meal prep influencer? Honestly if I had more storage containers, I probably would, but I’ll stick to this job for now.