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Healthy Cooking for One: Meal Prep Madness

Photo courtesy of BocaDorada's photostream via Flickr
Photo courtesy of BocaDorada’s photostream via Flickr

Unless you’re a foodie, you probably aren’t about to make an epic mess in the kitchen just to feed yourself dinner. That’s why the single life—particularly life post-roommates—leaves your eating habits looking suspiciously similar to your college diet. (Don’t lie; you know you have Easy Mac stashed in your pantry.) There is a way out of this dietary black hole: meal prep.

No Time For Cooking? No Problem!

The term “meal prep” refers to the advanced preparation of your meals for a given period of time, ranging from a few days up to a week. It’s “packing your lunch” on steroids. Meal prep is absolutely invaluable for competitive physique athletes or anyone following a strict diet, but it is also perhaps the most efficient way to cook for one. Meal prep allows you to crunch the time you spend preparing meals into one time block, usually a few hours on a Sunday evening. This allows the rest of your week to flow more efficiently, and it certainly avoids the daily interruption of 20-minute kitchen clean-up sessions.

Cook your food in bulk, divide it into Tupperware containers, stack them in the fridge and voila! You’re ready to go for the week. Each morning you load your cooler with the day’s meals, and each evening you load your dishwasher with dirty Tupperware. Rinse and repeat (pun intended).

Welcome to the cooler life.

Meal prep also eases your stress level throughout the week. There’s no denying that when you’ve had a long day and/or you have a busy evening agenda, the last thing you want to think about is your dinner menu. If you have your meals prepped, this kind of evening can unfold without dinner drama. Simply grab and reheat a prepped meal and plop down on the couch.

Make Healthy Eating Easier

When your meals are readily available, it’s hard to justify splurging on takeout. Meal prep comes with a built-in guilt trip to choose a healthier option because you have to eat your prepped meals or they’ll go bad. It doesn’t feel good to empty the contents of your carefully prepped Tupperware stack into the trash at the end of the week. Plus when you’re preparing your own meals, you have full control over what you’re eating and how it’s cooked. For the healthiest option, aim to prepare your meals with as few processed ingredients as possible. This style of eating is commonly referred to as “clean eating.”

Save Money—Prep Meals!

If you’re hauling around a cooler of meals every day (you’ll get used to it), it’s really difficult to find yourself in a lunchtime food pinch. The rest of your office might be ordering from the local sandwich shop, but you’ve brought your budget-friendly prepared meal, so you can pass that menu on to the next cubicle without a second thought.

Prepping your meals in advance may also allow you to purchase food in bulk. Wholesale stores like Costco or Sam’s Club offer lower prices when you buy in bulk, so this option can save you money if you plan it right. This isn’t always possible (I can’t eat two pounds of spinach in a week even if you paid me), but if you take the time to plan your meals with wholesale in mind, it can save you a ton over the long haul.

Challenges of Meal Prep

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge of meal prep is actually doing it. Like all worthwhile habits, it’s easy to do, but also just as easy not to do. Here are five meal prep musts:

1. Plan your meals!

It’s tempting to whiz through the grocery store and throw lots of ideas into the cart, but this ends up wasting a lot of food and money. Planning is worth your time!

2. Repeat meals.

When left to our own devices, most of us eat the same few foods over and over anyway, so don’t feel like you’re shorting yourself. That said, the healthiest individuals get a variety of foods (and therefore a variety of nutrients) in their overall diet. Make sure you vary your meals from week to week; just don’t be afraid to eat the same lunch or dinner (or both) for five days straight.

3. Grocery shop all at once.

There is nothing more frustrating than discovering you forgot to purchase key ingredients halfway through your meal prep. To avoid grocery store amnesia, arrive with a complete list and don’t go home until every item is in your car!

4. Plan your actual prep.

For those of us who are easily distracted, it can be difficult to stay on task while prepping meals. A great way to avoid this is to write out your plan of action. For example:

Prep chicken.

Put chicken in oven; set timer.

Put rice in rice maker.

Prep veggies while chicken cooks.

Get as detailed as necessary to remain time efficient! As time goes on, you’ll do this automatically, but taking a moment to plan your actual prep can be a huge time-saver in the beginning.

5. Keep it simple!

If you’re not gifted in the kitchen, take it slow. Pick simple meals to prep until you get the hang of it. They may not be the healthiest options, but they still save time and money. You can start to incorporate healthier options as you gain some traction in the kitchen, but for now, think PB&J. You can handle PB&J!

About Nikki Norris

Nikki Norris is a fitness enthusiast by nature and a Jesus freak by choice. She is a Certified Personal Trainer, a Certified Yoga Instructor, and she holds a Bachelor's of Science in Applied Nutrition. She enjoys sharing her (mis)adventures across a wide range of athletic disciplines including team sports, marathons, powerlifting, and physique competitions. Above all, Nikki is on a mission to keep her love of fitness in balance with the most important thing in life: her love and pursuit of Jesus.
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