Making the Time to Meal Prep
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"Nobody is too busy. It's simply a matter of priorities."
Ah, this age old adage. But, let's face it, it's true. Especially in today's society, it seems that everyone is too busy to do anything. Hell, if I told you that I was too busy to brush my teeth in the morning, you would probably nod your head in knowing acknowledgement and say, "Yeah, man, I get it." Disclosure: no one is too busy to brush your teeth, you sickos.
But, again, it really all comes down to how much you want to do something. If I want to watch hours of mindless television at night, I'm sure I'll make sure to shirk off my household responsibilities in exchange for a Netflix marathon. It's just that simple.
The same goes for meal planning and prepping. Many people are put off by the idea of prepping their food because of the idea that they are going to spend hours in the kitchen, slaving over meals. That couldn't be any further from the truth! If you prepare each week, you can easily find a rhythm that will make meal prepping fun, pain-free, and, dare I say it, enjoyable!
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Create a weekly grocery list.
First things, first. This is the easiest. What I like to do is create one grocery list that I use each week. It's got all the staples on it for meals that I eat each week: cuts of meat, vegetables, fruits, pantry items. This is a list that you could save to a spreadsheet or a Google doc, but one that you can come back to each and every week and reference. If you continually start from the same grocery list each week, you're never going to go to the store and forget something.
Creating a grocery list also means that I stay on track in the grocery store. If I go to the store when I'm hungry, I'm going to buy something that isn't on the list because, well, it looks good. But if I tell myself I have a list to get and that is all, then I won't be tempted to buy any additional items. As well, it ensures that I get all the items that I need for the upcoming week, including any items I might be purchasing for a new recipe.
A weekly grocery list also helps me stay on budget. Again, this goes back to the idea of using the same starting grocery list each week - I know exactly how much all of the items on my list cost me. I also will know if the list needs to be tweaked because food was wasted. It's the perfect checks and balances for keep my food waste under control. If I bought a large container of spinach and I had to throw it away because it went bad, I can pinpoint the reason why. Was it too much spinach for me and I would be better served getting a smaller one? Or, did I not include in effectively in my meal planning?
Find a time to go grocery shopping.
Make. The. Time. Schedule it. Put it in your calendar. Set a reminder on your phone. Chances are, if you sat down to create a list, you have enough time to implement the list. Use this as your own personal time to do something for your health.
Hate going to the grocery store when it's busy? Find a time when it's not! Most grocery stores are open 24-hours or open early. Go one day before work and get all your shopping done when people are still asleep. Make it a point to avoid the grocery store on Sunday afternoon if you're looking to avoid the crowds.
Don't have time to go to the grocery store? Sign up for delivery services like Instacart or Amazon Fresh or Prime Pantry. Theses apps make it easy for you to plan your meals, order your groceries and have it delivered to your home without having to leave. There is no excuse to not have your groceries on time for prepping if you are pre-ordering them ahead of time.
Make simple recipes.
Don't overcomplicate your life. Just like using a weekly grocery list, keep the recipes you know and like the same from week to week. You don't have to let yourself get bored. In fact, I like to make large batches of foods for the week without packaging them together as breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Why? To fight off the boredom! If I had chicken and broccoli for lunch yesterday, I probably don't want the same thing for lunch today. The easiest way to counteract boredom is to give yourself the freedom to choose. I meal plan the same for myself as for my clients.
The easiest recipe to pick from is : one protein, two vegetables, one carb. Each day, each meal. If you pick from the foods that you have prepped in your fridge, chances are you have a weeklong choice of varying foods and you can rotate through them as your body craves. If you eat broccoli from morning to night, not only will you turn into a broccoli (wait...did just my mom tell me that?) but you will also get sick of it and then never want to reach for it again. Keep it simple and give yourself the flexibility to create new meals throughout the week.
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Make meal prep easy - Overlap tasks as necessary.
When it finally comes time to meal prep, write down what you want to create and start with the most time-intensive things first. For me, usually after the oven is pre-heated, I look at what is going to take the longest. If I'm roasting vegetables, those go on a sheet first and into the oven. Then, I have 35-45 minutes to do a whole variety of other things while those cook. And if you're placing multiple things in the oven, set yourself two timers. For example, I might roast broccoli and cauliflower for 35 minutes, but butternut squash only takes 20. Set one timer to the total time that you'll be cooking. Set yourself another timer (most of the time on my iPhone) for when you need to add the second item to the oven. When the first timer beeps, both items come out of the oven, relieving you of any confusion of cooking times.
Now that the oven is full, turn to other autonomous tasks. If you don't already have one, you need a steamer. It works for rice or vegetables, but the best part is I set it and forget it. And not only that, but I can put multiple items in there and have them all cook! I absolutely cannot be trusted to cook rice or eggs on a stovetop (see part about multiple timers already running), so I prefer to do it this way. And, hardboiled eggs make a perfect meal prepped snack.
So, now you have the oven going, and the steamer, so what is left? I personally prefer to grill my meats. Grilling is one of the quickest things I do during meal prep, so I use the last bit of time to put all my meats on the grill. You can also cook any ground meats (my preference is turkey!) during this time because raw meat cooks so quickly!
Set yourself a meal prep time limit.
If you prep just as I described above, you can have a whole week's worth of lunches prepped in one hour. This would include: 1-2 carbohydrate choices (I prefer sweet potatoes and/or rice/quinoa), 4-5 vegetables, and 3-4 choices of meat. This provides you with more than enough options to switch throughout your meals for the week, not getting bored with any one specific item. If you find that you'd still like to do additional meal prep, as everything is cooling, I like to prepare ingredients for myself to make meals during the day. Chopping up raw vegetables (such as celery, bell peppers, or onions) mean that I can reach into the refrigerator for all the ingredients to make a quick omelet in the morning. Hard-boiled eggs make an easy topping for salads, but also an easy grab-and-go snack. I can even pre-portion out nuts or seeds into snack-sized servings to make sure I'm staying accountable as the weeks gets busier.
Do you have any time-saving meal prep tips? I'd love to hear them!
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Photography by David Lemon Photography