The dreaded meal prep concept. So many reasons to just go out for lunch every day. You don’t know how to cook, it takes too much time to prep all those meals, you don’t want the same thing for lunch each and every day, etcetera, etcetera. These excuses may be valid, but with a little bit of time and practice, lunch prep is easily worth every minute you spend on it. It will be one of the best changes you make in your daily life.
Why Should You Prepare Your Lunches for the Week?
If you already know how to cook and have for years, and meal prep is just a time issue, then you simply need to consider the benefits of the meals versus the time you spend. You will also be saving a lot of time each lunch hour by not having to go get lunch somewhere as it will already be ready to go for you.
If you don’t know how to cook or aren’t very good, then one of the best reasons to meal prep for the week is to learn how to actually cook. Cooking is a universally valuable skill that all people should learn at some point. Not only is it cool or impressive or creative to be able to whip up a delicious, well-rounded meal, it is also one of the most useful and functional skills a person can learn. So, if your excuse for not meal prepping is you don’t know how to cook, man up and take the time to learn. It’s worth it all the way.
Preparing your lunches ahead of time for work is also a much, much healthier way of eating, for the most part. It is this way because you are in complete control of the meals you eat. Now, if you don’t have any self-control on portion size or carb cooking, then that will be another area you need to improve if you so choose.
But that’s part of the beauty of meal prepping, what you get to eat is totally up to you. If you want to be unhealthy for the week, you can. If you want to be as lean as possible for the week, you can. We have free will for a reason people, use it!
Lunch prep also gives you individuality and variety in your meals. Once you are more experienced with it, meal prepping is an overall time saver compared to the time you spend going out for lunch. And meal preparation is absolutely a big money saver. If I haven’t convinced you to at least try meal prepping a few times by now, my only advice is to stop being so stubborn. Ouch.
Ways to Meal Prep
There are two basic ways to meal prep. The first is for people who cook almost every night as I do. It is also the simplest way. If you are someone who enjoys cooking most nights and trying new recipes or whipping up an old favorite, the easiest way to prep for lunch each day is to just make one more serving for lunch tomorrow. You can also use this method if you cook around three times per week, and just make a couple extra servings each time for a couple of lunches throughout the week.
If using this method, you should obviously try to have well-balanced meals. Most of the time, if you know how to cook, you will be doing this in some respect with each meal. This way also gives you more variety in your lunches during the week.
The next way to meal prep is to do it all on one day. Choose a day, usually Sunday, and make enough servings of one or two meals to have for lunch for the rest of the week. This way is for people who don’t cook often or are beginners to meal preparation. It enables you to get all your cooking for the week out the way in just an hour or two on one day.
The basic concept here is to make one meal, just with four or five portions or enough for however many times you will be bringing lunch to work for the week. The biggest drawback to this way, in my opinion, is that every day for the week your lunch will be exactly the same or very similar. But some people don’t mind this and just want efficiency and health. All the more power to them. Remember, you are in control, and that’s the beauty.
Tools You Will Need
Two categories here, tools to cook and containers to store the food in. For cooking, a sauté pan and an oven are the two most basic things almost everyone has to cook with. You’ll need spatulas and cookie sheets or glass bakeware as well. And a knife and cutting board. But I hope you know this already, even if you don’t really know how to cook.
You can also have a grill, a slow cooker (highly recommended), an instant pot or rice cooker, and a food processor or blender. The number of tools at your disposal is completely up to you. But as you learn to chef it up better and better, you’ll probably want to acquire more of these as you gain experience and desire to grow.
For meal prep, storage is also very important. The best way to separate and have your meals ready to go each day are Tupperware or glass containers. The fanciness and separation areas are up to you. Some people like to keep all their food separate, some want it all mixed. Just choose the right containers for you. But something with a well-sealed lid and that is reusable is a must.
This is often an overlooked area of cooking. You can’t cook without ingredients. Duh. So, you need to learn how to shop efficiently and on the right budget. The two most important concepts to remember when shopping is to use what you have first and then make a list of what you need. You should always use what you already have before buying more. Unless a nice recipe you just found requires something unique you don’t already have, try to use your current stores. Most humans waste enough as it is, try not to do it with food, though it will undoubtedly happen.
Also, make a list. There’s no shame in it. Know what you need to buy before you go to the store, and try to always buy what’s on sale, as long it is of the right quality you prefer. That is also a great reason to shop, you control the quality of your cooking ingredients. Whether it’s grass-fed beef or organic produce, or just generic brands, it’s up to you. Try to go for the healthier options if they are within your budget. And don’t overbuy.
Healthy Meal Prep Concepts
Almost all of us want to eat healthily, and need to do it better. And preparing your own meals is one of the best ways to start. The most basic concept to always remember is that healthy ingredients make a healthy meal. This applies to both the quality of food you buy and the individual ingredients that go into the assembly.
The other basic concept to always remember is a balanced meal. We always want to try to have lean protein, a complex carb, some nice vitamin-loaded veggies, and possibly a healthy fat. If each meal has some of each of these elements, the meal will be very good for your body and mind.
Protein, we always need protein, bro. Seriously though, we do. Protein takes the body the longest amount of time to process and is thus the best way to fill you up and burn calories. Good lean proteins are chicken and turkey and most types of fish. Fish can be expensive, especially if you are buying good fish, which is so much better for you, but indulging every once in a while, is never bad. So, you can also have some beef or pork incorporated into your meals if you want.
Complex carbs are also good fillers and usually have some nice fiber as well. They also give you energy which is important to finish up your workday. These can be things like quinoa or brown rice or sweet potatoes or whole wheat pasta. You can also have white rice or regular pasta. While obviously not nearly as healthy, again, you are in control of your meals. Do what you want.
Fruits and vegetables are very important. We’ve been hearing that from our moms since before we could even understand her. But guess what, she was right. Fruits and especially veggies are loaded with fiber and vitamins and minerals and all sorts of things that are good for us. Most veggies are good for us except potatoes, and most fruits as well as long as you don’t overload them because they do have sugar.
Lastly, healthy fats are also part of a balanced diet. Nuts and avocados and salmon and sometimes even dark chocolate. Not every meal has to include these, but if you can incorporate them, please do.
Basic Cooking Concepts
I am not here to teach you to cook. That takes time and there are a lot of videos out there to help you along the way. What I will say is you should know how to do a few basic things, always. The first is to know how to chop stuff. Fruits and veggies and some meats will require some prep before they are ready to be cooked or consumed, and that usually involves some chopping. So, get a good knife and get to practicing.
You should know how to use a sauté pan. This means heating up and managing the temperature. This means using oil or butter to make sure the food doesn’t stick. This means knowing how long to cook on each side for the meat to be done. The same basic principles apply to a grill as well, if you have one.
You should know how to use a rice cooker or how to make rice or quinoa on a stovetop in a pan with a lid. If you are going to be making all these well-rounded meals, a lot of time it will have rice or quinoa. Rice cookers are so incredibly easy and efficient. I highly recommend them.
Know how to make sauces. My mom, who I learned a lot of my chef skills from, always said a good cook knows how to make sauces and soups. Soups take a little more practice to get down, though they aren’t too difficult. But a good sauce can take a boring protein and carb and make them interesting and unique. Hell, you can make the same protein and carb week in and week out, and if your sauce varies every week, your meals will never taste the same.
Lastly, and I believe this is of utmost importance, know or learn how to season things. Certain ingredients in cooking have wonderful flavors all on their own, like tuna or corn or melon, but almost everything is made better by seasoning. It can bring out the flavor of foods like beef or salmon or asparagus, or it can make something boring like rice stand out. If you know how to season and/or marinate things, your cooking will never be dull. Ever.
Salt, pepper, garlic, and some sort of herb are a must in my opinion. Cumin and ginger are very versatile, as are chili powders. The best thing about learning how to season is that you get to experiment and expand your palate.
Easy Meal Prep Recipes
This has been a long article, but if you’ve stuck it out this long, or you just wanted recipes to begin with, you’re out of luck. Just kidding. I’m not going to give you any specific recipes here, just basic things to look for and some helpful links to get the recipe ideas flowing.
I like to cook several nights a week, so my meal prep is just making enough leftovers and putting them in a container for the next day. This allows me to try new things each week if I want to. If this is you as well, just look for recipes that involve many healthy elements. Try new things, fail a couple times. You’ll learn and get better.
If you are looking for ideas for a weeklong prep in one day, I love all-in-one slow cooker meals like soup or chili or roast and veggies. It’s so simple, and the long cooking process creates a blend of flavors not possible in quicker cooking methods.
You should also look for certain protein or carb or salad or sauce recipes that you like, and then you can assemble your meals with different elements of each. A chopped salad with chicken and a homemade dressing is always good. Some combo of roasted or grilled fish and veggies can never be dull. A bowl of quinoa with grilled pork and Thai chili sauce or barbeque seasonings is delicious. Look for things that sound interesting or bold. Get out of your comfort zone.
Here are a few links to some recipe articles that you may find useful. Just remember that you are allowed to play around or adjust these as you see fit:
Keep It Fresh
Learn to meal prep. It’s that simple. It’s healthier, cheaper, less time consuming, and you become a better chef. There is literally no downside. Hopefully, this article provided the basic steps and concepts needed to be an efficient and effective meal prepper. You’ll be happier every time lunch comes around, and that’s never a bad thing.