Save Time & Money with Meal Prep

Posted: August 21, 2020 9:00:00 AM CDT

As a graduate student, budgeting is a huge part of my daily routine. From shopping online for the cheapest textbooks, to buying clothes from secondhand stores. One of the ways I help stretch my money and eat reasonably well is through meal prepping. Meal prepping is a great way to resist the temptation of eating out. Here are a few tips and thoughts I have gained over the last two years of meal prepping.

What and How-to Meal Prep

So, let’s start with what is meal prep or meal prepping? Meal prepping is a cooking trend that allows you to save money and time while also improving nutritional intake in your meals (Ruhs, 2018). Meal prep normally involves making a large batch of a recipe and then portioning the meals out to store either in the fridge or freezer for quick, ready-to-eat meals for the rest of the weak.

The reason I started my meal prep journey was to save money and time, my household consists of two people who are both students and work full or part-time jobs. Trying to cook after coming home from a long day of work and school, we often ended up at Whataburger. While we love that little orange and white building, the food was not a healthy balanced meal, so we turned to meal prep.

The best thing you can do for meal prep is start out slow to see if you like the idea. Make a larger than normal meal so you have leftovers for a day or two and try eating it as that designated mealtime. Lucky for us in today’s age the internet is a click away and can help with yummy and well-balanced recipes. 

You do not have to give up your favorite foods, just get creative with the preparation and make substitutes for the less healthy parts or portion them smaller. Choose easy recipes to begin with and use it for any mealtime, breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In my household, we do lunch and dinner meal preps, so our time prepping is much greater.

If you like the ease of coming home and just heating up food, moving on to purchasing meal prep containers is the next best step. Do not skimp on your storage items, we have gone through a few types before finally finding the containers we liked. Our three main storage choices are: Ball Glass Mason Jars (12pk 8oz $11), Goodcook Meal Prep containers & lids (10 ct. $10), and the plastic takeout bowls you get from the ramen shops. Aside from the ramen shop bowls, the other two can be purchased at HEB and are inexpensive.  

containers

When Purchasing Containers Think Of:

  • Stackability, how much cabinet and fridge space can you give to these containers?
  • Durability, are they going to crack after one use? Can they be microwaved?
  • Reusability, how much bang will I get for my buck?
  • Does the container fit your meal type?

Speaking of meal types, really think about the type of food you like to eat, and if you’re preparing for other people, ask what they like to eat. We made the mistake of picking recipes for the health benefits at first and I found out I really HATE Sweet Potatoes. I tried to force myself to eat it but after the third day I gave up and had not so filling PBJ’s the rest of the week.

Focus on food you want to eat, then you can figure out how much you need of it. Making a shopping list will help keep you on track and trying different combinations of food will help with making meal prep not feel so boring or tedious (Haskins, 2018).

Tips for Recipes

  • Change up your recipes, don’t repeat the same recipe over and over, you will get sick of it and are more likely to stray to old habits of fast-food.
  • We found that Asian recipes are easy to make and you can be versatile by changing the sauce type. If you’re making chicken, make a teriyaki sauce and a quick orange sauce that way you get a different flavor every other day.
  • If you’re using a sauce for the meal, keep it separate from rice and noodles to avoid a soggy mess.
  • Vegetables! Canned, fresh, or frozen make sure to incorporate veggies into your meals (Ruhs, 2018)
  • Know what you like and dislike before creating a weeklong plan of something you hate to eat.
  • Doing a crockpot meal helps with mess and is quick and easy to get done
  • Certain party meals make great meal prep
  • When selecting recipes think of the time of year. (Hot foods in winter, cool foods in summer)
  • If you’re cooking for more than one, don’t forget to double or triple the recipe depending on your needs
  • If you’re reheating pasta noodles or rice, put a damp paper towel on top of it in the microwave it helps add a little extra moisture, so the noodles/rice aren’t so dry.
  • Too much salt or sugar in a meal can break down faster and not last as long
  • If you find yourself hungry between meals, on the day of prep make a healthier snack like a peanut bar to treat yourself (https://eatthegains.com/peanut-butter-oatmeal-chocolate-chip-bars/)

crockpot meal

Aside from healthier eating, time saving, and assisting with budgeting there are other benefits than just the meal. If you are doing meal prep with another person, you can each do a recipe if you have the kitchen space. It provides an opportunity for bonding with roommates, romantic partners, and parents. Putting meals together with another person(s) makes meal prepping more enjoyable and the time passes much faster.

Some General Tips

  • Don’t get mad at yourself if one week you don’t feel like cooking. Make it a sandwich and soup week and pickprepped meals up your meal prep the next.
  • Do your research about the longevity of a meal, we did a deconstructed no-fish sushi jar and by day three it lost a lot of its flavor and just smelled bad.
  • Explore! Try new recipes and experiment with taste. You may find something you never thought you’d enjoy this way.
  • Meal Prep can take anywhere from 4 to 5 hours with an hour of clean up, so pick a day to do your prep that is most convenient

My experience with meal prep has been exciting! We have enjoyed so many different types of cuisines because of it and have found a love of sharing the kitchen. The kitchen is not just a part of the apartment or house, it is now a place for building relationships and experiencing good times collaboratively together. There is plenty of research out there that provides way more details than I can, but I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about meal prep and my household’s kitchen!

 

Sources
Haskins, J. (2018, May). How to make your weekly meal prep easy. The Nation's Health48(3), 20. Retrieved from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A520582301/HRCA?u=txshracd2566&sid=HRCA&xid=c7c22f1a
Ruhs, B. (2018, January). Healthy eating is easy with meal prep: These 4 smart meal prep strategies can lead to easy, healthful meals. Environmental Nutrition41(1), 1. Retrieved from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A520582301/HRCA?u=txshracd2566&sid=HRCA&xid=c7c22f1a
Recipes of Meals in Photos
Tortilla Pinwheels
Slow Cooked Chili Beans
3 Dollar Bento Challenge

 

 

By: Yvette Garcia-Jones, I-Create Graduate Assistant

Category: Library Randomness