Brown bagging just got a whole lot easier with these meal prep ideas that will make you rethink the time you spend in the kitchen!
Speaking bluntly, being an unmarried, young individual allows me to say that cooking for one sucks. Yes, I know that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and yes, I know I’m supposed to take advantage of this time to perfect my cooking skills, but here’s the deal: I hate eating the same thing for a week straight. I don’t know anyone who really enjoys leftovers, but I will state the obvious and say that there is no fun in no variety! The other dilemma of cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner for myself is that it is so time-consuming and more often than not, I’m on the go. In the words of Sweet Brown, “ain’t nobody got time fo dat!”
One day not long ago, I decided to give the enchilada casserole I had been *enjoying* for a week the break it deserved. I got in the car and thus began a long streak of eating out. This posed a big problem for me. My food expenditure was growing at a rapid pace and honestly, I can think of about nine hundred other things I would rather spend my money on than food. So I decided it was time to take the heat and get back in the kitchen.
In this moment of clarity, my expansive, intelligent mind constructed a crazy concept. I called it ‘make-all-my-meals-for-the-week-Monday.’ I then learned that the true, recognized name for this amazing concept is “meal prepping.” Who knew? This is where research came into play. List making, planning, shopping, and cooking (what more could a girl like me ask for?). Now that I’ve filled you in on the background info, let’s get to the good stuff!
My efforts to not state the obvious are lacking this morning, so as you probably already know, there are three meals in a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I guess there’s about six in total if you add up all three of my snack times, but we’ll stick to the three mains for now.
Breakfast aka the most important meal of the day is hard for me to swallow sometimes. Often times, it can be too heavy so a Starbucks run is usually my go-to for a quick and easy starter. Don’t get me wrong, I love Starbucks. A nice cup of chino and a bagel are not something I take for granted... but, changes had to be made to fit my new and improved money saving, healthy lifestyle. I put all the time waiting in line at the ‘bucks and the cost of two of those morning runs into purchasing smoothie making materials! I had never done this before because although I had thought of being my own Jamba, I had also thought about how long slicing and blending would take. Thank God for the internet and Pinterest because ta-da (!!!) I have found the solution of all solutions!
Make ahead smoothie packs!!! How smart is this and why did I not think of it first?! All you have to do for this meal prep idea is place the contents of what you would want in your smoothie into a Ziploc baggie. When you’re ready to get to blending, pull one of these babies out and if you’re me, you’ve saved yourself roughly 25 minutes in the morning. AND it’s healthy and nutritious. Mother would be proud!
I tend to toss mine in the freezer so my smoothies are thicker, and if you want to do that, I have one extra step for you. Before putting your fruit in a Ziploc, lay it on a baking sheet (or a piece of wax or parchment paper) and stick it in the freezer. I do this at the beginning of my meal prep so I can work on other meals while the fruit is freezing. After a couple hours, put the now frozen fruits in a bag like you planned and you won’t have any ice crystals! Hooray!
Ziploc Pro Tip for easy food prep: write the rest of the ingredients that needed to be saved for last, like ice, protein powder, yogurt, juice, etc., as well as their measurements on the outside of the bag! Mornings are hard, especially when the wheels haven’t started turning in my brain. Having the extra details written right in front of me speeds up the process!
When it comes to meal prep ideas for the week, lunch and dinner can team up when the planning and prepping begin. Generally, you’ll need to focus on these three food groups: protein, starches, and veggies. Here are a few options for each category:
- Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts/Tenders
- Ground Beef
- Ground Turkey
- Fish (like Salmon or Tilapia)
- Quinoa (goes great as a side or in a salad)
- Sweet Potatoes
- Red/Yellow/Orange/Green Peppers
- Tomato (even though technically it's a fruit)
- Spaghetti Squash
Consider what meal prep recipes you’ll want to prepare to freeze (if any) as well as which ones you will want to have for the rest of the week! Account for leftovers and what you can do to mix it up so you don’t have my initial problem of eating the same thing over and over. If your schedule allows, pick two different days to prep for dinner and alternate each meal! There are a lot of protein, starch, and vegetable options out there; I just listed some of my favorites! Make a list of what you want BEFORE you go to the grocery store because once you get home and are ready to put the prep in your step, realizing you forgot an ingredient or two is the realest buzzkill you’ll ever experience.
Preppy time! Post groc (pronounced groshe), you’ll want to wash, slice, and dice your fruits, veggies, and your protein choice if the recipe calls for it! Cook as much as you would like to have for the remainder of the week. Try not to overdo it just in case something comes up. If a friend calls and wants to go to lunch or dinner, you’ll feel better saying yes if you have nothing to waste!
Back to it: roasting veggies in the oven is where it’s at. Throw a medley of your favorite vegetables on a foil covered tray (quick clean up, yay!) and toss/coat with olive oil and some seasonings. Simple and delicious!
Via Table for Two
Cook your protein however you would like. Chicken kinda freaks me out during the preparation process so I like to grill it. I think it stores better that way too! After you cut up the other ingredients, put them separately into their own tuppies for easy access and good visibility (that's what I like to do anyway).
A friend of mine recently made me dinner that was sided with sweet potatoes. I’ve been really into these lately and had to ask for the recipe. It tasted very complex, like there were several ingredients working together to create this amazing dish. No. There were two other things on these little suckers, which seriously shocked me. All you have to do to recreate this quick and easy dinner side dish is cut the potato up, pour olive oil over it, sprinkle ground cinnamon all over, then toss to evenly coat each side. Stick ‘em in the oven for ten minutes on each side and voila! You’ll be shocked by how yummy these are! (Oh, and if you very thinly slice instead of cut them into chunks, post oven they will be like chips! Yum!)
Via Wit & Whistle
Salad is one of my all-time favorite things ever. Don’t ask me why because I know that sounds weird. Nevertheless, it is my comfort food. The way I make it takes almost every health benefit away from it so erase the thought that I’m a health freak from your mind. I only dream that would be the case! I was always under the impression that salad gets soggy after two seconds and that it had to be made immediately before eating... well, all of that has changed. I have found a way to pre-make all of my salads and grab them from the fridge as I please. With one container. With the dressing already in it. With no soggy lettuce. I’m actually not kidding.
Mason jars are the bee’s knees. They can be used for just about anything, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve seen lettuce and spinach as their contents. The key to the unsoggy factor is to first add the dressing to the bottommost layer of the glass. Throw in the rest of the fixings in a layer-like fashion, topping it off with lettuce/spinach/kale, whatever you’re into. Refrigerate the jars until you are ready to brown bag it or snack on one!
Use this next picture to guide you toward the finished product! Here is your quick and easy dinner, ready to go, and doesn’t it look pretty! You will save so much time and money as well as reap the health benefits that these meal prep tips provide.
Via Living Litehouse
What are your meal prep tips and favorite quick dinner recipes?! Being a new player to this game, I am always happy to hear tricks for easy meal ideas and different ways more seasoned foodies play! Tell me all about it and how your first meal prep sesh went by sharing and commenting below! Thanks for reading!
**Featured image via The Beachbody Blog