Even though it takes planning, patience and persistence, meal planning is a rewarding way to save time and money while watching what you eat. You reap the benefits of your labour and eat all the home-cooked food you lovingly prepared for yourself.
But if you pack the same meal for days on end, the novelty of saving money and eating well wears off, allowing boredom to creep in. This practice will be difficult to maintain, even if it’s easy to prepare or is saving you money. If you can’t look forward to your home-cooked lunch, you’ll be tempted to eat out and spend even more money! Whether you eat your packed meal or save it for the next day, it’s estimated that a staggering 1/3 of the food produced in the world goes to waste.1
Thankfully, there are innumerable ways to whet your appetite while keeping your meal prep recipes easy, fun and delicious. With a stocked pantry filled with the essentials and starter kitchen equipment for the beginner cook, you’ll have a good foundation to cook a wide variety of fresh, tasty dishes. Check out six easy tips to meal prep for the week without eating the same thing every day.
1. Plan Your Grocery List Around Recipes
Find different recipes that incorporate a few of the same key foods. The key is to mix and match ingredients and spices from day to day so that you’re packing a new meal for every lunch. For example, if you want to buy beef, rice, potatoes and broccoli, you can prepare an Asian dish, a taco bowl, a beef stew and a hearty salad. When you make a large recipe, you can simply store extra portions in your freezer. Meal prepping doesn’t have to be terribly involved or costly; a simple swap can make the difference in your planning and keep you craving the meal you packed.
2. Look for Versatile Carbohydrates
Staples like rice, quinoa, lentils, couscous, grits, beans and pasta can go a long way. These meal foundations can be seasoned however you like and won’t taste the same if you change it up from day to day. You can flavour the meal base mildly and let the main course sing, or make one pot, divide it up and prepare all the portions differently without much added prep time.
3. Cook Protein Separately
Look for your favourite protein and cook enough portions for the week. You can save money by skipping meat entirely, or even by cooking four portions of meat and having one vegetarian day. Season the protein to your liking, but consider omitting sauces, condiments and dressings until you portion out the meals to keep everything fresh. You can also divide up the meat and season each section differently. Excess or leftover portions can be stored in the freezer in proper containers.
4. Incorporate Colourful Veggies
A rice cooker will come in handy again, as many models can steam and cook rice or grains at the same time. Steam a variety of veggies that you like, season to your preference and store everything separately; you will assemble the meals later. Vegetables like broccoli, green beans, asparagus, sweet potatoes and carrots are versatile options to include in your meal prep, but make sure you include foods you love to eat. These can be meal sides on their own or combined with a dressing, sauce or flavour from the proteins in your recipes. Try to include a variety of colours in each meal; it will be aesthetically pleasing and more nutritious!
5. Try a Weekly Salad Day
Chop up your seasoned protein and steamed veggies and throw them over a bed of lettuce, spinach or your other favourite green to make an easy-prep salad day. Most of the work is already done, and you’ll be able to use up the leftover ingredients from the week for a more bountiful, satisfying salad.
6. Assemble Lunch in the Morning (Or Night Before)
Set your alarm just a few minutes early since all of your food is prepared, seasoned and packed separately. You will simply need to assemble a meal you’re in the mood to eat that day. Packing the lunch just before you leave helps ensure everything is fresh, and that you’ll actually want to eat the meal you brought. Don’t forget to address the major food groups, and include any sauces, condiments or dressings required.
A good meal prep plan will be efficient, nutritious and fun. If you aren’t enthusiastic about your meals, look for new recipes to try out for the next week. Remember that it’s okay to fail sometimes; you’ll still be able to try something new and learn in the process. No matter your culinary skill level, there are plenty of ways to prepare exciting, delicious dishes for every day. With a little planning and experimenting, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a meal prep pro.
1WRAP. Food and drink. (19 February, 2018). Retrieved 8 January, 2019, from http://www.wrap.org.uk/food-drink