Eating out is one of life’s pleasures—but not saving money is also becoming a terrifying norm for many of us. Meal prepping is one of those “adult” things no one really wants to do—but it’s one you’ll never regret.
Need motivation to plan our meals in advance? Just break down the cost of eating out. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent about $294 dollars on food away from home in July 2017. No big deal, right? If you imagine this happening every month of the year, it adds up to about $3,500 a year. Ouch.
Think about everything could do with $3,500 dollars. An international vacay, a decent dent in student loans, a nice addition to your savings, you name it. Let’s be real, not every dining out experience is one to remember. You know an offensive amount of that $3,500 is in the “hangry run to CVS to buy snacks and call it a meal” category.
Right now you might be thinking, “But I don’t have time for this shit.” Work, side hustle, social obligations, and now this righteous-ass dietitian is telling you to do a week’s worth of meal planning every Sunday?! I get it. But you do have time. Meal prepping will ultimately save you time to do more. I promise.
I’m going to walk you through this process with the full awareness you are already busting your ass. I’m not asking you to prepare five course meals. I am merely suggesting you take ten to fifteen minutes to evaluate your food situation—before it’s 10 p.m. on Thursday, you have a deadline, you haven’t had anything to eat since 11am, and don’t have time to stop now. So let’s do it.
Welcome to modern, realistic meal prepping 101.
First thing: Include when you are eating out. Yes, this seems simple but factoring this information in for shopping and meal prep will result in less waste.
Next, do not complicate things. Pick a few meals and stagger them. Let’s say you plan meals for a week. That equals seven breakfasts, seven lunches, and seven dinners. 21 meals plus snacks. Yes, that’s too much to deal with.
If you keep it simpleand stagger meals, then you’ve just cut your work in half. Make the same lunch and dinner for Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday. Then, have different meals Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Now, you’ve just got to sort out two dinners, two lunches, and two breakfasts.
Now, a nutrious “meal” loosely consists of only three components. Really. The staples of a meal are non-starchy vegetables, whole grains/starchy vegetables, and lean protein. It’s good to ask yourself: “Do I have at least three food groups on my plate?” Pairing food groups together is key for satiety and getting in those hella important vitamins and minerals.
Thus, a steamer bag of broccoli, a microwaved sweet potato, and an egg constitutes a meal. We aren’t looking to win high honors on Open Table, here. Just trying throw the savings account a bone. Side note: Can you tell I’m not the recipe-posting kind of dietitian yet? I’m the one eating canned beans, saving up for an unforgettable meal at Alinea in Chi-town. #ChefsTableBucketList
While you’re planning your menu out, this is when you create your grocery list. Don’t forget to take advantage of mobile grocery shopping and delivery. And did you hear? Amazon is slashing prices at Whole Foods, so you can snag quality produce for affordable prices.
Finally, for the curveball, add in some wellness plans, to take care of yourself. Schedule a walk, read a few chapters of book for fun, watch a guilty pleasure show, close your laptop for 20 minutes, or bust out your favorite face mask. It’s important to schedule some in TLC if you want to make sure you’ll actually do it. Plus, you saved all that time not picking up food, you have more time to treat yourself.
Bonus pro tips
- Check out the Food Keeper App on FoodSafety.gov to find out how long those odd-colored tomatoes you just found in the back of your fridge are OK to eat.
- Yummly.com: The best way to find recipes, plus you can narrow down recipes by number of ingredients, amount of total time, and speciality diets or cuisines.
- Thug Kitchen Cookbook is one of the best cookbooks for pretty straightforward, plant-based recipes for noobs in the kitchen.
Now you know what to do, go forth and plan. Your wallet will thank you.
Alexandra Reed is a registered dietician and nutrition coach. Got a food question for her? Submit your queries using this form and she’ll answer them in an upcoming installment of “Ask A Dietitian.”