With marathon training reaching full peak, blogging, writing a novel, working, and maintaining a household… cooking balanced meals at the end of the day doesn’t always happen. But I still need to fuel my body for the intense work I’m doing, so what’s a girl to do? Last week I tried out meal prepping as a solution.
While I sometimes cook in bulk (mini meatloaves, soups, marinated meats), I have never tried to put together full meals. I already love leftovers and like the idea of pulling out a complete meal without thoughts or decisions at the end of the day. Here’s a look into my first try.
Meal Prepping and My First Try
What is meal prepping?
Meal prepping is bulk meal preparation. Rather than preparing meals individually, you set aside time each week to prepare (or even pre-cook) several meals. The goal is to save time and eat better by having full, complete meals ready during your busy times. You could meal prep for 4 dinners, 7 breakfasts, etc.
How did I do it?
I picked out two recipes, one for breakfast and one for dinner. My goal was 4 dinners and 6 breakfasts.
For breakfast I chose Cauliflower Hashbrown Egg Cups. While delicious, I don’t recommend them for breakfast meal prep. I had never made cauliflower cups before. The process was long and I ended up with too much cauliflower and had to double the recipe halfway through. It was just an extended mess.
For dinner I did store-bought rotisserie chicken, fresh sautéed vegetables (greens, peppers, mushrooms, grape tomato, chickpeas), and a rice/quinoa blend.
Did I eat better?
Yes, each day I had a dinner with balancing carbs, proteins, and fats without any thought. While most of my meals are not horribly imbalanced, some of them are – especially when I’ve hit decision fatigue or runger.
My one concern was that since I was eating the same meal for four days, I added different sauces and toppings to add variety. I typically don’t use a lot of sauce, but I wonder how much extra sugar I consumed.
How much time did I save?
For my first round, I don’t think I saved any time. My complicated breakfast took forever.
I spent over 3 hours in the kitchen (although I admit some of that was watching unrelated YouTube videos). If I spend 30 minutes preparing dinner each night * 5 nights = 2.5 hours. And breakfast preparing is 5 min * 12 mornings = 1 hour. I came out pretty much dead even.
But having prepared breakfasts whittled my morning routine to 30 minutes. Mornings with less than 40 minutes always forced a protein-bar-in-the-car breakfast. Now I’m eating eggs, veggies, and bacon each morning.
How much money did I save?
Since I don’t eat out, I didn’t save an extravagant amount of money compared to normal groceries. I bought from a bulk store, so these prices might look weird.
Breakfast: $27 total at the store (including 8 lbs of bacon!). $18.50 for 12 breakfasts or $1.54 per breakfast.
That is definitely more expensive than my typical breakfast, but I think I can do better next time (cheaper and more nutritious).
Dinner: $32 total at the store. $8.16 for 5 dinners or $1.63/dinner.
This I can totally get behind! My gut tells me my individually prepped dinners often cost more than $1.63.
What would I do differently?
Since I was buying in bulk, I should have tried to incorporate the same ingredients into both breakfast and dinner. For example, if instead of $6 cauliflower, I could have done egg frittatas in a muffin pan with salad greens, tomato, and mushroom (all already bought for dinner). If I did that and ditched the bacon, breakfast would have cost $1/meal and only $6 over the dinner ingredients, making the total grocery bill $38.
For dinner, I’d roast the vegetables and keep them separately grouped in the pan, next time. Then I could have a meals with different vegetables each day, instead of the same medley.
My tips for meal prepping
1. Pick one meal to start
Decide where you would best benefit from a prepared meal and start there. Dinner when you’re too tired after work? Breakfast because you skip it? Picking one meal will lessen the complication and prep time, and will let you reap the benefits. As you get more efficient, you can decide to add more.
2. Don’t try a new method of cooking on top of meal prep
OMG, cauliflower cups… no.
3. Buy and cook with toppings in mind
Since you often end up eating the same meal multiple times, different toppings really help. Shredded cheese, sunflower seeds, sprouts, avocado, sauces, and dressings spices things up.
4. Choose your prep day wisely
Sunday is kind of the “traditional” prep day, but if you already long-run and do laundry on Sundays then maybe it’s not the best day. Consider what day typically has more free time and what days you want meals ready. I think I’m going to try Friday as my next prep day.
5. Do separate into containers
I was so tired by the time my egg muffins were done that I just threw the muffin pan in the fridge. They are much less convenient than my dinners which are already portioned into microwaveable containers.
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- NerdFitness: Why You Should be Planning Your Meals
- NerdFitness: A Step-by-Step Guide to Meal Planning and Prep
- My Meal Prep Sunday: Beginners Meal Prep Guide (the batch of meals looks overwhelming, but I find the discussion of order of cooking and organization helpful)
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