Healthy(ish) cooking on a Budget(ish)

How to Meal Plan & Prep to Crush those New Year’s Goals

How to Meal Plan & Prep to Crush those New Year’s Goals

#MealPrep, #MealPrepSunday, #NoSadDeskLunch…have you seen these hashtags? I’m sure you have! If you’ve ever been on Instagram on a Sunday night or searched for “healthy lunches” on Pinterest you’ve probably seen a table full of Tupperware and at least a few mason jar salads. It’s a trend that’s been picking up speed the last few years and it’s not bad!

People are starting to realize that meal planning and prepping takes a lot of the pain out of healthy eating and can save money.

Is Meal Planning or Prepping on your New Year’s Resolutions? Let me show you some easy tricks & tips!

First off, what’s the difference between meal planning and meal prepping?

Meal Planning: Planning out a rough schedule of what you are going to eat for a period. For me, it’s a work week. I leave weekends open to eat leftovers and eating out.

Meal Prepping: Preparing food ahead of time for a period of time. Some people do a full work week, others do a few days at a time. When I meal prep, I like to do 3 days at a time.

I do a mixture of both currently. This time a year ago I was working a crazy schedule that included a lot of early morning and late nights with no time to find or make food, so I was meal prepping most of our lunches and dinners. But now I have a more flexible schedule with only a few nights a week of work, so I meal plan for the week on Sunday and buy a few prep-able dinners for those nights of working.

Matt personally loves to grab-and-go with his meals, so I usually meal prep a few breakfasts and lunches for him to grab on his way out the door to work. One of his favorites is my Southwest Burrito Bowls with chicken & chorizo- just like he gets at Chipotle but for half the cost and twice the nutrients!

Southwestern Bowls

So, should you meal plan or meal prep?

Take a few and think about your barriers to eating healthy or why you want to change your current eating habit. Some common barriers are:

  • I don’t have time or energy to cook every night after work!
  • I don’t like cooking!
  • I’m not sure if I like healthy food that much.
  • My family doesn’t like eating healthy food that much.
  • I have no idea where to start!
  • Grocery shopping? I’d rather scrape my nails across a million chalkboards.

Meal Planning is great if you have energy to cook in the evening and want to try out a variety of recipes. Not sure what types of foods you like or are good at cooking? Try out a variety! If you hate one, no biggie- you aren’t committed to eating it for three days! With meal planning you can pick 3-5 recipes of different cuisines and experiment! Keep reading for a few of my favorite places to find easy beginner recipes to start out with.

Pros: variety, you can broaden your cooking skills, you don’t need to shop every evening for a meal.

Cons: you have to cook several times a week and that takes time.

Meal Prep is great if you don’t have the time or energy (or desire!) to cook but you know what kind of foods you enjoy and could possibly eat for a few days at a time.

Pros: all the work is done in one sitting, which gives you evenings free.

Cons: you are stuck with the meals you made on your prep day.

Both options limit your time in the grocery store, because I too hate grocery shopping.

Meal planning & meal prepping both involve thinking about recipes and making a grocery list before heading to the store. With proper planning, you should end up at the store a max of two times a week. I do one big shopping trip a week (usually on Sundays) and then a quick trip later in the week for fresh fruits and the inevitable few ingredients I forgot about-no one is perfect!

Hawaii Recap

Common misconceptions about meal planning & prepping

  • It’s boring!

Yes, it can be. But not if you do it right! If you make 5 mason jar salads and that’s all you eat for lunch in a week, you’ll be sick of salads by the end. So, don’t do it! Mix it up! If you are cooking 5 lunches, try two ‘main’ options such as chicken & beef and then mix up the side. For example:

Monday– Chicken breast & Roasted Broccoli
Tuesday– Beef & Stir Fry Rice with peppers & carrots
Wednesday– Chicken Stir Fry Rice
Thursday– Beef & broccoli
Friday– Chicken breast with roasted peppers & carrots

You’ve got 6 main ingredients and you’ve just mixed up the seasoning to make 5 different meals!

  • Only super healthy people meal prep

Not true, I have meal prepped pizza before. Not gluten free kale pizza, but actual real cheesy pizza. Meal prepping is about eating healthy, but you can follow the 80/20 rule with meal prep just like any other ‘dieting’ lifestyle. (I also meal prep desserts for long days- it’s ok!). A key benefit to meal prepping is to be able to eat normal sized meals at normal times, not starving yourself for 8 hours and then scarfing down your weight in McDonald’s on the way home from a long day. If 100% of your meals are healthy- high five! If most of your meals are healthy- high five! If your meal prep meals are healthier than what you would eat alternatively, high five to you too!

  • I have to do it on Sunday

Most people meal prep on Sunday because it’s the start of the week, but search #MealPrepMonday and there are plenty of people that do it on Monday! It can be done whenever works best for you.

  • It sounds like a lot of money…

Meal planning and prepping can actually save you money! The more trips you make to the grocery store, the more susceptible you are to impulse buys. Making 1-2 trips a week keeps those impulse buys to a minimum and allows you to use the same ingredients multiple times. How many times have you bought a head of lettuce or a loaf of bread and only used half of it before it went bad? Meal planning and prepping allows you to plan meals to use all of your ingredients within the week.

If eating out is your main culprit, bringing lunch to work or having food at home should cut down on those costs! Making a burrito bowl or stir fry at home is much cheaper (and healthier) than getting take out.

  • It takes too long

If you are used to picking up take-out every day, then yes, meal planning or prepping will take more time. But in the long run, it’s not that much longer! If you dedicate 3 hours on a Sunday or 30 minutes every night to cooking, it’s probably still less time than you take each week binge watching Black Mirror on Netflix.

Pro tip: Binge watch TV while cooking! I love watching sitcoms like The Middle or The Mindy Project while I’m cooking. It makes time pass so fast! I got rid of Hulu awhile ago to save money, thank goodness we decided to get it again so I can catch up on my favorite shows while cooking…

  • It sounds like I have to be organized…

Yes, this isn’t a misconception (sorry!). You have to spend a little time on Sundays (or whenever your meal plan) getting your game plan together. But it’s so worth it! You will spend so much less time scrambling the rest of the week. And I’m guessing that if meal planning or prepping is on your to-do list, ‘being more organized’ is probably on there somewhere too.

But! Guess what guys? I’ve done some of the hard work for you! I’ve created an easy meal planner & organized grocery list for you to fill out so that all you have to do is plug in your recipes and you’re ready to hit the store. Just put your email in that green bar up top and it will come straight to your inbox- with instructions!

Shopping on a Budget

So…where do I start?

First step: finding recipes!

You can’t meal prep or plan without recipes, can you? Obviously, I’d love for you to check out some of my recipes that are easy for a weeknight or meal prep. Some of my favorites are:

There are also tons of options online for recipes and helpful tips & tricks. Some of my favorites are:

Work Week Lunch

Talia has created an amazing page for newbie Meal Preppers. She has tons of recipes, meal plans, cooking hacks, and other great resources to help you out. Also check her Instagram out @workweeklunch, she shares a ton of info in her insta stories!

Fit Couple Cooks

Stephanie & Adam share their favorite recipes and nutrition knowledge on YouTube! They also have a new recipe book out that is all meal prep-able recipes, I haven’t picked up a copy yet (ugh, spending freeze!) but I look forward to grabbing one soon!

Meal Prep on Fleek

Nick & Sarah starting meal prepping to eat healthier, save money, and overcome personal health issues. They now share their experience, knowledge, and tasty recipes with us! Plenty of resources are available on their site as well for the newbie.

Budget Bytes

Beth breaks down meals to the cent and never shares recipes that have weird & expensive ingredients (just like me!). Her recipes are easy, nutritious, and perfect for a meal planner or prepper.

Pro Tip: Don’t wait until Sunday afternoon to pick out recipes. Search throughout the week whenever you have a few minutes and save the recipes. Whenever I wait till Sunday to pick out recipes it takes me forever!

Second Step: Create a plan

Are you going to meal prep or meal plan? Or a little of both? Make sure you set that time out so you aren’t rushed! If you are new to this or trying a new recipe, give yourself a little extra time! Block that time out on the calendar so you don’t accidentally double book.

Pro tip: If you are using my meal planner, make sure to write in any plans that may interfere with your meals! For instance, Matt has team lunch every Friday so I don’t bother to make him lunch that day. If he has a hockey game at 8pm, I make sure that we eat before that or I make sure he has food to snack on afterwards. If I have to work 2-10pm, I make sure I have a packable meal ready to go.

Third Step: Create a grocery list

Go through those recipes you picked out and make a grocery list! My grocery list is itemized by:

  • Fruits & Veggies
  • Dairy & Meat
  • Canned
  • Bread
  • Frozen
  • Other
  • Wish List

Organizing like this helps me limit my time spent in the store. Get to know your local store and figure out how it’s laid out so you can come up with an attack plan to get in and get out as fast as possible!

Pro tip: I use the ‘wish list’ area to list impulse buys as I go through the store. When I’m done shopping, I usually go back and a few of those items up if I still want them and I have the budget for it. It’s the Amazon Wish List equivalent of my grocery shopping experience.

Fourth Step: Start cooking!

Whatever your attack plan is, good luck! Be patient, and don’t give up on the first shot if it doesn’t work out. It may take longer than expected, you may burn something, or you may decide you hate kale. It’s ok! Everyone is different and what works for me may not work for you. When you do find a recipe that you like, make sure to save it for future uses!

Pro tip: Start with just one meal time! For example, try to meal prep all your lunches or plan all your breakfasts and focus on that before planning & prepping all your meals.

How To Meal Prep

Do you meal prep or plan? Is it a New Year’s Resolution for you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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