Meal Prep Like You Care About Yourself and The Planet
As most of you know, I've discovered meal prep in 2017. You all also know that I've had quite a few health problems revolving around my food choices. Chocolate, it not a meal replacer, I need actual nutrients to live. Meal prep though has helped me keep a healthy diet. It's my weekly tradition and I don't think I could live without it. I've cooked a lot of meals so far and I have found quite a few that I love. I thought I'd share my best tips on how to fit meal prep into your busy life and also enjoy what you're eating without breaking the bank or wasting a lot of food. I've also included a seasonal eating chart for mostly Canada, but it's not perfect as I am not a farmer and I researched this to be able to provide reasonably accurate information.
But first, let's talk about the battle that meal prep is. It's incredible how difficult it can be to motivate ourselves to make enough meals for the week. I mean, we have enough going on, why would we add on meal prep? For years I thought the idea of meal prep was stupid; I think everything is stupid until I try it. Then I committed myself to it by accident. Yes, by accident. I made some soup, enough for the week and I did another recipe the next week and I just loved how much extra time I had in the morning. So I kept up with it, I actually used my cookbooks and I realized I had a deeper love for cooking than I thought I did.
I understand that meal prep can be daunting, ie: how long will this last without going bad? How many portions does this make? Can I do this on the cheap? Really, my concern was "Will I get bored of this", yes, sometimes I get bored of my meals. It happens. What I don't get bored of is my free time also, some meals are really good. At most I spend an hour and 20 minutes of my Sunday meal prepping and then I am done for the week. It's fabulous.
So here we are, like myself, I know you are super busy living your boss babe life and being a queen in every element of your life, so why not mix in some great meals and a whole lot of free time.
Let's talk about what you're going to make. What are your food goals? Is it to feed yourself and feel okay about what you're eating? Or is it to feel fuelled by your food? Mine it to be fuelled, so I tend to choose meals with a variety of veggies and non-animal protein like quinoa and chick peas. I don't digest animal protein very well and I have never like it all that much so I stay away from it. I need lunches that will help me thrive in the afternoon, so I don't over feed myself by making lunches that will take forever to digest.
Here are the recipes that really work for me: - Vegan Tortilla Soup from Hot for Food
- Soul Soothing African Peanut Stew from the Oh She Glows cookbook
- Chickpea wraps with a tahini sauce from Thug Kitchen cookbook
- Roasted Veggies over rice from Chelsea's Messy Apron
- Quinoa cheddar and broccoli muffins from Slender Kitchen
- Quinoa bowl with chipotle chickpeas from Killing Thyme added with pico de gallo from The Girl Who Ate Everything.
- Crowd Pleasing Tex Mex Casserole from the Oh She Glows cookbook
- Last minute pizza's. Flat bread/thick pita, with whatever toppings you want and have on hand.
Let's talk about budget. What are you currently spending on groceries? What are you buying? If your mission as a single person is to eat clean and be healthy, that's relatively cheap to do. I want you to remove the idea that healthy eating costs a lot of money. It doesn't have have to. Not if you're planning ahead and sticking to what is in season, and shopping the sales. You also have to remember that freezing foods can be a total game changer. So, set yourself a budget that you are comfortable with and plan your meals around that. If it's over the budget, don't buy it, or change what you want to make for the week. Buying a bunch a junk won't nourish you and all it will lead too is spending a lot of money on it.
Below is a chart for veggies and fruits for seasonal eating in Canada.
Do you have flipp? It's an app and it's the most fabulous thing I've discovered, maybe I'm the last person on the planet to discover it, but it's the best. It uses your location to identify all of the local flyers in your area and allows you to make a shopping list that alerts you if there are deals for your list. It's super useful and it has coupons! So, you decide what you want to make for the week, identify what you need on the app and go shopping for what you need. Not enough deals for what you want to make? Change your recipe. It's really simple to eat on the cheap. Also, you probably won't use everything you buy, which adds to your stock pile.
What is a stock pile? It's the groceries you accumulate over time that you won't necessarily use every week. You can fill it with whatever you want, but it so helps if those items actually fit with what you cook most of the time. Like in my stock pile, I've got canned black beans, chickpeas, diced tomatoes, frozen corn, and frozen broccoli. All relatively cheap ingredients and I will never buy these full price, I will wait until they are on sale and stock up so I don't have to buy it every time I want to make a new recipe. Also, chances are you already have a stock pile for recipes that you like.
Tips to stock your stock pile: - The frozen food section of the grocery store is busting with produce that is great when you use that ingredient all the time and it's not in season.
- Can't find it frozen, try buying a bunch fresh when it's on sale and in season and freezing it.
- Canned foods aren't awful if you take the time to rinse them really well and aren't preserved in a million ingredients. The less ingredients, the better.
- Can't handle canned food? Try to find beans and chickpeas that are dry and revive them the night before you plan.
- Don't like all the preservatives in canned tomatoes and tomato sauces, make your own! There's a massive amount of items that you can preserve yourself and is relatively easy to do. Sure, you'll have a bit of work to do, but the efforts will be great. Literally all you have to do is google it and find something that works for you.
Stock piles are wonderful because they definitely help with food waste. When you cook around what you constantly buy and you cook with what's left over, then you aren't wasting as much. For example, I bought lettuce mix for my lunch, I had a bunch left, so I used it in a soup and spaghetti sauce. Try very hard to not waste food and use what you have in your stock pile.
Now, let's talk about the groceries!
Meat, Dairy, and Eggs:
Oh meat, something I genuinely don't eat much of and quite frankly don't see the point in buying a lot of. But if you love meat, go for it. Obviously it will add to your grocery bill, but that's normal. Best advice, buy it on sale and freeze everything in individual bags or invest in a food saver. As a single person, you can't afford to waste.
Dairy. I don't buy it. Maybe some ice cream from time to time, but I never really need it, so I don't buy it all the time. I can't drink milk, I have no advice on how to make that cheaper, but cheese is something I love, so I only buy it when it's on sale and I freeze it. I generally have two blocks on the go and when I need a specialty cheese I buy that full price. I can't handle the regular price of cheese. Buy when it's on sale and buy a few blocks.
Eggs. I buy eggs on sale and since they last pretty long, I will buy the pack of 18 since it lasts about two weeks for me. I try to have an egg item in the morning, but scrambled eggs aren't always possible, so I've made these quinoa egg muffins to pack a lot of protein that I can actually digest and freeze for easy peasy mornings.
Grains and seeds:
I love grains, I love carbs, I don't love refined carbs, so I've managed to eliminate bread from my diet, something I never thought was possible. I eat brown rice, quinoa, and oats. I love all three and making a bunch in advance is key to meal prep. What is easier than scooping some rice into a container the night before and rolling with it to work the next day? Nothing, nothing is easier. I buy as much of this on sale when possible, so I don't have to re-buy it a lot. Also, I buy pasta when it's on sale and I eat it sparingly. I eat wraps, but not often, so I freeze them, to preserve them for when I need them.
A super easy way to avoid sandwiches for lunch is to just not make them and make something way more nutrient dense. Like roasted veggies on a bed of rice or a quinoa salad. Also a great way to avoid toast in the morning is oatmeal. Have you read my "Joy of Oatmeal" post yet? You'll be bored by toast after that.
I love chia seeds in my oatmeal to keep everything regular... I hope you're catching on to that one.
Fruits and Vegetables
Ever just load veggies with ranch and call it healthy? I did! But I've learnt that that is no way to live. Not if I want to live a long life it isn't. So, I've re-established how I look as veggies. Since they make up a large part of my diet, I make sure I buy where I see the deals for veggies. I buy local when I can, but that's not always possible and here is when buying seasonally isn't always a rule I follow.
I like carrots, cucumber, and bell peppers as my morning snack with a little bit of hummus. A bag of carrots is inexpensive and lasts quite a bit. Cucumbers are also quite cheap, so with those two veggies, I don't have a lot of problems. My problem is bell peppers because those are expensive except when they are in season. So I only buy peppers when they are on sale or in season. I choose to eat a lot of veggies rather than meat and so I allocate a larger portion of my weekly budget to vegetables because that's where all the nutrients lie.
To be honest with everyone, I buy a lot of produce frozen in the winter months because it makes more sense. Now when produce I use often comes back in season, I'll mostly buy one extra and prep and freeze it so I add to my stock pile to cook with later. Some veggies I cook with, I mix with other things, so they don't need to be perfect when they thaw, the nutrient is still there. If it's an issue when you freeze a vegetable and it's gross when thawed, perhaps you shouldn't be cooking with that and maybe you need to be more realistic about what you need in your diet.
Also, hummus is way cheaper at Walmart, but if you want to make your own, it's very easy and freezable.
As for fruits, honestly, I buy a bag of apples for my oatmeal and that lasts about two weeks. I don't buy a lot of fruit and if it's not in season, I buy it frozen. But again, buy it in season and you can freeze it and use it in the winter for smoothies, and like in my case for my oatmeal. Or you can add frozen fruit to your yogurt. I love fruit, but I've noticed, I don't need a lot of it and when I do eat it, I eat the same thing every time. My best advice is to pick something you like and eat it when it's in season and freeze to save when it's not in season to avoid paying a lot for fruits.
Treats can be bought, but let's refresh what the definition of treat is: "an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure." It's out of the ordinary. It's not a regular occurrence. It's not something you regularly budget for and you enjoy it on an infrequent basis.
I don't care what the treat is, it's supposed to be fun and something you enjoy, as long as it's not all the time, you should be fine.
Buying in bulk
Yes! Do it, when the price is right. I do love Costco, during the winter when produce is hard to find. It's also quite cost effective so honestly it makes sense when you're buying veggies for snacks.
I also believe in buying in bulk when you're going to be feeding a lot of people or when you use the same item every day... like my oats.
I know it's not buying local or always staying within the buying seasonally, but sometimes you just need to shop in bulk and that happens.
Okay, so now you have all your groceries, you have a recipe planned and it's time to prep it. Here's a visual weekly planner to help you along the way.
Good luck and thank you for reading!