As someone whose weekend routine now consists of a solid two to three hours spent in my kitchen prepping my meals for the week, it is hard to remember how I got through each day just five years ago when I was relying on the thousands of NYC restaurants to keep me fed. When I first moved to NYC, I had very limited experience in the kitchen. I had just begun working full-time, and I felt so blessed to be living in such an exciting and lively city that had seemingly endless options for one of my favorite things: food. After a year of knocking off as many restaurants from my “must-go” list as possible, I noticed a few things: The majority, if not all, of my paycheck was being spent on food, my lifelong trustworthy digestive system decided to end our wonderful relationship and leave me confused and bloated, and even when I purchased “healthy” meals, I still felt sluggish and tired.
All of these issues slowly moved to the back burner once I decided to finally put my big-girl pants on and learn how to cook. Not only did I realize how much I enjoyed the act of cooking and experimenting in my kitchen, but I physically felt like a completely different person. Cooking your own meals and controlling the ingredients that go into each one makes a world of difference. As a self-proclaimed meal-prepping connoisseur, I am constantly trying to encourage others to give this life-changing practice a chance and help them along this journey. By providing numerous easily preppable recipes on my website and hosting meal-prep cooking classes, I make it my goal to help as many people give this lifestyle a try as possible. However, there will always be reasons or excuses for why people would choose not to spend a few hours on Sunday setting themselves up for a healthier week ahead. To help give you that extra push you need to get in the kitchen, I’m sharing the biggest hurdles people face when meal-prepping—and exactly how to overcome them.
1. The Problem: Eating the same thing multiple days in a row is boring and repetitive.
The solution? Pick 2 breakfasts and 4 lunch/dinner options to batch cook for the week to mix up your meals.
Trust me; I get it; meal fatigue is real. Nobody wants to eat the same meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner five days in a row; no need to convince me of that! I believe that you should truly look forward to absolutely every single meal you are about to enjoy. It is a privilege to have a plate of food in front of you when you are hungry, so why should you waste time eating something you don’t enjoy? However, no one has time to individually prep 15 different meals on a Sunday for the week ahead. In order to break free of repetition, my advice is to batch cook at least two breakfast options and at least four lunch/dinner options for the next five days. For breakfast, try cooking one sweet and one savory option, such as these vegetable omelet muffins and overnight oats, in order to mix things up throughout the week. By having four different meals to choose from for lunch or dinner, you are able to plan it out so that you aren’t eating the same meal on back-to-back days or the same exact lunch every single day.
2. The problem: Grocery stores can be too overwhelming.
The solution? Find a more unique time to go shopping and always be prepared with a list.
Something I never fully understood until I moved to NYC and experienced the longest line for the most popular club in the entire city: Trader Joe’s on a Sunday afternoon. When I first witnessed the line wrapping around the outside of the Union Square TJ’s, my jaw quite literally dropped to the floor; I thought they were giving away everything for free (unfortunately, I was wrong). The first step to handling this craziness is to plan your grocery store runs at opportune times. Yes, I know it is convenient to leisurely stroll in after enjoying a nice brunch on a Sunday, but the rest of the world feels the same way. Instead, assess your schedule for the week or weekend ahead and figure out a time where you happen to be free that the majority of other people may not be. Whether it be a Friday night you decide not to go out (hello, open aisles) or an early Saturday morning (I have no shame in waiting outside the grocery store before it opens and being the first one through the doors that day), find a time that will make this trip less crowded and stressful. The second step to conquering the grocery store is to go in with an organized plan. Without a list of groceries for the week, you may find yourself aimlessly wandering the aisles and grabbing every random item in sight. I’ve been there; it doubles not only the amount of time spent in the store but also your grocery bill.
3. The problem: It’s difficult and expensive to cook for one person.
The solution? Find a friend to cook with/for or double the recipe and freeze the leftovers.
It seems counterintuitive, but cooking for one can be deceptively expensive. Unfortunately, not many ingredients come in single-serving sizes. Because of that, who said you have to cook individual servings? If you are prepping dinner for yourself, choose a recipe that freezes well, double or triple it, and store it in the freezer to enjoy at some point over the next few weeks. Another, less common but as effective, way to help the cooking-for-one conundrum is finding a co-worker or two who have similar tastes and health goals as you and begin a meal-prep group. To make this work, you would each choose one night of the week to prep lunch for the next day, make multiple servings of the dish (depending on how many people are in the group), and then bring in lunch for the group on your designated day. Not only are you no longer cooking for one, but you are now also having others prep some of your meals for you. Killing two birds with one stone!
4. The problem: Weekends are meant to be spent traveling and having fun—not in the kitchen.
The solution? Take advantage of weekends when you have extra time and stockpile your freezer.
In a world so work-focused, the weekends are our sacred space. After just a few months at my full-time job, I quickly understood what the saying “working for the weekend” truly meant. That being said, people like to enjoy their weekends by filling them with hobbies that they may not get to enjoy during the workweek. Specifically, traveling. When I go away for the weekend, meal-prepping is the last thing I want to do upon entering my apartment late on a Sunday night. This is why my freezer is my traveling buddy’s best friend. As mentioned in the earlier point, during the weekends that I am local and have time to prep meals, I am constantly tripling recipes and stockpiling them in my freezer. Currently my drawers are filled with mason jars containing individual frozen servings of some of my favorite recipes, like this vegan sweet potato chili and cauliflower yam & thyme soup. This way, when I get home from a trip on a Sunday night, I can throw them in the fridge to defrost and easily enjoy throughout the week.
5. The problem: There is always either too much food prepped—or not enough.
The solution? Look at your upcoming week and plan out exactly how many meals you need.
Wasting food is a big no-no in my apartment; I will make a hodgepodge bowl of a meal out of scraps just to avoid throwing out food from my fridge. In order to make sure you are not cooking too much food, or finding yourself with a bare kitchen and a hungry stomach, sit down before you meal-prep and take a look at your calendar for the upcoming week. Map out how many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you will need. Personally, I always cook one less lunch or dinner option than my schedule sees fit, knowing that more often than not I will make a last-minute plan for one of those meals and, if I am not correct in guessing so, can whip something up quickly with staples found in my pantry. After planning out exactly how many meals you need for the week, write down all of the necessary ingredients for each dish and then combine them into one master grocery list to bring with you to the store.