Being an online student often means you have a lot going on in your life. From meeting deadlines at work to catching up with old friends to just getting enough sleep, we know that adding school into the mix can make normal tasks a challenge. One way to save time is meal prep.
The Benefits of Meal Prep
While preparing meals in advance has always been a great way to save time and money, the term “meal prep” has significantly increased in popularity in an age of busy schedules and never-ending priorities.
In addition to time and money savings, meal prep can help with eating healthier and eliminating food waste. However, the process can seem intimidating for those who aren’t used to it. If you can relate to that, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered with some meal prep tips.
Tip 1: Start With One Meal Per Week
Consider which meal you struggle planning for the most and start with that! Maybe you have a hard time remembering to pack lunch so you end up spending money on unhealthy options around the office. Schedule the meal prep for lunch, with all of your other tasks, on your calendar so that you have the time you need to prepare your lunch in advance.
After you feel comfortable meal prepping your lunch, add in your other meals, like breakfast, dinner and snacks. You’ll start to realize that you can re-use ingredients from one meal in another, and you’ll be able to save the time and stress of additional grocery store trips.
Tip 2: Prep Sundays and Wednesdays
If your working hours are during the week, planning to do the bulk of your meal prep on Sundays typically is the way to go. However, to make sure you aren’t eating the same meals over and over, you might want to also schedule a second, smaller meal prep session mid-week, like on Wednesdays. That way, you don’t have to eat the same thing every day and you can take leftovers into account.
On Sunday, in your big prep, you should choose two proteins, two carbs, a few vegetables and a few fruits. From there, either using recipes or simply preparing these items and mixing and matching them can provide meals for the whole week. While you prepare your proteins, you can chop up your vegetables to make sure they are ready to cook.
Sunday is also the time to create your make-ahead breakfast for the week, such as these egg muffin cups. That way, you don’t have to worry about breakfast for the rest of the week! If you’re preparing snacks for the week as well, these trail mix bites will do the trick.
Midweek, you can cook something in your crockpot or pressure cooker to last the rest of the week. You may even be able to use the leftover protein and vegetables you have already prepared!
Another tip is to purchase a rotisserie chicken on Sunday, shred it up and then divide it up into containers to use on different days of the week. From tacos to soup, shredded chicken can be used in a variety of recipes!
Tip 3: Gather Your Equipment
Having the right cooking and storage equipment is essential to meal prep. Here are some go-to items you’ll want in your kitchen:
- Cookie sheets for roasting
- Proper pots & pans for cooking
- Cooking knives for slicing and dicing veggies and fruits
- Tupperware or Snapware containers for transporting and storing meals
- Mason jars for salads and parfaits
- Aluminum foil
- A crockpot or pressure cooker
- Gallon size freezer bags
Tip 4: Stock Your Pantry (and Fridge)
Having the essentials in your pantry and a well-stocked fridge and freezer can make meal prep a breeze. Here are some items to have on hand:
- Freezer: non-starchy vegetables, proteins and meals
- Fridge: eggs, cheeses and fresh vegetables
- Pantry: olive oil, low-carb snacks, canned tuna, canned tomatoes and other vegetables
In addition, keeping a well-stocked spice cabinet and an assortment of dressings can help create variety for your meals even if you use the same ingredients. Chicken in one lunch can be spiced up with cumin and cayenne or then seasoned with oregano, basil and thyme for lunch the following day!
Tip 5: Slice, Dice and Assemble
As mentioned above, slicing and dicing vegetables and putting them in containers ahead of time on Sundays can make putting meals together during the week easier since the ingredients are already prepared. Preparing food in advance, whether roasting vegetables or cooking a big batch of rice or pasta on Sundays, can also help with assembly throughout the week even if you don’t have exact meals planned.
Another option is to assemble a meal and put it in the freezer or fridge; for example, prepare chicken breasts, put them in a marinade, and throw them in the freezer. The chicken will be flavorful and ready to cook when the time comes.
Tip 6: Use a Crockpot or Pressure Cooker
Using a slow cooker or pressure cooker once or twice per week can also help you save time. Let the cooker do the work while you do your homework.
Tip 7: If You Like It, Double It
Double a recipe if it’s something you like so you can eat it for dinner and have it for lunch the next day. Casseroles and pasta dishes work well for this as they can be stored all week, divided up and reheated.
Tip 8: Keep It Simple
Use recipes you know or research “easy recipes” if you don’t have any go-to recipes. If you’re not sure where to begin, considering themes like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Stir Fry Wednesday, etc. While Googling “meal prep” can be intimidating, the food blogs and Pinterest are full of ideas to help you get started. And, you can always go to the Study Snacks section of our website for easy recipe ideas. From comforting entrees to healthy snacks, we’ve got a variety of options that are curated to help you power through your homework.