In scrolling through Instagram and talking to my other fitness-obsessed friends, I can't escape the idea of meal prepping. And it's a great practice in theory: you prep and cook all your meals for the week (or at least, until they stay fresh — usually four to five days) ahead of time, usually on Sunday, so that all you have to do throughout the week is reheat or assemble your meal. Not only is this a major time saver during a busy week, but it also helps you stay on track with your healthy eating goals. Plus, all the home-cooked meals means you will save a ton of money not eating out.
In an effort to eat healthier, save some cash, and save time throughout the week, I decided to meal prep all my meals for an entire week. This meant cooking and putting together my breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Sunday to last me until Friday (five days of leftovers is pushing it, but I was committed to this experiment). Here's what I learned, and why I realized meal prep life might not be for me.
I Had No Idea How Much Food I'd Need For the Week
It's not unusual for me to rely on leftovers during the week for my dinner and lunches. Usually, my husband and I will make a big batch of something on Sundays (turkey chili, turkey meatballs with marinara sauce and zoodles, stir fry) and we'll eat it for lunch and dinner until we run out. That usually lasts about two or three days, after which I cook something else during the week and eat that until we run out. Basically, it's a lazier form of meal prep without the actual planning and prepping. So when I had to actually plan for five full days worth of meals, I was at a loss at the grocery store.
I wanted to bake salmon for our dinner, but how much salmon is enough for two people for several servings? I wanted to roast asparagus, but how much would last me through the week? We cook our quinoa in the rice cooker, but how much should we add for 10 meals worth? Basically, I just guessed and managed to have enough food for the week. My husband, on the other hand, only got about two meals out of it (just call me wife of the year!), which actually worked out because he was sick of the food by Tuesday anyway.
I ended up eating chicken and mixed veggie stir fry with shirataki noodles in a peanut sauce for lunch, and baked salmon, grilled asparagus, and quinoa for dinner. Sounds good, right? Yeah, it sounds better than it was — let's just say no one is signing me up for Top Chef any time soon. The entire process, from washing the produce to placing it in the containers, was about two hours, which was the perfect amount of time to watch two full episodes of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
I ended up doing about two pounds of salmon, four large chicken breasts, and a ton of random veggies — it all worked out!
I Didn't Follow the Plan to a T
Full disclosure: I didn't follow my meal prep plan perfectly. In fact, I didn't exactly prep a breakfast so much as I ate the free containers of Greek yogurt we have in the work fridge every day. Is that cheating? Probably, but I did plan to eat Greek yogurt for breakfast every day, and eat it I did!
Also, I cheated for lunch on Thursday. Instead of eating yet another plastic Tupperware container of stir fry and shirataki noodles, I grabbed a salad and a smoothie from Juice Press. I blame this on the fact that I was rushing out the door in the morning and forgot my lunch in the fridge, but I think a subconscious part of me "forgot" my lunch so I didn't have to eat the same thing yet again.
I Didn't Have Enough Tupperware & My Fridge Is Too Small
I started cooking before I realized that half of my Tupperware was dirty and I hadn't run the dishwasher yet. So I was only left with a few containers; luckily, I had enough to portion out each one of my lunches for the week. But I ended up putting all the salmon in one container, all the asparagus in another, and all the quinoa in a third for dinner. It didn't look as pretty as all those meal prep fridge pics on Instagram look, but it got the job done. Plus, I live in New York City and my fridge is already small; I barely had room for the storage containers that did fit.
This is what my fridge looked like afterwards: basically just enough for all my prepped meals plus kombucha (the necessities).
I Made Healthier Choices
The good thing with meal prep is that I spent so much time making all the food on Sunday, I felt obligated to eat it, which means I wasn't tempted to Seamless unhealthier options. Aside from that one day I forgot my lunch, I stuck to my prepped meals for lunch and dinner each day and ended up eating a healthy, well-balanced meal each time. This took the guesswork out of figuring out my portions and macros (even though I don't count macros, necessarily), and I felt good about my meal choices all week.
I Saved Money
My grocery total on Sunday was about $60, which is pretty good for more than 10 meals during the week, especially since I only bought what I truly needed for each meal. That factors to about five to six dollars a meal, which is much cheaper than the $15 I typically spend on a salad for lunch or the $20 it costs to Seamless something. Even when I try to cook one-off meals during the week, I end up making impulse purchases at Whole Foods and spend $30 on random ingredients that don't even get used.
I Got Sick of All My Meals
Let's just say my husband didn't marry me because of my cooking skills. In fact, I'd make the argument that he married me in spite of them. I really only have a handful of recipes in my arsenal and I never seem to execute any of them very well. This means the food that I did make for the week wasn't even that good to begin with. It was fine eating it for one or two days, but forcing myself to scarf down the same meals each day got super monotonous. By Friday, I just wanted something — anything — that didn't have salmon, quinoa, or asparagus in it.
That's not to say meal prep doesn't work; I definitely saw the perks of it, and enjoyed how much free time I had in the evenings because I wasn't cooking. If I were to meal prep again, I would make smaller portions of everything and try to mix it up; maybe plan for two different meals for lunch and dinner so I'm not stuck eating the same thing day after day.
Overall, the confusion about how much food to portion out and the boringness of my meals made me not want to meal prep again any time soon. In the meantime, I'll stick to eating leftovers until I run out — then probably indulging in a Sweetgreen salad for lunch.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sheila Gim