From busy moms to multi-tasking millennials (and especially busy, multi-tasking millennial moms) meal-prep is an inevitable part of our days off. While some people relish this task, most people find it a chore.
Not us, we love meal prepping because it helps us to stick to our health goals, save money and can even be a great bonding time with family. It took us a while to get to this level of prep-love, so we’re using our experiences to share the 10 common mistakes that might be standing in the way of you and meal prep success.
1. You’re Using The Wrong Containers
The right containers are everything and varied in type, size and material. We know it sounds silly, but really shop around and pick the containers that make sense for how you work, live and play. Some tips from the pro-preppers at Empire include:
- Toss your mis-matched collection and start fresh. We love these Ziploc Containers, they’re incredibly affordable, spill-proof, vary in size (micro containers for sauces and dips are a must) and stackable (anyone whose had a neat pile of stacked, prepped meals knows it one of life’s proudest moments). The best part is, they come with lids that are interchangeable for like shapes, meaning you’ll have several lids that fit multiple containers, not just one that you can’t seem.to.find.
- Be obsessive about your Tupperware drawer organization – it’s the only way to survive.
If you do lose the lid to something, throw it away. Trust us, that lid is not ‘turning up one day.’
- Consider bento-box containers. Although a bit pricier, they keep meals together but ingredients separate, which is great for salads or pastas.
- If you commute via transit or work on the go, you may want to consider disposable containers that you can toss once you’re done. Keep in mind this habit can get expensive and not all options are biodegrable or eco-friendly.
- Utilize Ziplock bags; they are less bulky and lightweight than containers and can even be reusable to diminish waste.
- Get a few small mason jars, they are handy for to-go soups and other liquids like smoothies.
2. You’re Not Adding Enough Variety
No one can eat the same thing every day, and one of the easiest ways to efficiently meal prep with variety is to prepare a constant main course, but vary the accompanying sides. This can include mixing up carbs and veggies as well as having a variety of side snacks you can grab depending on your daily mood, including nuts and seeds, chopped veggies with dip, popcorn, crackers, yogurt or berries. Another great way to add daily variety is by utilizing different spices and marinades, which you can put on your food to vary the taste depending on your mood.
3. You’re Assembling Your Meals Too Early
Most people know to keep their salad dressing separate until their ready to eat, but the same concept can be applied to pastas, meats and quinoa or egg salads to keep the meal lasting longer and tasting fresher. Utilize your containers to keep sauces and marinades separate until mealtime.
4. You’re Not Using Your Freezer Enough
The freezer is a pro-preppers best friend. Not only can you buy things in bulk and freeze them, saving money, but you can prep certain things weeks in advance and sprinkle them into your weeks, adding variety and cutting down on prep time. Be sure to freeze items in portions so you can de-frost as needed later; Ziploc bags are great for this, particularly for soups, chilies and smoothies.
Protip: Storing boiling hot soups and chilis in mason jars seals them and they can often last up to 2 weeks depending on the ingredients even without freezing; this is a great trick particularly for blended or brothy soups.
5. You’re Trying To Prep Too Much
You don’t need to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in a few hours. Having even just one meal a day prepped can free up tons of time during the week, and you can work on prepping more from there. On busy weekends when you can’t dedicate as much time to meal prep instead of skipping it completely, simply cutting up vegetables or seasoning some meat or fish so it’s ready to use when you need to make a meal can be a huge help.
6. You’re Not Using The Equipment At Your Disposal
Meal prep doesn’t mean using every pot and utensil you have at once until your stove is exhausted and your dishwasher over flowing. Use the equipment you already have and see if some of your favourite recipes can be adapted to be made in the Crock-Pot, Instant Pot, vegetable steamer or even your blender.
7. You’re Getting Too Fancy
Forget those extravagant recipes you have saved on Pinterest; meal prep is about simplicity. Love mashed potatoes and corn? Add some protein and eat that 4 days next week. Your meal prep should cater to what you and your family prefer to eat without the unnecessary bells and whistles.
Pro-tip: Trying a new recipe isn’t always the best idea for a meal-prep, instead make it fresh for lunch or dinner when you have time and see if you like it first.
8. You’re Wasting Food
Particularly for one or two-person households, prepping too much food can happen quicker than you think. Not only is this bad for your wallet, but it’s wasteful, especially if it happens often. Try prepping one or two meals less than you need (make one less lunch and breakfast or only have four dinners planned); chances are you’ll forget your lunch one day or end up grabbing an unexpected dinner with a friend or give in to the temptation of that local juice bar one morning on your way to work.
If you find yourself missing the meal you left out, have a somewhat non-perishable meal on hand, like a frozen vegetable medley and some rice you can whip up in a flash that will also last until next week if you don’t end up using it.
9. You’re Doing It All Yourself
If you live in a multi-person household, you shouldn’t be the only person meal prepping. Roommates, family members, significant others and even kids should be involved in the process. Younger kids can help seal the containers and organize them in the fridge and older kids can cut up ingredients and stir. Consider buying fresh herbs in a pot from your local grocery store and have younger kids tend to them and cut stems when it’s time to make a meal. Having everyone involved is great bonding time no matter what your household structure is like. If you live alone, invite a few friends over for a meal-prep session, if everyone makes one or two meals, the work is done in half the time and is much more fun.
10. You Hate Grocery Shopping
It really is possible to hate grocery shopping but love meal prepping, and luckily this is an easy problem to solve. Try some of the solutions below and see if you can beat the grocery shopping blues:
- Make someone else do it: Talk to your roommate, significant other, mother-in-law, 20-something-son, whomever you share a space with and trade the task of grocery shopping for meal prepping.
- Change the date and time you go: Weekends can seem like such a chore because the stores are crowded, the good produce is dwindling and the parking lot a mess. Try using your Friday lunch break or go an hour before your grocery store closes on a weekday. It’ll be calmer and that stressed out energy won’t get to you.
- Order your groceries: Tech is a grocery-shopping haters best friend. For as little as $4.99, you can get your groceries delivered to your door with services like Instacart and Grocery Gateway. You can even get local and seasonal produce delivered with services such as Mama Earth. Problem solved.
- Try a market instead: Farmer’s markets are grocery shopping disguised as a full-body experience. You’ll be able to chat with local vendors, find out about their produce, take in the delicious smells and you’ll be supporting local, seasonal produce which is how we all should be eating anyway. Even as the weather grows colder, there are still a number of year round markets in Toronto and South Western Ontario.
- Kill two birds with one stone: Maybe you don’t hate grocery shopping; you’re just too busy. Ditch one of your gym workouts a week and walk to your local grocery store. Lugging those bags home (especially in the cold) will burn enough calories to compensate and up your steps that day.
For great meal ideas, why not try a Sunday Best Lasagna or 20-Minute Carbonara?