So, as I mentioned a little while ago, I’m back at work. It’s been nearly a month now, and I feel like I’m getting into the swing of things. And one thing that has helped me enormously is getting into a routine, and making things as easy on myself as possible. This means I know when the baby goes to sleep, and what time I should go to sleep as well in order to be at maximum sleep times. I lay out my outfits for the next day at work the night before so I’m not making tedious last minute decisions that leave me standing in front of my clothes trying to make a decision. I know that when our nanny comes in the morning (more on the childcare situation later this summer), I have about 5 minutes to finish getting myself together. And the most important thing for me is putting my lunch together the night before, and making sure I have it all ready to go and just pack it into my lunch bag in the morning.
And since Baby B has a dairy sensitivity, my previous default lunches of cheesy pastas has been nixed. All of the yummiest frozen things I used to pack (or leftover dinners) were ones that were heavy on cheese, so to avoid upsetting baby’s tummy too much, I’ve taken to meal prepping, and I’m not the only one. I feel like everywhere you look these days in food-focused areas of the internet, people are talking about meal prepping. Sure – it’s not super sexy to be eating the same food every day for a week. And It’s also less “fun” than going out and buying lunch every day, but oh my goodness, there are so many reasons why it’s also 100% better than the alternatives.
- Less waste – when you are using reusable containers for the bulk of your items, there’s less that goes in the trash. A few years back I bought this set of glass containers, and it’s been great. But now the Boy is interested in bringing lunches a few days a week too, and what happens when I need to store other leftovers? I’ll probably bite the bullet and get another set of containers, and I’m looking specifically at these ones. Glass especially is an investment, but SO worth it.
- Money saving – I have noticed a definite decrease in my grocery spending in this last month. Obviously if you’re buying some spices and bulk things like oils and rice, they’re not going to be used up all at once when you’re cooking. So while initial investment in ingredients can initially feel daunting, once you have a pantry of basics to go back to and reuse, it’s less costly in the long run. And making multiple meals from scratch at home is nearly always cheaper, especially if you’re using fresh foods and not packaged things.
- Time saving – Yes, making all my meals on Sunday is a bit of a hassle, but since cooking is actually something I enjoy, it doesn’t feel that tedious. And for many of the recipes, there’s often some down time for roasting, or waiting for things to finish cooking. But even with a recipe that takes a longer time (see below), it can be SO worth it.
- Sanity/Brain-space saving – it’s one less thing to worry about. When you have all your meals prepared for the week, trying to figure out “what will I eat for lunch?” is not a question you’ll have to ask yourself anymore. Because you’ve got a stack of meals waiting for you, and it’s one less thing to worry about.
And it’s not just the main course for lunch that I’ve been preparing in advance. If I can cut fruit for myself to eat during the day, I’m 100% more likely to eat fruit at work. If I have a container of hummus or guacamole and either pita chips or pretzel chips, I’m less likely to go down to the vending machine either during work or on my way home. And making my own lunch means I know what goes in it, and I can control things like how much dairy is in my meal. So those are the reasons for meal-prepping, now for the interesting part, which is what I’ve been eating, and how I liked them.
My first week back I made this One-pan Chicken & Veggie Meal Prep from Tasty. I’m not huge on carrots, so I decided to leave them out of this meal and just make extra of all the other veggies. I also put a small amount of each kind of veggie in the container for each day so that I had some variety, and I really liked that. The chicken was good, and I served this all with some brown rice (if I remember correctly?), but didn’t take pictures because I was working hard to get it all done before that first week back.
My second week, I didn’t go far beyond my comfort zone, in that it’s still roasted veggies and chicken and the recipe itself is billed as “meal prep”. Obviously you’re likely to get better refrigeration/reheating results with something that has been tested specifically as a meal prep, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying other things (as you’ll see I did later). This was the Smoky Chicken and Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potato Meal Prep from Budget Bytes, and I was pleasantly surprised with how awesome it was. The chicken had a lot of flavor, and the sweet potato was delicious as the side. I’ll have to dig through Beth’s archives to see what other meal prep ideas she has, but she’s a big advocate for this kind of “prepping”. I did have to swap out the green beans on this one because the ones I got from the grocery store were disgusting when I cooked them (beige is NOT a vegetable color), so I ended up roasting more broccoli and not being mad about that choice.
Third week back I broke out of the “safe” mold of meals specifically geared towards meal-prep and made a big batch of soup. Specifically, this version of Italian Wedding Soup from Simply Recipes. I was really frustrated while I was making the soup because the meatballs are cooked in the soup liquid, and so they all started to fall apart quite easily, and much of the onion that I had chopped for the meatballs ended up as soup flavoring. On the bright side, the soup was really tasty, and it turned out that I made the meatballs too big (despite being the size recommended by the recipe, and so having meatball parts that didn’t require cutting and potentially splashing soup out were a good thing. Despite the quirkiness of the meatballs and my issues with them, this soup was REALLY tasty, and definitely something I would add to my repertoire.
Finally, for this fourth week I made another non-“meal-prep” big-batch meal that I split into containers. This week in particular I made enough for myself AND the boy because I knew he would be excited, since I was making Chicken Tikka Masala from Tasty, and he always jokes that as an Englishman, Indian food is his national cuisine. This turned out really well, and made the house smell delicious food. The sauce itself was a little blurpy while I cooked, and there was lots left over that we didn’t need for the number of meals I made, but that was ok, since I ended up using it with some other meat and leftover rice for a midweek meal. I love how this reminded me of a frozen Indian meal that the Boy and I like to pick up from Trader Joe’s, but with the benefit of not being frozen, and also being something I made. The rice and meat/sauce are remarkably good at staying separate, even before refrigeration, so you can do more of a “dip it” method of eating, or stir it all up nicely together if you are me.
Am I glad that I decided to do this meal-prepping thing? Oh definitely – I feel like having one less thing to worry about in the morning (or the night before) is a relief. Having healthier foods that I control the ingredients for has been so useful. And when I’ve had enough meals to give one or two to the Boy to take to work as well, it makes me happy that we are saving that extra money each week. It’s not a lot, but these kinds of things add up. I have the recipes chosen for the next three weeks, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for other tasty recipes to add to my repertoire, but it’s possible I may just start rotating the ones I really like so far. And if I’m extra ambitious, perhaps I’ll start making my own big batches of hummus to split into smaller serving sizes (which I hear isn’t actually that difficult), and perhaps venturing into breakfast meal prep with smoothies and burritos? There’s a whole wide world of meal prep, and I’m just getting started!
So who else has ever meal-prepped? Do you have any easy recipes that keep and reheat well? Have particular favorite dishes that you pack your lunch in, or a lunchbag that’s really good at holding lots of stuff? Let me know in the comments!