How I Meal Prep for the Week Without Going Crazy
Spoiler Alert: You don't have to spend all day Sunday cooking.
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I've gotten quite the reputation around the office. No, no nothing scandalous. I'm known for being a meticulous meal prepper. Even though I work above one of the best food halls in NYC, I bypass the breakfast burritos and bagels on my way in and at lunchtime forgo the sirens call of hummus with fresh pita or my favorite ramen. And in case you're wondering, I'm not bragging, humbly or otherwise. I'm just setting the scene for how many temptations I am able to turn down every day (read: $$ that I'm saving) with a few minutes of meal prepping over the weekend.
Please note that this is not a magic formula or even truly groundbreaking info. It's just how I save money and my sanity in avoiding the inevitable "what's for lunch tomorrow?" at 9 o'clock every night.
Here's how I do it:
I'm warning you, breakfast is pretty boring. I eat the same thing Monday through Friday, week after week, after week. Overnight oats. Yea, they were a thing for a while and then everyone got bored of eating cold oatmeal, and then they faded away into nothingness when things like avocado toast and cloud eggs took over the insta-world. The key for me is that my entire breakfast meal prep takes five minutes and costs literal cents to make.
I buy an insane amount of oats at Costco and then make this super simple overnight oat recipe on Sunday, portioning it out into individual servings for the week. I use frozen fruit in place of the mashed banana because it's easier for me. The end result is the same; it's a bit of natural sweetener/flavoring and, when I have a few types of fruit in the freezer, I can make different variations to eat throughout the week.
The trick to making overnight oats that actually taste good? Heat them up in the morning. Letting the oats sit (in the fridge) throughout the week makes them creamy without actually cooking them.
Lunch is an exercise in using up whatever is left in the fridge from the week before and trying to make something decently healthy. I make a full portion of the meal and split it up to eat throughout the week. I know a lot of people can't handle eating the same thing for 5 days straight, but I'm blessed with the ability to not care if it means less work. If this is too much for you to handle – I get it, there are some weeks when I'm totally over the dish by Wednesday – make two different meals and alternate throughout the week. The two rules I follow when making lunches are:
1: Make sure each portion is big enough to actually fill you up. Making lunch is a waste of time if I’m still going to go to buy a snack.
2: Use recipes as a guidance and inspiration rather than the law. I often substitute with whatever I have on hand because I really hate wasting food a.k.a. money.
When I have leftover hummus that's getting to the point where it's kind of questionable, I make this mushroom soup which uses the hummus as a thickening agent. When I have leftover chicken (rotisserie or otherwise) I turn it into a grain bowl. When I barely have anything left in the house I make baked falafel with a cucumber salad. When I have half a can of coconut milk that's been sitting in the fridge for a few days I make this Thai curry chicken – usually over spiralized sweet potatoes and whatever other veggies I have on hand.
I buy most of my meat in bulk, then wrap in individual portions and freeze, so my grocery trips over the weekend are pretty simple: a few different types of vegetables and fruit to eat throughout the week. Unless I'm really hankering for something, I buy whatever is in season and/or on sale.
On Sunday I evaluate the produce I bought and the proteins in the freezer, and I come up with a game plan for the week as well as a strategy for defrosting. I keep a magnetic whiteboard on the fridge and write out the plan. It's not super scientific, usually I'll make one meal on Sunday that can be reheated once or twice throughout the week, as well as a few ideas for dinners that I can make on a weeknight. Sample menu, below:
Monday – Slow Cooker Pork Curry. Prepped on Sunday and set in the slow cooker on Monday morning.
Tuesday – Farfalle with Sausage, Peas and Mushrooms. This one only takes 40 minutes. Sold.
Wednesday – Chicken and Broccoli Sheet Pan Dinner. Sheet pan dinners are life. Prepping everything takes about 15 minutes, and then I have about 40 minutes to do important things, like get a head start on the wine.
Thursday – Leftover Pork Curry. I purposely don't try to use leftovers from dinner for lunches so I can get a cook-free night out of them later in the week.
Friday – Leftover Farfalle. Here's a definitive guide to reheating leftovers.
Unless I'm entertaining, I leave the weekends unplanned and go out to dinner or make whatever I'm in the mood for. As promised, there's no secret trick here. Just sensible planning and an hour or so of cooking on Sunday, so weeknights are a little less hectic and I can save some money at the same time.