The ABCs of meal prep

Explaining weekly meal prep step-by-step

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Four clear plastic bowls with vegetables inside
PHOTO: S’well / Unsplash

By: Yasmin Hassan, Staff Writer

So, you want to prep your meals but don’t know where to start? We’ve got you. Cooking may seem like a daunting and annoying task, but meal prep can be great for saving money and time (things that are especially important for most college students). Convenience aside, it promotes conscious choices and builds valuable skills like cooking techniques, efficient grocery shopping, and staying in budget, things that go far beyond your life as a university student! Meal prepping can be so varied in flavours and ingredients; it doesn’t always have to be the bland stir-fried chicken and rice you usually see in meal prep videos; we’re here to show you how to mix and spice things up!

A is for assessing: plan and plan some more!

Whether it’s on paper, a planner, or your phone, take time to carefully look through your weekly schedule. Seriously consider your courses, work, extracurriculars, and any other commitments — get everything on your calendar! Consider what you’ll want for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, making sure that you’re accounting for any medications or supplements you’re taking, your preferences, dietary restrictions, and nutritional goals (what you want your diet to reflect). Don’t forget snacks. When it’s in-between meals, and you’re craving something to soothe your hunger, cut-up fruits or vegetables, nuts (even trail mix), yogurt, or homemade energy bars are a great solution. Depending on how your schedule works, you’d be best off setting aside a certain day and time to prep, like every Sunday afternoon or evening.

B is for brainstorming: recipes and shopping list

When looking for recipes that seem good for you, opt for recipes you can cook in bulk and require minimal ingredients. Things like rice, beans, and frozen pre-cut vegetables can go towards one-pot meals, casseroles, soups, and sheet pan recipes. Consider drawing inspiration from books like Jules Sherred’s Crip Up the Kitchen, which are tailored to people with disabilities for some accessible cooking tips. 

Once you’ve got a steady list of recipes, go ahead and make a shopping list for the week. You might have some of the things you’ll need at home, so take inventory and check off anything you already have. Making a list will help you stick to getting only what you need, not just making impulse purchases (it’s OK; I’m guilty, too). Consider checking what’s in season at your local independent grocery shop or farmers market! Not only does sticking to seasonal ingredients will make your meals taste better, but your bank account will also thank you for it!

Tip: track your purchases and log how much you spend on groceries per week, doing this will give you perspective on what ingredients cost more and make future budgeting a lot easier.

C is for creating: prepping and cooking up!

Dedicate time in your weekly schedule to prep ingredients and take into account the leftovers you might already have. This includes washing and chopping vegetables, cooking grains (i.e. a pot of rice), and marinating meats or tofu. There are a lot of cooking gadgets that can make chopping vegetables and time management easier. Cooking large batches of your proteins, grains, and greens will ensure that you have everything ready to divide into portions and leave leftovers. By doing this, you can also mix and match the components and ingredients of meals. For example, a portion of grilled chicken can go into a Caesar salad, a Mediterranean wrap, a rice bowl, or a stir-fry. Divide everything into sections and pack it away to store and divide into containers for meals!

Tip: consider preparing your ingredients (chopping, marinating, etc.) while sitting down or consider taking plenty breaks, sitting down, or lie down entirely, if that’s easier for you. As it’s the case with any physical activity, listen to your body’s needs!

D is for dividing: organizing and storing your food

If you don’t already have containers, consider investing in good-quality containers to safely and properly store your meals (reusable bags, stackable containers). If you’re able to do so, and it helps you, consider labelling each container with the date and its contents to keep track of when each portion was packed — definitely my favourite task! It’s also a good idea to see how long the recommended time is to keep food stored in the fridge or freezer before you have to throw it out or re-purpose it, so check your “best before” dates and do your research, no food poisoning allowed! Make sure to follow safe cooking practices and that your meats are cooked all the way through. 

Tip: keep your space organized. Try to tidy your fridge and pantry (or dorm mini-fridge?) as you cycle through your meals, it will make cleaning up a far less demanding task.

E is for Evergreen: freezer meals are OK!

Just because you made all this food and prepped all these meals doesn’t mean you have to eat all of it within the week. If you have leftovers, pack them away and keep them in the freezer to use when you don’t have time to make something fresh. This is especially helpful for when you know you’ll be having a busier week (finals season, for example) and won’t be able to dedicate as much time to meal prep as you normally do. Soups, broths, stews, and casseroles are all freezer-friendly as long as you remember when they’ve been made to keep track of how long they’ll last you.

Tip: for most instant pot recipes you don’t need to wait for your meals to thaw, just throw them into the pot and enjoy!

F is for fun: make the kitchen more enjoyable

Put some music or a podcast on and vibe while you cook and pack! Don’t like doing it alone? Enlist your roommate, friends, or family members to help pass the time. Listen, life happens, so be flexible with your meal plan and adjust as needed. Don’t neglect your leftovers, instead, turn them into a new meal! For example, if you have leftover veggies like broccoli, potatoes, carrots, and onions, you can throw it all in a pot with veggie stock and there you have a simple veggie stew! If you have leftover rice, turn that into some quick fried rice; if you have leftover croissants or stale bread, turn it into savoury breakfast bread pudding! But, whenever cooking feels like more of a chore than a fun activity, consider going for the easiest meals to prepare from your recipe list.

Now that you’ve learned your ABCs, meal prep doesn’t seem like such a daunting task, does it? The more you practice and integrate it into your schedule, the more it becomes second nature. These skills are handy to learn now but will help you even more in the long run. What are you waiting for? Get to prepping, and don’t forget the snacks! 

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