On the list of ambitious things that seem insurmountable before accomplished and then disappointing when finally completed, meal-prep ranks high. It’s a time-consuming activity that doesn’t always turn out quite how you might have anticipated and yet it’s one of the best things you can do to keep your budget and health on track. There is a way to make it easier, though, and recipe developer Lee Tilghman (who blogs under Lee From America) has tips that can help you meal-prep with no sweat.
It’s not all sad desk salads and dried-out sandwiches. When you vary the food your prep and then prepare it in totally different ways, meal-prepping can prevent you from getting bored with what’s on your plate or giving up altogether. Ready to get your routine right? Just follow Tilghman’s advice.
Always Include Your Staples
Let’s be honest: A bowl of just greens isn’t going to keep you full. Meal-prepping with staple foods that keep you full will prevent you from spending cash on extra snacks or getting hangry.
“I have carrots all year round, but the way that I prepare them changes,” says Tilghman. “In the summer, I’ll shave them and do a raw carrot salad, and then in the winter, I’ll do something with cauliflower. I always have vegetables with some sort of dip or sauce.”
Get Creative to Prevent Boredom
Before you start to think that meal-prep means simply putting together a grain, a protein, and a vegetable, stop right there: To prevent meal-prepping from feeling (and tasting) boring, you have to rethink your whole approach.
“The most important thing to know about meal-prepping is that if you’re doing it right, you’re prepping ingredients—not necessarily whole meals,” Tilghman says. After all, it’s highly possible that after two days, that pasta salad or veggie hash just won’t do the trick for you anymore.
“I always include one protein and one carbohydrate,” Tilghman says. “Normally, the carbohydrate is something like a sweet potato or, this time of year, roasted butternut squash. It could also be brown rice, black rice, white rice. My protein is sometimes smoked or fresh salmon, but most of the time, it’s black beans cooked into some sort of puree or mash, roasted chickpeas, freshly made hummus, or chicken.”
Choose what you like and cook enough of it to last you multiple meals. Then add the fun stuff—veggies, fruit, and the like.
Eating what’s in season isn’t just better for the environment—it can also be cheaper (if you’re shopping at your local farmers market) and better-quality. When it comes to produce that’s available year-round, though, the seasons can also dictate exactly how you cook.
“If you cook a bunch of sweet potatoes, a bunch of zucchini, and a chicken, you can eat those same ingredients 60 different ways,” she says. “You could make a pasta or fajitas, turn it into an egg scramble or a sandwich, you could turn it into a bowl, you could turn it into a salad, or you could use some of that for oatmeal.”
In addition to mixing up your combinations, get creative with your spices and garnishes—a little sprinkle of something on top makes a big difference, “whether that’s like sesame seeds or roasted nuts or toasted cumin seeds,” Tilghman says. “I love cumin—it adds such an awesome pizzazz to any meal. Investing in fresh herbs is also really awesome.”
Store Your Stash the Right Way
Once you’ve prepped your food, it’s crucial to store it the right way to keep it fresh. Where you place things in your refrigerator can make a big difference on how long your food lasts.
Once you start experimenting a bit more, storing your prepped foods in well-sealed Tupperware, and remembering to always include a garnish, meal-prepping anxiety will quickly become a thing of the past.
“When you’re meal-prepping and constantly taking things in and out of the freezer or fridge, as soon as you’re done, put it back in ASAP. If food is left out, that’s when it will go bad,” Tilghman says. “The back of the fridge is the coldest, and the space closest to the door is the warmest. So put all meat and things that spoil easier, like a specially made nut-milk, as far back as possible. Then, things like maybe green leaves or more tender vegetables or fruit that are a little bit fresher can be closest to the door. And never put anything scalding directly in Tupperware and then in the fridge. Let things cool down a little bit.”
Rebecca Deczynski is the Lifestyle Editor at Domino.