Whether you’re starting your first job or have been in the workforce for years, everyone plans their lives around busy work weeks. If you find yourself working through lunch or staying late at the office, balancing a healthy lifestyle can be difficult. Often, we are so busy that we just reach for the microwavable meals or grab something at the nearest drive thru to save time. However, these options generally lead to spending more money on food or creating unhealthy habits.
A little background on why I’m sharing these tips: I found myself leaning towards the quick and easy meals too often, but wanted to make a lifestyle change. I recently did a Paleo challenge for 30 days in a row. For those of you who haven’t heard of Paleo, it is a way of living and eating that is based on the caveman days. You eat foods that are whole, minimally processed and with no added sugar – meats, veggies, fruits and nuts are what I try and stick to.
Now, I’m not here to preach about Paleo, but to share some things I learned from making every meal for 30 days. Whether you are participating in a challenge or just want to be more efficient during the week – these tips can work for you.
Plan your meals in advance
Based on what your work schedule is like for the week, determine what days you will definitely need to have something ready to heat up. For those of you just trying to get through another busy week, look ahead to see when your busiest days are and plan to have something ready to heat up or a recipe that is easy to make.
In addition to planning around your busiest days, determine what you can make ahead that will still taste good later on. A lot of times my cookbooks tell me what is good to freeze or keep refrigerated for later, but that’s not always the case. Figure out what you think will last and make all of that ahead of time. Crockpot recipes are a great way to do this because you can make a lot of food at once and portion it all into Tupperware.
I don’t know about you, but deciding what I want to eat is always the hardest decision – mainly because I’m a foodie at heart. This next tip is going to sound insane – but it’s what helped me successfully get through any busy week. Before you go to the store and before you start cooking and meal prepping the items you want to make ahead, make a list of meals you plan to have each day. I know this sounds a little OCD, but trust me it’s worth it. Write out each day and what you will have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Once you start getting in the midst of your busy week, you’ll thank yourself for planning ahead and for having one less thing to think about.
Choose your meal prep day
When I heard the words “meal prep day” before learning how to actually do it, I imagined something like you would see on Pinterest and in pretty blog pictures. What Pinterest doesn’t show you is the actual mess that is made and the multi-tasking skills needed to get the job done. I hope I haven’t scared you away yet – but the number of dirty dishes that comes out of the meal prep day is endless.
(Hint: if you have a roomie, friend or significant other who is interested in doing this with you, make a deal with the other to split up some of the work. For example, I do most of the cooking and portioning into Tupperware, and my fiancé does most of the dishes.)
I like to meal prep on Sundays – a day where I can go to the grocery store, come back home and start making some meals. Some easy things to meal prep are breakfast items (quiche, hard boiled eggs, etc.), fruit, nuts, snacks and lunches. I generally like to make dinner after work but sometimes I would just make a crockpot meal and make that my dinner for a few nights, depending on how busy I was.
You can never have too much Tupperware
I think the most satisfying part to meal prepping is at the end when you can stuff most of it in the refrigerator all in its own containers – this is the planner/organizer in me. When I started the challenge, I thought I had enough Tupperware and containers. However, I quickly learned that having too much Tupperware is not enough. We went through so many containers and ended up running out at times because they were dirty and needed to be cleaned or still had food in them.
This may sound like an obvious tip, but learn from my mistake and buy as many containers as you can, rather than buying more every time you went to the store. Like I mentioned before, there will already be plenty of dish washing going on. So, save yourself some time and stress by having enough supplies!
Cook, eat and repeat
Before I started getting into planning my meals for the week, I didn’t realize how important it was to utilize leftovers. Whether it be sides that you can add to different lunches or crockpot meals that last you days – food can always be reused.
I actually was never a fan of leftovers unless it was cold pizza. Throughout the challenge I realized that leftovers aren’t that bad – especially if you don’t want to waste the food you slaved over or the money you spent. Make sure to choose recipes that you know you won’t get tired of for a few days and this should be a piece of cake.
(Warning: If you traditionally go to lunch with your work buddies, don’t take that away from yourself! I have also learned that friends who lunch together don’t like it when you stray from this ritual. Still get out of the office when you can to enjoy a break–you can easily eat your prepped meal before or after.)
Once you have a system that works for you – be sure to keep those recipes you really enjoyed on hand. Those are your staples to fall back on and you will get better at making them as time goes on.