By Makaela Willis, Marketing & Owner Services Assistant
The new year has started, and many of us have goals or resolutions for what we want to achieve. Whether your goal is to save money, eat healthier, work towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle, or all of the above, meal planning and prepping can help you reach it.
There are a lot of benefits to implementing these habits in your life. It’s estimated that American families throw away 14-25% of the food they buy. You could save up to a quarter of your food budget each month by planning ahead so your meals are easier to access when you are busy. In addition to financial savings, researchers at Project Drawdown have identified that reducing food waste ranks 3rd on the top 100 potential solutions to climate change because uneaten food accounts for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So, reducing food waste both saves you money and helps the environment! Learn more about reducing food waste.
If you are like me and just picking up meal planning/prepping, it can be a little daunting to get started. Here are some of the jumping off points and tips that seem to be pretty universal:
Be specific. Choose one meal type to start with – either breakfast or dinner. You may already plan your dinners out in advance, but meal planning and prepping makes it easier, especially if you are a very busy person or trying to feed a larger family. This advance prep will lighten your work load on busy days. One easy way to prep your meals is to start with leftovers. After eating, put your dinner leftovers into single serving containers so you can take them as your lunch the next day. Or, if you plan ahead and make a double batch you can use those leftovers for dinner the following day. Recipes that create leftovers are your best friend when it comes to saving time in the kitchen.
Reusable containers. If you are going to start prepping your meals in advance you’ll need something to put them in. You can use storage containers like Tupperware or even reuse take-out containers to get started. If you are looking for something that will last a long time, GreenTree has some cool options to try. We have stainless steel 2 tier or 3 tier Tiffins that are great for meals on the go. U-Konserve’s stainless steel nesting containers are easy to store when they are not being used. We also carry Stasher bags – reusable resealable baggies that are freezer ready and dishwasher safe. Another plastic bag alternative is the Chico Snack Time bags. They’re made of fabric and are great for prepping your snacks. Of course, you can also use glass jars you have around your home. My collection of pasta jars and mason jars will definitely be getting some use!
Starting small. When you are first starting out only plan one or two weeks worth of meals at a time. This will reduce the chance of creating food waste unintentionally by buying fresh items too far in advance. When you are in planning mode, look at your schedule and figure out what kinds of meals you will need for the week. Is it difficult to make time in the morning? Are there days when you will just want to throw something into a crock pot? Or do you need a dinner that will only take 10 minutes to make? Planning ahead can ensure the meals you prep for those occasions are nice and easy.
Unique Seasonings. Try choosing a protein and a grain that you can use for a few days, something fast like chicken breast and rice or tofu and quinoa. These ingredients could be boring by themselves. Instead of giving yourself the exact same meal for several days, pair these ingredients with sriracha and green onions on Monday, taco seasoning and shredded cheese on Tuesday, curry powder and yogurt on Wednesday, etc. Condiments, dressings, and sauces can keep your meals interesting while still saving time.
Surprise Yourself. If you like to “gamify” things like I do you could try cookbook roulette! Pull out all your cookbooks and make a list of the meals that you want to try or are staples in your household. (If you’re not a cookbook person just print out a variety of your favorite internet recipes.) You can number each recipe and use a random number generator to pick out your meals or you can write the names of the recipes on strips of paper and pull them from a bucket, cup, or bowl and plan your prep around those meals for the next week or two.
Try out a few of these methods and see what works best for you. Don’t forget to take those leftovers into consideration! For me I know we have at least 1 or 2 leftover days a week in my household. Make sure to track what day you are making each dish on a calendar or in your phone. And what every single article I read on meal planning suggested is to have a detailed grocery list. Know exactly what you need for every meal before you leave for the grocery store and be aware of what you already have in your pantry and cabinets.
Whether you are trying to save some money this year, eat healthier, or just want to make mealtime a little easier, meal planning and prepping can help you do all those things while also being good for the planet.
Here are a couple articles I found particularly helpful: Meal Prep 101, Be Your Own Prep Cook, and Top 10 Mistakes Meal Planning Beginners Make and How to Solve them
Our Community Partner Enlightened Nutrition, LLC also has some great meal planning resources available!