Reed Vawter, MS, RDN, CSOWM, LD
Health Education Consultant
"I just don't have enough time!" This is probably the most common reason that people struggle to stay on track with their healthy routines. And if a work commute has just come back into your life, you might have even less time to devote to your nutrition goals. But this doesn't mean you are destined to eat out of the drive-thru every night. Meal prep can help solve this problem by saving time and improving your eating all at once.
Find the meal prep that's right for you
The magic to meal prep is that it makes you more efficient with your food. There are different ways to approach it, so first, decide which kind of meal prep fits your needs.
- Cook-ahead meals: This involves preparing and cooking your meals in advance and then storing them until you are ready to eat. All the work is up-front, and mealtime is just heat and serve. Since the prep is concentrated, this often saves the most time.
- Ready-to-cook meals: Another option is to assemble and prepare all the ingredients ahead of time, but cook them on the night you eat them. This splits up the prep and cooking but saves time through planning and organization. And it works great if you prefer a freshly cooked meal.
- Plan-in-advance meals: Essentially, you decide what you want to eat in advance (aka, "meal planning"). It keeps all of the prep and cooking on meal night but saves you the decision-making process of what to eat.
You can also use a combination of approaches. For example, you might pre-cook your meals for Monday through Wednesday but have planned meals penciled in for later in the week. This saves time and allows additional flexibility if your plans change.
The best way to get started is to just do it! You'll learn as you go and find the strategies that work with your schedule. A great approach is to begin with prepping for just two or three days. Here are some of my favorite detailed guides to help you on your way:
What to cook
Choosing what to cook is often the hardest task! I suggest starting with your favorite meals – this helps avoid the potential for changing your mind at the last minute (and then wasting food and money). But the internet can also be a great source of inspiration. Here are some excellent meal prep ideas:
If you've never meal prepped before, don't expect it to be perfect on the first try. With practice, you will quickly start reaping the time savings that meal prep provides. And that's the ultimate goal – when you can reclaim that time, you'll be less hurried, less stressed, and even be eating better in the end.
So give it a try. Pick a recipe or two to meal prep and get started. And if you want help building your plan, be sure to check out my nutrition counseling services available free to all UNM employees. You'll love the time savings you achieve!