Meal Prep Tips
Lobster tail and salmon are delicious and you should be making them for yourself and your friends as often possible now that you know how affordable and straightforward they are to cook. Unfortunately, seafood isn’t something I recommend buying in bulk plus it would be too time-consuming to make fresh lobster tail and salmon every day of the week for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack or two. But, oh boy, I wish that wasn’t true. Thankfully, this is where meal prepping swoops in to save the day. I’m talking delicious, bulk recipes that require minimal touch time – only a little over an hour for a week’s worth of lunches and snacks – that will delight and sustain you from one lobster dinner to the next.
I’ve been excited to write out the meal prep section of my website since it’s inception. Weekly meal prepping provides so many benefits to the health and cost-conscious professional:
- Ingredients: You’ve heard me say this before: Know your ingredients! You want to be eating free-range, grass-fed, organic, local? You control the ingredients you buy and how you cook them. At a restaurant, you’re putting a lot of trust in a business whose focus at the end of the day is their bottom line, not your nutrition goals.
- Portion Control: Even we consuming the best ingredients, you can still over-eat and end up feeling lethargic. When using a food scale, you can ensure that every lunch or snack you pack up is exactly the same weight. That means you stop eating when you run out of your set amount of food. It takes time for your stomach to signal to your brain that you’re full so pre-determining the amount of food you have per meal takes the potential for over-eating off the table.
- Macros: Looking to eat a specific breakdown of fats, carbs, and protein? You know how much of each food you scooped into each container so you can keep yourself on target.
- Financial goals
- In Houston, one meal prepped lunch costs ~$3. There’s 52 weeks in a year and let’s say you have 5 weeks of vacation (holidays + PTO). 47 weeks times 5 lunches per week equals 235 lunches per year. Let’s stay the average Houston workday restaurant lunch costs $12 ($10 + tax and tip). Therefore the difference between a restaurant lunch and a meal prepped lunch is $9 per lunch.
- $9 per lunch times 235 lunches equal $2,115 per year. That’s after-tax money too!
- Even if you bring an afternoon snack (~$1.75), you’re still profiting ~$1,700/year! That will help the budget!
- Meal prepping is for people who like to get things done. Free your mind from having to think about what you’re going to eat for lunch today. You have much more important obstacles to work through and problems to solve.
So far under the Meal Prep Section of my blog, I’ve given you a foundation to build on. Through recipes for $0.15 black beans, $0.15 lentils, and $1.25 shredded chicken you’ve got bulk recipes for carbs and protein covered – which means fuel to get you through the day. But the question remains: how do you take this foundation and turn it into lunches and snacks? This requires a three-pronged attack – frozen vegetables, healthy fats, and spices.
- Frozen vegetables: If you only remember one thing from this post have it be this: Frozen vegetables are the secret to successful meal-prepping. For some reason, there is a conscious or unconscious bias against frozen vegetables. Maybe people think they can’t possibly taste good or think they don’t have the same nutritional value as fresh vegetables or they associate them with other unhealthy frozen foods like pizza. These myths need be dispelled and frozen vegetables embraced for the following reasons:
- Nutritional Value: Unlike “fresh” vegetables which are picked early so that they will ripen on their way to the store, frozen vegetables are vegetables that are harvested and frozen when they’re ripe. This means they have at least the same, if not greater, nutritional value as “fresh” vegetables. Also, just like “fresh” vegetables they can be bought organic.
- Ease of Use: Frozen vegetables can be bought in microwave-able steamable bags so all you have to do is toss them in the microwave while you’re prepping other things or watching tv. Remember from the black bean post, the microwave is your friend – your vegetables are heated through agitation of water molecules, not cancer-causing radiation! Also, the vegetables are often pre-chopped, which means you don’t have to waste 30 minutes of your precious time removing each broccoli florets, discovering of a few bugs and creating a big unnecessary mess (this is one of my biggest pet peeves if you couldn’t tell…). Thankfully your frozen vegetables are good to go straight from the bag into your containers!
- Variety: At my local grocery store, there is frozen spinach, peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, and sweet potato. Just to name a few. Mix up what you buy to create a new lunch every week.
- Healthy Fats: Adding a couple teaspoons or a tablespoon of healthy fat (think avocados, olive oil, coconut milk) is the key to meeting macros and a filling meal.
- Calories: Just in case you haven’t run the numbers yet, chicken breast and frozen vegetables aren’t enough calories to sustain a human being for 8 hours – even a sedentary one staring at a computer screen. A tablespoon of olive oil (my preferred choice) has 120 calories aka fuel to get you through that spreadsheet. Feel free to adjust the portion size according to your daily caloric intake goals. I wouldn’t recommend exceeding 2 tablespoons because oil can have an overpowering effect on flavor and texture.
- Macros: It’s no secret that chicken breast and frozen vegetables don’t contain a lot of fat either. There has been plenty of research in the past couple years regarding the benefits of increasing your consumption of healthy fats and olive oil always makes the list. Adding these foods to your meal prep balances out your diet and lets you check that “healthy fats” box.
- Health: Many vitamins and nutrients (such as curcumin in turmeric) are fat-soluble, meaning you need fat/oil to fully digest the benefits.
- Variety: There’s are tons of different healthy fats out there. Do your homework and if you find something interesting, try it out. Using avocado or coconut milk or even $6 and 10 Minute Almond Cashew Pesto instead of olive oil will completely change your lunch experience.
- Spices: They say “variety is the spice of life,” I say “spice is the variety of meal prepping.”
- Variety – There are so many different spices out there. Unfathomly many. Go to the bulk spice section, close your eyes, and grab a new one for each week. I have no doubt, you could use a different spice combination for every week of the year for the rest of your life.
- Health – Many spices have health benefits such as curcumin (anti-inflammatory) in turmeric and capsaicin (metabolism-booster) in cayenne. The dose size may be small, but I’ll take all the health benefits I can get!
At this point, you know why I think meal prepping is awesome and I’ve given you my tips, so now you’re wondering what does a sample week look like? Great question. The following walks you through a weekend of meal prepping lunches and snacks.
Saturday (11PM) – Prep crockpot and turn on to High to start black beans. 5 minutes total time.
Sunday (~7AM) – Turn off the crockpot and add salt to the beans. <1 minute.
Sunday (~9AM) – After enjoying a some $4.50 Sweet Potato Hash and a $1 Latte followed by a crossword puzzle or two, break out the food scale and scoop 3oz of black beans into each snack container. Freeze half of the remaining beans for next week and save the other half for weekday breakfasts or to make refried beans. Clean the crockpot, prep the chicken and turn the crockpot on to Low. 15 minutes total time.
Sunday (~4:30PM) – Start heating up bags of organic, steamable vegetables in the microwave while working on next week’s post. Optional: You can chop up 5-10 garlic cloves and add them to the chicken that this point. 5 minutes of distraction while you keep being productive. Plus 10 more minutes if adding garlic.
Sunday (~5PM) – Turn off the crockpot and shred the chicken with two forks. While the chicken cools, scoop 4oz of spinach and 4oz of cauliflower into each lunch container and 4oz of peas into each snack container. Next, scoop 4oz of chicken into each lunch container and 3oz into each snack containers. Add ~1 tbsp of olive oil to each lunch. Generously season with salt, black pepper, and this week’s spices. Store any leftover chicken in the fridge for post-workout snacks and clean the crockpot. 45 minutes total time.
Sunday (~5:45PM) – Preheat the oven to 375F and start prepping that lobster tail!
Total touch time to prep and clean up 5 meals and 5 snacks: 1 hour and 10 minutes
A couple notes:
- I prefer to use different spices for lunches and snacks. If you’re in search of inspiration, try coconut milk with chili powder. It will blow your mind.
- These are portion-sizes for an active 25-year-old man with a desk job. Adjust them accordingly with the option to remove the snack all together to meet your diet goals.
- If you want to make $0.15 and 60 Minute Lentils instead of $0.15 Overnight Crockpot Black Beans, start the lentils around 4:15PM on Sunday right before you start microwaving veggies.
This post wouldn’t be complete without a cost analysis. Here are the numbers behind my meal prepping:
- 4oz Crockpot Turmeric Chicken ~ $1.25
- 4oz organic frozen spinach ~ $0.75
- 4oz organic frozen cauliflower ~ $0.60
- 1 TBSP olive oil ~ $0.15
- Choice of spices ~ $0.10
Total cost per meal prepped lunch ~ $2.90
- 3oz Crockpot Turmeric Chicken ~ $1.00
- 4oz peas ~ $0.50
- 3oz of Overnight Black Beans ~ $0.15
- Choice of spices ~ $0.10
Total cost per meal prepped snack ~ $1.75
Total cost per meal prepped lunch and snack ~ $4.50
If you’re looking to go plant-based, purchase some organic canned chickpeas to replace the chicken. They can be made in ~3 minutes in the microwave. A 4oz serving of chickpeas costs <$0.50. This takes your lunch cost down to ~$2 and your snack cost down to ~$1.25.
Take this base and get creative! Mix up the oil, spices, and vegetables you use, even throw in some nuts if you feel so inclined. Most importantly, be disciplined and meal prep weekly! That way every week you can always say you’re making progress towards your health and financial goals!
As always, make informed food decisions. Know your ingredients, know your costs!