Work Week Meal Prep: Benefits, Tips, Cost and Sample Week!
$5 and 25 Minute Lobster Tail and $4 and 15 Minute Salmon or Trout 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 work 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 work week meal prep. 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.
Meal Prep Benefits
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.
You’ve heard me say this before: Know your ingredients! You want to be eating free-range, grass-fed, organic, and 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.
Even when 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.
Looking to eat a specific breakdown of fats, carbs, and protein? You know how much of each food you scooped into each glass meal prep container so you can keep yourself on target.
In Houston, one meal prepped lunch costs ~$3. There are 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 say 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 roughly $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.
Work Week Meal Prep Tips
In the Meal Prep Section of this website, you can find a foundation to build on. Through recipes such as $0.15 Overnight Crock Pot Black Beans, $0.15 and 60 Minute Lentils, $0.25 and 45 Minute Rice or Quinoa and $1.25 Crock Pot Turmeric 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 work week lunches and snacks? This requires a three-pronged attack – frozen vegetables, healthy fats, and spices.
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 maybe they associate them with other unhealthy frozen food aisle items such as pizza. These myths need to be dispelled and frozen vegetables embraced for the following reasons:
Unlike “fresh” vegetables which are picked early so that they will ripen on their way to the store, frozen vegetables 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 microwavable bags. To make them, all you have to do is take them from the freezer and toss them directly into the microwave while you’re prepping other things or watching TV. Remember, 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 a few bugs and creating a big unnecessary mess (this is one of my biggest pet peeves if you couldn’t tell…). Thankfully once heated, your frozen vegetables are good to go straight from the bag into your containers!
At my local grocery store, there are bags of frozen spinach, peas, green beans, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. Just to name a few. Mix up what you buy to create a new lunch every week.
Adding a couple teaspoons or a tablespoon of healthy fat (think avocado, olive oil, coconut milk, etc) is the key to meeting macros and creating a filling meal.
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 healthy fat portion size according to your daily caloric intake goals.
It’s no secret that chicken breast and frozen vegetables don’t contain a lot of healthy fat either. There has been plenty of research in the past couple years regarding the benefits of increasing your consumption of healthy fats. More avocado and olive oil always make the list. Adding these foods to your meal prep balances out your diet and lets you check the “healthy fats” box.
Many vitamins and nutrients (such as curcumin in turmeric) are fat-soluble, meaning you need fat/oil with them to fully digest the benefits.
There 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.
They say “variety is the spice of life.” I say “spice is the variety of meal prepping.”
There are so many different spices out there. Unfathomably many. Go to the bulk spice section at your local grocery store, close your eyes, and grab a new one for each week. I have no doubt that you could use a different spice combination for every week of the year for the rest of your life.
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!
Sample Work Week Meal Prep
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 schedule walks you through a weekend of meal prepping lunches and snacks in the Cafe4111 kitchen.
- 11PM: Prep crock pot and turn on to High to start black beans. 5 minutes total time.
- 7-8AM – Turn off the crock pot and add salt to the beans. <1 minute.
- 9-10AM – After enjoying a some $4.50 and 30 Minute Sweet Potato Hash and a $1 Homemade Latte with Home Roasted Coffee Beans followed by a crossword puzzle or two, break out the food scale and scoop 3oz of black beans into 5 individual snack containers. Freeze half of the remaining beans for next week and save the rest for weekday breakfasts or to make refried beans. Clean the crock pot, prep $1.25 Crock Pot Turmeric Shredded Chicken and turn the crock pot on to Low. 15 minutes total time.
- 5PM – Start heating up bags of organic, microwavable frozen vegetables in the microwave. 10 minutes.
- 5:10PM – Turn off the crock pot 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 crock pot. 45 minutes total time.
- 6PM – 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. Are you prepping for 2? Fun fact, the total touch time to prep and clean up 10 meals and 10 snacks is roughly the same: 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 to meet your diet goals.
- If you want to make $0.15 and 60 Minute Lentils instead of $0.15 Overnight Crock Pot Black Beans, start the lentils around 4:30PM on Sunday right before you start microwaving veggies.
- If you’ve had your fill of chicken lately, here are two other options:
- Sauteed grassfed, grass finished ground beef with salt and spices
- Vegetarian: Organic canned chickpeas, drained and microwaved for 2 minutes on high
This post wouldn’t be complete without a cost analysis. Here are the numbers behind my meal prepping:
- 4oz Crock Pot 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 Crock Pot 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 work day (lunch and snack) ~ $4.50
If you go plant based and choose to swap the chicken for chickpeas, this will reduce your work day food costs even more! 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!