I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I hate meal-prepping with the fire of a thousand suns. Meal-prepping is messy and time-consuming, and the meals don't actually end up tasting good during the week. Nothing is more depressing than microwaving the same unsatisfying meals over and over again.
No matter how much I hate it, there's no denying that having food on hand during the week is a lot cheaper than ordering takeout or dining out with friends. Last year, to save for six-week trip to New York to see family and friends, I saved $700 in six months by diligently meal-prepping, and I plan to continue the habit in 2022 to save even more money.
Here are six strategies that help me stay on track with meal-prepping.
It seems really basic, but skipping this step caused me to go into the week without a clear picture of how much groceries I really needed to buy. Without writing down my meal plan, I ended up buying too many vegetables that were less enjoyable later in the week when they weren't crunchy anymore.
With a written plan, I was able to keep track of which meals I actually enjoyed and which ones were not as memorable. A written plan also helps me plan recipes around the same three or four key ingredients so that I'm not shopping for too many different items.
I fell into a rabbit hole of watching YouTube videos with chefs and influencers flaunting their picture-perfect meal-prep stations. I had to let go of perfection, and stop comparing myself to their videos very early into the process. I embraced the reality that I don't have the same infinite counter space and cooking stamina that YouTubers seemed to have.
When my meal-prepping sessions came up short, I relied on instant ramen, frozen dinners, or leftovers from a Filipino dinner with friends.
Congratulations to the people who manage to make 21 meals per week in one afternoon of meal-prepping, but I will never be like you.
Even though I hate meal-prepping, I actually really enjoy cooking. I found that it was easier to make extra servings of one recipe a few times per week. Spreading the cooking out to three nights instead of cramming it all into one day made it so much more manageable, and I was motivated to tweak recipes that didn't work by adding new spices or ingredients.
My favorite part of cooking is setting up the mise en place, those magical little bowls of pre-chopped ingredients that cooking hosts like Rachael Ray have prepared when cooking meals. I realized I would save so much time, and be that much more motivated to cook, if I didn't have to chop any vegetables before cooking those meals.
I started keeping a batch of diced shallots, white onions, green onions, and garlic in my fridge to save time every night that I cooked. Since I am the self-proclaimed Smoothie King of Los Angeles, I also pre-chopped vegetables and fruit and put them in zip-bags to store in the freezer so that I'd always have my intake of greens ready for each day of the week.
Again, this one sounds really basic. But when putting meal-prepping on my New Year's resolutions list, I had to focus on making it about money first, before making the healthiest meals.
I realized that a lot of the YouTube influencers whose meal-prep videos I watched for inspiration were mostly white, and they were preparing chickpea pastas, salads, and Eurocentric foods that were marketed as "healthy," but didn't really sing when they hit my tastebuds.
When I switched to Asian ingredients, like soba noodles, oyster sauce, dried shiitake mushrooms, and miso paste, my entire view on meal-prepping really changed.
Sometimes, meal-prepping got so tedious that I just needed a reminder of why I was doing all of this in the first place. Listening to a personal finance podcast kept me motivated to keep going, and helped me learn some new budgeting tricks along the way.
After implementing the first five strategies into my meal-prepping routine, I was still spending my entire Sunday afternoon prepping my meals for the week ahead. Because I was craving more downtime to relax and work on my creative projects, I decided to bite the bullet and order groceries for pickup or delivery to save time.
I try to order my groceries in the middle of the week to avoid surge pricing, and to make life a bit easier for the workers who have to pack and deliver my order. Ordering groceries online or through an app also helps me stay on budget and stop buying groceries that I won't actually eat.
Leo Aquino (they/he) is a reporter at business insider covering spending and saving. Before joining the insider team, they covered relationships, sexual wellness, beauty, fashion and more, always uplifting stories of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. You can reach Leo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about how Personal Finance Insider chooses, rates, and covers financial products and services » Sign up to get Personal Finance Insider's free email newsletter in your inbox »
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