I am so excited to have our first guest writer on the blog today! Jacque and I taught together for 2 years in the Philippines at Faith Academy, an international school for missionary kids. More recently, we’ve been challenged to take our health seriously and honor God with the bodies we’ve been given. I’ve loved having this lady as part of the journey! Jacque has had great success by using 21 Day Fix Extreme and portion-control containers along with Shakeology, and I’m pumped for you to hear some of her golden meal prepping tips!
So, you’ve signed up for a healthy lifestyle challenge and you’re ready to tackle your fitness goals. You’ve heard some friends talk about how meal prepping has changed their life and you think, “How hard could it be? Make some food, plop it in containers. I got this.” Soon it’s time to plan your meals and shop. List in-hand, you walk into the store and stare at the veggies. “Wait, how many green peppers do I need? Should I buy bagged salad? What do I do with the food in my pantry? Do I have to eat the same thing everyday? Well, I can’t afford to buy too many organic berries. What can I buy that fits my budget, meal plans, AND won’t go bad before I can use it up?” And finally, the big question: “Is this really worth it?”
Eighteen months ago I had one of those moments in a grocery store. I was prepping for my first challenge group and had never disliked grocery shopping more. It was paralyzing to try to shop for one (do I buy in bulk or single serve?), stay on budget (hello preschool teacher paycheck…), and find “clean” items that didn’t break the bank (organic is HOW much more?!). I’ve been around the block with this meal prepping gig and I’ve managed to create a method to my madness. This blog is an attempt to save some of you the mental gymnastics of meal prepping for one.
- Use versatile ingredients so you can buy in bulk, especially if budget is a concern. Stick to chicken breast/tenderloins and beef cuts that are commonly used (hamburger, stew meat, roast, etc) or turkey. I learned several different ways of seasoning and preparing it so it didn’t taste the same. My stand-by flavor combos are Tex-Mex (taco mix), Asian (orange ginger), homestyle (Lawry’s and/or Mrs. Dash Onion and Herbs), and BBQ (Sweet Baby Rays and onions). Mix any of these seasoning combinations with rice, quinoa, sautéed greens, fresh bread, or noodles and there’s usually a winning combination waiting for a few final touches.
- The freezer is your friend. Buy in bulk and then freeze at least half of what you buy. This weekend, I intentionally bought far more spinach, meat, bread, quinoa, feta, and berries than I could eat in a week. Of the 4 lbs of berries I bought, I made 7 snack packs (1 cup each) and then cut up and froze the rest for smoothies/Shakeology. I bought 4 lbs of beef stew meat and made 4 crock pot meals (3 of which are in the freezer). I opted to buy bread, even though I can’t eat a whole loaf myself in a week, much less the family pack of 2 loaves! So I froze one loaf and will freeze whatever I don’t eat by Friday. Same goes for the giant box of spinach – the rest will be put in quart bags and frozen for smoothies or baked pasta dishes. For about $140, I strategically bought enough food to last a full 3 weeks. The first time I did 21 Day Fix Extreme, I easily spent $90 for one week of food. Ouch!
- Make your Fix food visible! Re-organize the fridge, pantry, or even your counter space to direct your eyes where they should go instead of where they’re used to going. (Somehow, I always see the Doritos first…) For me, this means the first thing I see in the fridge is a box of snack packs (fruit or veggies) and next in line are my pre-portioned meals. In my pantry, I put junk food in an entirely different container so it’s not just staring me in the face when I go looking for something else.
- Find 3-4 hours to meal prep and knock out the whole week’s worth of food prep. Grabbing a lunch is so much easier when it was portioned out the day before. I always prep on the weekends because weekdays are too busy to find 3-4 hours. And when I don’t prep… I pay for it. I’ve also kept a list on my fridge door with all the things I prepped because sometimes a container gets pushed to the back and forgotten.
- Choose one mid-week night to do a crock pot meal, which can be prepped and frozen days or even weeks ahead of time. Hands down, the hardest part of meal prep for me is feeling like I have to eat the same things for 6 days. When I can come home to a delicious smell that’s different than what I prepped and have eaten for lunch for the last 2 days, I’m a happy girl.
- Always buy extra bananas. They’re one of the cheapest clean foods available. You can easily peel and freeze them if they brown quickly, so you’ll rarely waste them. I have a banana in my Shakeology every time. And who doesn’t love banana bread made with coconut oil? So good and you’ll have the main ingredient always ready.
- Choose recipes that freeze well and portion them into freezer-friendly containers. If by Thursday, you have meals left in the fridge, throw them in the freezer and grab one some day you ran out or need to make sure you have supper as well as lunch. It’ll also help with variety. Sometimes, if I prep something like chili or soup, I’ll throw 2 containers of it in the freezer right away. They’re perfect for a night you don’t feel like cooking but don’t want to eat out.
- Always have a Clif Bar or Lara Bar in your purse and a container of Shakeology. There are few things worse than mid-morning “hangry” crashes or an unexpected delay in meal times. My go-to flavors are Clif’s Nuts and Seeds or Pomegranate Berry Chia bars. I also keep a container with oatmeal and craisins in my desk at work, which has saved me money, time, and bad decisions by just adding a cup of water.
- Consider doing a meal prep swap with a friend who also meal preps. My mentor recently told me she’s trying 21 Day Fix and we’ve talked about meal swapping for variety and as an act of solidarity. I love the idea of cooking for someone else, especially when I know they’ll notice it and appreciate it.
- Give yourself grace enough to go out when you’re sick of what you’ve got. Honestly, there’ve been a few meals I prepped that didn’t turn out well and I did my best to eat it up, but by Thursday lunch, I was so over it. Panera looked SO much better. I know myself well enough that if given the choice and no accountability, I’d opt for junk food instead of another less-than-awesome-recipe of my packed lunch. In those moments, my best choice is to go to Panera, order something I like that’s nothing like whatever I didn’t want to eat, and just move on.
Jacque Olson is a native Minnesotan with a love for Jesus, solid community, and coffee. She spends her days working for a suburban church and her evenings diving into ways to move people God-ward. In her 27 years of life, she has personally worked with 2,800 kids of all ages and various backgrounds. Her motto in life is simply “Choose joy!” You can find more of her writing on her blog, Consider the Ravens.
Question of the Day:
What meal prep tricks and tips do you have?