When I got a full-time job in NYC after graduation, I was buying breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost everyday. At that time, images of professionally dressed women grabbing a bagel and coffee with a yellow cab in the background were all the rage online. They made my younger self feel like I fit right in with the “real world.” In those early months of my “big girl” job, life was a hashtag: #hustlehard, and at least on the surface I was proud of it.
Fast forward three years, I’ve definitely learned a thing or two about taking better care of my mental and physical health. Meal planning has a huge part to play in ensuring that I fuel my body with nutritious, homemade food.
When I started meal planning, I got frustrated and failed multiple times. In retrospect, that happened because 1) I tried to prepare every single meal in advance 2) I followed the popular grilled chicken/fish, rice, and veggie kind of meal-prep. That left me exhausted and bored.
I’ve learned my lessons since. It’s not hard to prepare flavorful meals in a short time as long as you plan in advance. So here is what I’d advise my fellow 9 to 5 (or 9 to 9?) women:
- Have a List of Your Favorite Recipes on Hand
This one is extremely important, so you don’t feel blank when you’re deciding your meals for the week ahead. I’ve a list of my staple meals in my daily notebook, as well as a Low-Calorie Meal Ideas board on Pinterest that comes in handy when I need inspiration.
- Create a Realistic Meal Plan for the Week
Using your list of recipes, create a reasonable plan. I allocate half an hour on Wednesday evenings to plan my meals. Previously I used a notebook, but now I use a Google sheet instead. You can find my meal plans and a downloadable template of the plan here. It’s not perfect, but it works for me and I thought I’d share it with you all, in case you need a pointer to get started.
- Make a Smart Grocery List
After I’ve a rough meal plan, I create a grocery list to make all my meals. This minimizes time spent in the grocery store and your overall food waste. In the past, I used to get my groceries on Thursdays after work, but thanks to Picnic, I now order my grocery online and it’s delivered just in time on Saturdays. If you’ve access to a grocery delivery service, I highly recommend it. Otherwise, make sure to grocery-shop ahead of the weekend.
- Designate Time Exclusively for Meal-Prep
It’ll not happen unless you make time for it. I like to designate two hours, usually from 4pm until 6pm, to meal-prep every Sunday. It doesn’t always last the whole two hours, but having a fully stocked kitchen and time blocked in my calendar assures that I do at least a little bit of cooking.
- Don’t Cook Every Single Meal
It takes too long to prepare every single meal. Instead aim for preparing most of your meals. I tend to prepare at least four breakfast options and four lunch items. I also like to have at least two dinners ready in the fridge. This gives me a good head start, as well as flexibility to move meals around as the week commences.
- Think in Big Batches
Think of meals that can be batch-cooked. I typically prepare at least one curry or stew like dish that can be used in multiple ways; as a soup for lunch, filling for a wrap, or with quinoa on the side. For next week, you’d see I’m making a big batch of Egg Fried Quinoa. I might even freeze a portion or two for a rainy day, but it tastes so good that I can eat it at least 2-3 times in a week.
- Use Kitchen Tools to Your Benefit
I don’t use a lot of kitchen tools during meal-prep, but I can’t live without a mini chopper. It saves me so much time on chopping vegetables, particularly onions. It also makes chutneys, sauces, and sandwich spreads in no time. Depending on foods you like eating, your favorite tool might be a pasta maker or vegetable spiralizer–whatever it is, make the most of it.
- Put Both the Oven and Stove to Use
If you’re crunched for time, this will really help. I usually have a curry and oatmeal cooking on my stovetop and a dinner casserole or muffins baking in the oven. It may seem overwhelming at first, but with practice you’ll master the art of meal-prep multitasking.
- Have No Shame in Using Canned and Frozen
You can find just about everything canned or frozen these days, and that’s awesome news for 9 to 5 professionals. I buy my vegetables like cauliflower, peas, okra, green beans, and mixed vegetable packs frozen. I buy seafood frozen as well. Similarly, I buy broth and beans canned. I also freeze ripe bananas to use in oatmeal or smoothies later and portions of baguette or bread because I can never finish the whole thing in one go.
- Have Fun While You’re at It
If you’re going to spend a couple of hours cooking, you might as well make it enjoyable. I usually FaceTime my mother while cooking and we’ve a little chat about my menu or I listen to my favorite podcasts. This is also a good time for me to catchup on YouTube videos or watch reruns of Gossip Girl on Netflix–there, I gave away my guilty pleasure.
I hope you find this guide useful. I’ve made my 2019 meal planning sheet open to public viewing, so feel free to browse through it as I add more weekly plans to it. And as always, if you’ve any questions, please feel free to ask them. Thank you for reading and have a fabulous weekend!