Being overly ambitious isn't always wise.
This article was written by Stephanie Eckelkamp and provided by our partners at Prevention.
I'm always scrambling to get out the door in the morning. I usually walk my dog a couple miles, then all I have time to do is shovel down a breakfast and maybe grab a piece of fruit or two for work. Meaning, once 1 p.m. rolls around, I either spend too much money on a lunch from the cafeteria (which has great healthy options, but isn't cheap) or subsist on the random snacks in my office that are healthy-ish, but leave my body feeling starved for real nutrients. Neither option is ideal. So, time for an experiment!
My goal: Eat a healthy balanced lunch every single day and save some money. My plan: Cook or prep a bunch of food for the week every Sunday for a month and see what happens.
Here's how I fared—and a few things I learned along the way.
At first I thought, oh hey, I'm gonna make all of my lunches, dinners, and maybe even breakfasts ahead and save so much time during the week. Ha! It didn't take me long to realize that there was no freakin' way. For one, I can only reserve about two hours for meal prep on Sundays. Plus, I actually enjoy cooking, so if I came home from work and had absolutely everything ready for me to reheat and eat for dinner, I'd actually be kind of bummed.
Here's what ended up working for me: For two hours each Sunday, I cooked and packed all of my lunches for the upcoming week. I'd usually cook up a decent amount of protein—like an entire roast chicken—that could be easily added to salad greens or to soups for a protein boost—and sometimes a big pan of roasted veggies. Then I roughly planned out dinners, making sure I had some meat or fish defrosted and veggies pre-chopped—but not actually cooked.
The first week I even made a batch of chia pudding for breakfasts—but, since my breakfasts are usually pretty quick to throw together anyway (e.g. a banana with peanut butter), I didn't do this regularly.
One of the things I learned early on, when a week's worth of prepped and packaged snacks and lunches was laid out in front of me, was that I was going through a boat load of sandwich baggies. So, I considered it a wake-up call to how much waste we all individually generate and decided to invest in a larger set of re-usable glass containers.
While prepping, I didn't make anything that required following directions too closely. Think: roasted chicken and veggies, hardboiled eggs, sliced veggies for snacks, and soups. In particular, soups became my BFF. What's easier than tossing some random ingredients into a pot with simmering chicken or vegetable broth and having it turn into a bowl of warm, comforting, nutrient-packed goodness? Butternut squash and apple soup made creamy with an immersion blender, and a simple combo of kale, Italian sausage, and sweet potato became my two favorites. After they were cooked, I'd load them into glass containers for easy reheating.
The fact that I was making easy meals that didn't require complicated recipes took a lot of the stress out of cooking. In fact, my meal prep became something I really looked forward to. It required enough focus to keep my mind off of the numerous worries and stressors in my life, but not so much that it became stressful in itself. I could just blast my favorite jams or podcast, hum along, and chop away. By the time I was done with my two-hour prep sesh, I usually ended up feeling mentally refreshed, not depleted.
Before this experiment, I'd typically spend at least $6 a day on lunch if I didn't pack lunch ($8 if I also bought a morning coffee). That works out to $40 per week, and that was in addition to my normal weekly grocery spending of $40. When I started meal prepping, my weekly grocery bill only went up by about $15, but I wasn't spending money on lunch or coffee (since I actually had time to brew myself a cup in the morning now). So I was still saving a total of $25 a week. That's $100 in a month, or $1200 in a year! Say hello to your next vacation.