By SWEAT Trainer Kristen Geil
Maybe this has happened to you too: Sunday morning rolls around, and whether it's because you went hard last night or your pillows are just perfectly nestled around your body, you're not feeling up to facing the hordes of people at the grocery store.
So, you don't. Your fridge remains empty and sad-looking as you skip out the door for brunch, and you order takeout sushi for dinner while catching up on Netflix. And while you know these choices are going to bite you in the butt later this week (in the form of too many lunches out and a rushed grocery store run on Tuesday night), it's just way too hard to meal plan, shop, AND prep on a Sunday... right?
I used to think this way, but after a few too many weeks of cringing over my bank account and feeling less than my best in that dangerous post-lunch work period, I realized that meal prep actually ended up saving me time, money, and energy. You have complete control over your meals and the ingredients you use, and by combining pantry staples with rotating ingredients, you can save money at the grocery store every week and still satisfy your variety taste bud (okay, I made that taste bud up - but you get what I mean).
Ready to commit to Sunday night meal prep? Here's what I've found works best to keep me on track and away from Seamless.
Don't Leave Recipe Picking Until Sunday
All too often, I find myself at the grocery store on Sunday without a plan or a list of ingredients I'll need that week - so I default to meals and ingredients that I know by heart for a less painful grocery trip.
On one hand, it's great to get in and out of the grocery store with your old standby lunch ingredients. On the other, a lot of people stray from meal planning because they're tired of eating the same thing all the time. When you look in your fridge and only see salmon, quinoa, and steamed broccoli for three weeks straight, you're much more likely to eschew that for an exciting trip to Chipotle.
Here's what I do now: as soon as I see a recipe that intrigues me, I email it to myself with the recipe title in the subject line and file it away in a Gmail folder called "Recipes." Then, before I go to the grocery store, I pull up that folder and choose 3-4 recipes that sound appetizing, moving those emails to my inbox so I can easily access them while I'm shopping and prepping. Pinterest and the new Instagram "Saved" feature are also handy for keeping inspiration at your fingertips.
Keep Basics on Your Weekly Grocery List
There are always going to be some things you need to stock up on every week or two. It's way easier to just keep them on your grocery list every week than actually checking your recipes to see if they're a listed ingredient; after all, the key to succeeding at meal prepping is to make it as easy for yourself as possible.
I'm talking about the items that you know you'll need to throw together quick breakfasts and mid-afternoon snacks, and the ingredients that are ubiquitous enough in healthy recipes that you know you'll use them at some point.
For me, these staples are almost always on my list:
Look for Recipes That Repurpose Similar Ingredients
Here's what I mean: if you have your heart set on making a butternut squash chili but the recipe only calls for a couple cups of squash, seek out another recipe that also uses butternut squash- like this amazing autumn salad. When in doubt, almost anything can be put in a taco and be delicious. This is a rule I live by.
By repurposing similar ingredients, you achieve two major meal-prep goals: first, you're making your grocery trip easier by buying less ingredients (just in a slightly larger quantity). Second, you're adding variety to your lunches and dinners - a major key in avoiding an eating rut and caving in to temptation.
Need a starting point? Chicago wellness blog A Sweat Life has a wealth of meal prep resources that take you from grocery list to recipe.
Repurposing ingredients is especially helpful if you're cooking for only yourself, and you don't want to be stuck with leftover rotting produce in your fridge. And speaking of leftovers...
Want to make things even easier for future-you? Keep an eye out for recipes that can be frozen and reheated easily. You still spend the same amount of time and ingredients cooking, but you get twice as much bang for your buck when you freeze half of the final results.
Fall is an especially ideal time to experiment with freezer meals, thanks to the abundance of chili and thick stew recipes. No more coming home hangry after an unexpected long day at work; all you'll have to do is reheat a previously-frozen meal, sit back, and relax!
(Psst... if you find yourself in a rush in the mornings and unable to make a full breakfast, there are a ton of freezer-friendly breakfast recipes out there, from mini quiches to breakfast burritos)
Make Tech Work for You
Okay, maybe some people enjoy poring over beautiful cookbooks for hours on Sunday mornings, then leisurely browsing the local farmer's markets and comparison shopping at several different grocery stores to get the best deal on wild-caught Alaskan salmon. Maybe it's totally possible for you to spend all freaking afternoon in the kitchen without getting grumpy and snapping at your partner to quit watching football and come help dice vegetables.
In case you couldn't tell, I am not one of those people.
So instead, I take shortcuts whenever I can. Most of the time, those shortcuts involve technology and my phone, aka my third arm. We have access to all of this amazing technology that makes life easier, so make that technology work for you.
I already mentioned my Recipes Gmail folder, but here are a few other ways I use technology to make meal prepping on Sundays a little easier:
Grocery list apps
I use Free Shopping List Ease, which creates two lists: one list of what to buy at the grocery store, and one list of what you currently have at home. That way, you avoid double-purchasing something you're already stocked up on, which comes in handy when trying to figure out if you're almost out of pantry staples like quinoa or milk.
This is for those on-the-go food inspiration moments. One of my favorite things to do is take a salad I see at sweetgreen or Farmer's Fridge and try to recreate it at home- but it's a pain to pull up the sweetgreen menu at the grocery store and try to make an ingredient list. Instead, I take a photo or screenshot of the item I want to recreate, so I can easily access it on-the-go. I also use this if I see a recipe in a magazine (ah, so old-fashioned of me) or out at a restaurant.
Some days, the grocery store just isn't going to happen. And that's okay! Instead of beating myself up about it or calling that entire week of meal prep a wash, I hop on my Instacart app and order groceries for delivery. Sure, it's got a cost, but if it keeps me on track with my healthy eating goals and away from the takeout menus, I'm willing to pay that difference.
Instacart is especially crucial when I'm traveling; oftentimes, I schedule a flight to come back on Sunday evening, and I don't get home in time for a grocery trip. With Instacart, I can leisurely compile my grocery list while on the Blue Line and schedule delivery for when I'll be back in my apartment.