Last week we covered two common ways to meal prep: traditional meal prep and “mini” meal preps. I think these are fantastic options for when you want to watch your spending and also want to adhere more closely to macro requirements. But this week, I want to address the elephant in the room: that meal prep kind of sucks sometimes. To be honest, I hate meal prep. It’s stressful, I always feel like I have to get it 100% right, and it makes my food stale in the fridge. It also requires you to dedicate multiple hours to cooking, which… honestly I’m just not about that life.
So, to cater to the folks like me who want to eat healthy, but don’t want to deal with all the stress and perfectionism associated with meal prep, (and you already have an idea what healthy eating looks like) I have two solutions for you.
Solution 1: Just Cook
Yeah, I said it. Just cook. I’m not trying to be sassy, but think about it. If it’s the math of meal prep that stresses you out, then don’t meal prep. Or rather, don’t call it meal prep. Just call it cooking, because that’s what it is.
The philosophy behind “just cooking” is you focus on food choices when picking recipes, rather than quantity or food weight, and simply make sure to cook more than you need. Then, the portion-measuring comes after you’ve cooked, when you’re making your plates/leftover containers. So, the main difference between mini meal-prep and just cooking is that you’re not looking ahead at how many days and servings you need to plan for. You’re just intentionally cooking more of the recipe than usual.
So, if you’re cooking for two people, that’s two-servings needed for one dinner (for meals with no leftovers). If you normally would cut a 4-serving recipe in half and cook that, just cook the 4-serving (or 6- or 8-serving) recipe instead. If you’re cooking for a whole family, you may need to double (or triple) your recipe, but that will be a lot easier than calculating exactly what weight your protein needs to be.
And, since most recipes (at least American ones) have large serving sizes, you typically can get a little more out of each recipe than the recipe says if you’re being true to your own personal serving sizes. Anyway, the point is, you’ll be left with leftovers, and that’s really all meal-prepping is, at its core.
If it sounds like a lot of cooking to you, guess what: it’s about 3 days of cooking (even 2 if you make a REALLY big batch), depending on the number of servings in your recipe. Family style recipes (casseroles, stews, soups, and chilis etc) are your friend.
This meal prep style is ideal for you if:
- The idea of math and food is stressful to you, and it’s preventing you from eating heathy.
- You’re cooking for a family or more than one person, and calculating what you need to buy and cook gets really complicated.
- You don’t have a ton of space in your fridge for food storage, in general.
- You don’t mind cooking more than once, if it means your food tastes fresher.
- You want a little variety in what you eat every day (for gut reasons or personal preferences).
- Budget is somewhat important to you, but you’d rather buy smaller quantities for variety.
Pro’s of this meal-prep style:
- Slightly less meal planning. This is so much more approachable compared to other meal prep, and is an easier first step to getting used to cooking at home. You literally don’t have to plan, you just cook extra and box up your leftovers.
- Your food will be fresher, because it won’t hang out in fridge too long.
- As with mini meal preps, food doesn’t get boring as quickly! You can get creative with 3 different recipes in a week, or you can keep it simple with 2 recipes only. Choose your own adventure y’all.
- If you have family members who are resistant to meal prep, cooking a lot and having left overs is not an alien concept, and can help be a stepping stone for traditional meal prep or mini meal preps.
Con’s of this meal-prep style:
- You cook 2-3 days per week. If you’d rather just get it all done at once or twice and not have to cook for a while, traditional meal prep or mini-meal prep is a better option.
- Much like with the mini meal prep, since you’re cooking fewer servings at a time, there is a greater risk of food waste if you have high variety in your recipes AND still shop wholesale. Food waste is both bad for your wallet and bad for the environment.
- And, again, like mini meal prep, if you don’t like cooking, you might be more prone to getting tired of cooking halfway through the week, opting for takeout instead, which, again, can lead to food waste (and plastic waste), make a dent in your wallet, and mean not adhering to your nutritional requirements.
Solution 2: Meal Delivery / Meal Prep Services
Meal delivery services have become a fixture in many households. They may not be traditionally thought of as a “meal prep” option due to the whole “pre-portioned ingredients” thing, but meal delivery options take many different forms. From “cook it yourself” meal kits, to pre-made, pre-portioned meals that simply need to be reheated, to buying pre-portioned ingredients or cooked food on an à la carte (per macronutrient) basis – so they certainly are not one-size fits all.
Below are a few popular companies that are shipping to most states (some only ship to continental 48 US states, so if you live HI or AK… aloha! and double check)
Pre-portioned, “cook it yourself” ingredient meal kits
$$$ (Higher end): SunBasket, BlueApron, HelloFresh, Green Chef
$$ (Mid-range): Marley Spoon, Home Chef
$ (Budget-Friendly): EveryPlate, Dinnerly
Pre-made, reheatable meals
Freshly, SunBasket, Trifecta Nutrition, Snap Kitchen, Factor Meals, Mighty Meals, Eat Clean Bro
(also, Muscle Maker Grill, which has physical locations all over the country)
À la cart pre-made food (per macro)
Trifecta Nutrition, Fuel Meals, Mighty Meals, Eat Clean Bro
This meal prep style is ideal for you if:
- While you don’t mind doing *some* math, the thought of planning and cooking is stressful, and it’s preventing you from eating heathy.
- Grocery shopping is inconvenient and requires you to drive somewhere to get groceries.
- You are cooking/ordering for yourself and/or your partner (or a roommate), and it’s not too hard to figure out how much you need. For example:
1 recipe for “4 people” = 1 day of lunch and dinner for 2 people;
1 recipe for “4 people” = 2 days of lunch and dinner for 1 person
- For the pre-portioned meal kits:
You don’t mind cooking more than once in a week, want to improve your cooking skills, and would rather save some money.
For the pre-made meals:
You would rather not cook at all, and don’t mind if macros aren’t perfect*
For the à la carte meals:
You would rather not cook at all, and care more about the macros.
- Budget is important enough to not order takeout/not have a personal chef, but your real priority is having planning taken care of for you.
* If you are very new to meal prep and macro portioning, I would avoid going with pre-made meals to start, since it can be difficult to accurately “eyeball” or estimate proper portions from a pre-made plate (especially if the dish is saucy or has processed ingredients, which can make them hard to estimate, calorically). If you do get pre-made made meals, make sure to read the nutrition facts so that you can properly portion (or divide) the serving into a size that is appropriate for your goals.
Pro’s of this meal-prep style:
- Depending on which type of delivery style you pick, you might not have to cook at all.
If you choose a meal kit to cook, it can be a lot more affordable than ordering prepared meals or takeout (some as low as $4.99/serving).
- You can adapt or pause your subscription if you feel like cooking some days or weeks.
- Nearly zero meal planning. Since the companies you’re paying are planning the recipes, all you need to do is pick your preferred meals based on good food choices and decide what YOUR serving size is going to look like.
- Food doesn’t get boring at all. You have a decent number of recipes and foods to choose from, while not having to dig into internet archives to find good recipes.
- Little to no grocery shopping. Food just gets delivered to you! Some companies also offer the ability to buy (sometimes at a discount) other groceries like breakfast items or snacks which ship in the same box as the meals themselves.
- Some delivery services offer pre-prepped ingredients, which can decrease the time (and effort) spent chopping and slicing (see below for the negatives of this)
- Less food waste since you are only purchasing exactly the ingredients (or meals) you need, and won’t get tempted by grocery store impulse buys.
Con’s of this meal-prep style:
- If you opt for pre-cooked, macro-balanced meals, it will cost more than $10 per serving. Some get the price down to $8.99, but this can add up as your number of servings increases.
- You can definitely get cheaper groceries (and therefore, cheaper meals) in stores like Aldi and wholesale stores, so it’s not like the plan will save you money compared to grocery shopping for meal prep.
- If you want to save some money, you still have to prep and cook the meal kits. So you’ll still have to dedicate 15-45 min to cooking every day (or every other day at a minimum)
- It’s not like your existing pantry and stocked fridge disappears – so you’ll still have some food waste unless you plan to eat exclusively from your fridge/pantry for a week or so before switching.
- Most meal delivery services create massive amounts of un-recyclable, un-compostable plastic waste. While the outer packaging, gel ice packs, and insulation may be recyclable/compostable (check with the company to see how to dispose of them), that does not address the fact that sauces, spices, rice, pasta, and other ingredients come in many tiny packets and baggies. While many companies are working to decrease waste, and plastic films are recyclable at some grocery stores, it’s not as sustainable as buying in bulk (and actually using in bulk).
- And, again, if you don’t like cooking, you might be more prone to getting tired of cooking halfway through the week (if you choose the cooking kit options) and may opt for takeout instead, which, again, can lead to food waste (and plastic waste) (and can make a dent in your wallet)
Your assignment: To have some easy family-style recipes or meal delivery servings on standby so that, if you have a busy week coming up, you’ve got something in your tool belt to reference and use so that you don’t fall off track. Just make sure they have decent macros that are at least close to what you plan to eat.
Hope this guide helped! What are some meal prep hacks you’ve used over the years? Let me know in the comments. And, If there’s some other healthy lifestyle guide that you’d like to see, let me know!