How to become a Meal-Prepping Improviser

If you’re one of those people who, like clockwork, spends their entire Sunday judiciously prepping breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the whole week ahead and then perfectly divides that prepped food into meal-sized containers before collapsing in a fit of accomplishment and exhaustion, then go ahead and stop reading this right now! You’re doing great. Keep up the good work!

If you’re not one of those people, though, then hopefully this post can help you feel just as accomplished (but perhaps not quite so exhausted).

Yes, meal prepping absolutely helps you to stay on track. But here’s the thing. Even something that works perfectly doesn’t work at all if you don’t do it. So, I’ve compiled some tips to help you “be prepared” without “meal-prepping.”

1. You can always prep part of a meal. We get sucked into the as-seen-on-Instagram narrative of dozens of perfectly proportioned meals spread out proudly on the countertop to last an entire week (and it totally didn’t happen if you didn’t take a picture of it). That’s great, but that’s not always reality. Even if all you have time to do is one thing, like steam some extra asparagus for tomorrow,  do that thing. Something is better than nothing. Let good enough be good though.

2. Buy in bulk and freeze. Even if you didn’t meal prep, Plan B should be something at home. Make sure you actually have food in the house. As much as we all love Chipotle, this is key.

3. While cooking, use the real estate that’s not being used. If you’re pan-frying your dinner, why not throw some sweet potatoes in the oven to roast? It won’t cost you any extra time or kitchen space, but it will help you feel more prepared for tomorrow and the next day.

4. There’s no need to think about prepping for an entire week. Meal-prepping can be fluid and ongoing throughout the week. Small pockets of time while doing housework or while cooking your immediate next meal can be utilized to make something else for later.

5. If nothing else, just make enough for leftovers, and then get used to revamping leftovers. Add leftover veggies to an omelet. Toss cold leftover steak with some leafy greens. Deconstruct sad-looking leftovers by turning it into a hash. I can guarantee it will look more appetizing. A fried egg on top can often come to the rescue as well.

6. And a note on leftovers: simple ingredients can really freshen up any leftover dish. As for me, I always like to have fresh lemons and limes on hand to “wake up” any bland meal. Fresh herbs, like cilantro and basil, can also add some much needed color to already-prepared food. Healthy fats are great for this purpose too. A slightly dry chicken breast can be transformed with a little drizzle of olive oil and hot sauce. Olives and nuts can bring new texture and taste to an already-enjoyed-it-now-kind-of-boring food.

7. Stop Pinterest recipe-hunting! Some of us get too bogged down with having the perfect “recipe.” This process takes a lot of time, energy, and commitment, not to mention a lot of anxiety over whether it will “turn out right.” Think less about “recipes” and more about a foundation of meats, vegetables, and some starchy carbs paired with spices and healthy fats, which can be mixed and matched in virtually any combination to get an entirely different and delicious result every time. Think about flavor profiles you love, and create dishes inspired by those fresh ingredients. Do you love fresh tomato, basil, and black olives? How about pineapple, onion, and bell peppers? Lemon, garlic, and fresh parsley? Congrats, you have begun to build your dish based on the flavors you love. Now you can start to decide on the “meat & potatoes” of the dish, that is, what protein and/or carb will work best with those flavors. The best part of preparing meals this way is that the dish always turns out just right, because it was made intuitively and with love. It may sound backwards, but this is my favorite way to cook. No recipe blog required, just my flavor muse.

8. If you’ve gone through this entire list and you’re still not sure how any of these methods might work for you, let’s reconsider meal-prepping for a moment. Remember, you have the time, you just have different priorities. If you still desire to be a meal-prepping rockstar but continue to fall back on the excuse that you just can’t find the time, consider blocking out a few hours and sticking to it. Make a day out of it! Invite a friend over, prep some food together, and split the final product. Have some fun with it.

9. Make sure your kitchen is clean and ready for use. I like to have a good assortment of plastic containers and glass jars on hand. I also go through a lot of freezer (gallon-sized) Ziplock bags for easy storage as well as parchment paper for easy clean-up. If your kitchen is not a pleasant space (beyond cleanliness, ask yourself, is it a space you enjoy being in?), it might serve you well to address that aspect first. If you live with others, establish some boundaries and room for yourself to express yourself freely and openly in the kitchen.

10. Your week isn’t doomed because it’s Sunday night and you haven’t meal-prepped. On the flip side, if you are a habitual meal-prepper (which we’ve already determined you aren’t, because you’re still reading this), remember that a little improvisation and creativity can go a long way for your overall health and well-being. Don’t become just a really, really good meal-prepper (unless that makes you happy and you see results). Just become someone who makes meals out of real food, and loves it.

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