Save Money Through Meal Prep (And No, It Doesn't Have to Be Boring!)

I love eating, and I love cooking, too. What I don’t love is coming home from a long day of work and spending 10 minutes staring into an empty refrigerator before I finally pull up Seamless and spending $15 for dinner. So I decided when I moved to New York from Chicago to try meal prepping. I figured it would allow me to always have something ready to go in the fridge and have the added benefits of saving my wallet and my waistline.

Like most millennials with a question, the first thing I did was turn to the internet – Pinterest, to be more exact. Pinterest is a haven for recipes but it was overwhelming to spend so long scrolling through recipes every week when I wanted to cook. So, I decided to take recipes that I knew I would like (and wouldn’t take five hours and $60 dollars to make) and compile them into a Google Doc. Yes, I’m that lame and I love my meal prep Google Doc. (Editor’s note: I took one look at the 17-page document and started salivating. I’ll let you know how Kayla’s meals taste, but the recipes look delicious.)

From here I organized my Google Doc into main dishes and side dishes, and the type of meat used in each recipe. This allows me to make sure that I’m eating a wide variety of foods and I won’t get bored. Then every week I go onto my Doc and pick a recipe or two that I want to make for the week, check the ingredients against what I have in the house and create a ready-to-go shopping list.

The word “prep” is in meal prepping for a reason. It takes a little to get used to planning and shopping for a whole week’s worth of food. It also means taking about three or four hours a day to do all the shopping, cooking and dividing. However, there is no wrong way to do it. Prep when you can, then eat.  

The two golden words in meal prep are flavor and variety. This is so easy with the help of Pinterest recipes. My new favorite words are “one-sheet pan recipes.” It makes a lot of food with very little clean up.

In college I went on a grilled chicken and broccoli diet. After about four days I wanted to cry at the sight of my meal. Never again. Now that I’m meal prepping I am a huge fan of the flavor: sauces, marinades, glazes, literally anything that adds a kick to the meal. Meal prepping allows me to control portions so I’m not as afraid of adding extra calories in a little extra sauce because I still know it's healthier than the Thai food I would have ordered.

Whenever I tell people that I food prep the first thing they say is “I could never eat the same thing every day for a week.” But you can. The name of the game is variety. If I’m going to meal prep for lunch and dinner, I make two different recipes. That way if I can’t stand the sight of another cold falafel at work, I can switch it up and have my planned dinner instead. Go ahead. Break the rules. It’s OK. This is also where the Google Doc comes in handy. Once I’ve made a meal I change the color of the recipe to blue so I can be sure not to repeat the same recipe for a couple of months.

Meal prepping works for me because it allows me to keep track of what I’m eating, always keep food in the house and avoid ordering out every night. A couple of hours of prep, and then my fridge is filled for the rest of the week. It works for me, and maybe it’ll work for you too.

Kayla Cluff is a research and media analyst for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's office.