College life can be extremely busy, from going to classes, participating in extracurriculars, and making sure you have downtime to recharge and do those things again the next day. More often than not, students will opt for takeout or quick microwaveable meals to spend as much time as possible with other activities. I will admit that I was one of those students for the first few weeks at college but realized quickly that something needed to change.
Eating greasy pizza and fries smothered in ranch every other day definitely satisfied my cravings, but I was feeling bloated and fatigued after a while. Meal-prepping was something I’ve always wanted to try since before I moved across the country to Philadelphia, and I decided with having to attend in-person classes that now was the time to do so. Almost two months into the fall semester, I want to say I have gotten quite good at it! I am still learning as I go along and meal prep with my significant other weekly, but I have amassed some steps and tips to go by to make meal prepping fun.
• Invest in meal prep containers and kitchen essentials
Before you start to meal prep, it is always a good idea to get dedicated containers that will hold portions of your food evenly. Microwave-safe food containers you already have on hand might work, but having even uniformity and consistency with each meal container is something you learn to appreciate when all you can think about is your next meal. I recommend the reusable plastic “bento box” style containers that are BPA-free and stackable to keep your fridge organized.
Something else to note is that, if you are going from an exclusively takeout lifestyle to starting to make things from scratch, invest in kitchen tools that will make cooking so much easier! A few tools I can’t live without are a meat thermometer, kitchen scale, and a dough bench scraper.
• Find a free day and plan what you want to make
Meal prepping will take a few hours out of your day, from preparing the ingredients to waiting the food to cool down so you can ration it out. I suggest setting aside some time on a weekend or a day you know you don’t have plans to cook. Using a slow cooker or oven recipe can make it more hands-off and less stressful.
A common question about meal prepping is, “Won’t you get bored of eating the same food every week?” and the answer is no! You can switch it up by cooking two or more recipes in one day and alternating. If you don’t want to eat the same thing for an entire week (or however long you want to meal prep), you certainly aren’t obligated to.
Remember that your meals don’t have to be the fanciest or even the healthiest if you’re not feeling up to it that day. There are many cooking blogs and recipes that cater to cooking skill, budget, or dietary need, and it’s better to feed your body whole ingredients instead of processed stuff!
• Double or triple your intended recipe(s)
Depending on how many meals you plan to make in advance, doubling or tripling a recipe will almost always give you enough for at least few days’ worth. I’ve found that following some recipes with the quantity listed was only enough for dinner that night, but your mileage may vary. If you’re not sure, remember to look at how many people a recipe will serve and go from there.
• Divide your meals between fridge and freezer
After your desired amount of food has been made, let it cool down as you get your meal prep containers ready. I like to weigh how much food I’ve made with a kitchen scale and divide that amount by how many containers I’ll be filling.
A general rule of thumb is to put three days’ worth of food in the fridge, and put the rest in the freezer as not to let them go bad after so long. So, if you decide to meal prep your food for the week on Sunday, set aside enough food in the fridge for Wednesday. If you have leftovers, go ahead and put them in the freezer until you want to eat them.
Whenever you get the chance. heat up your meal and dig in! It’s always rewarding for me to know that what I’m eating is something we made ourselves, whether it be pasta, pizza, or traditional Filipino food that reminds me of home. Taking the time to make these meals is a much better alternative than picking up convenience store food or grabbing instant ramen.
Meal prepping can make eating food less of a chore and something that you can look forward to throughout your day. Purchases from the dining services can add up, and it might not be convenient to stand in line when there’s something homemade waiting for you already. I hope these tips can serve as a guideline for what you want to do regarding meal prepping, or at least help you think about saving time and money. At the end of the day, it’s about what you want to eat!