If there’s any valuable adult survival skill I have come to love and so thankful I have learned to love, that would be cooking. I come from a family of cooks, at least from my mother’s side. My mom has her own small-time catering business and my sister worked as a professional chef at a world-class hotel, so imagine the disappointment I had growing up and the only thing I can decently cook is french fries.
All along I thought maybe I just never got this specific genes; maybe I was deep in my sleep when God was showering the joy of cooking because growing up, I was more interested in eating and critiquing the food (not that it is any different now, haha!) but the reality of adulthood caught on and I realized that eating out all the time makes my wallet suffer faster than I could imagine; so I forced myself to learn how to cook. And I have loved it since then.
Would I call myself an expert? Of course not. My palette still needs work, and my knife cuts are something my sister would definitely bully me for. I always reason out that I’m cooking for myself anyway, so why would I care about that much about my goddamn knife cuts? (But seriously, it could do some work).
Meal prep has been my savior since I started working. Few of my motivators to do it were for financial reasons as well as health reasons. I just thought it made better sense as it was more practical to me, a girl with a very limited budget, to cook my own food than to keep buying pre-cooked food or eating out and not getting satisfied with my buck’s worth.
Now, I’m not saying I eat 100% healthy. I do not subscribe as well to certain dietary restrictions. But I could definitely say that my diet has come a looong way, and still longer to go, for me to let go of at least 80% of what I used to indulge on.
Food bought from establishments may taste really good but it is no secret that it is jacked with either too much salt, sugar or butter — which are all not exactly good for your body.
Trust me, putting shit in your body will eventually make you feel equally shitty too. I used to believe it’s an exaggeration when people say that they feel sluggish after a junk feast, until it later happened to me. After three cups of sugar-jacked instant coffee, I still felt sleepy and very low on energy. A night binging on a big bag of chips would make me feel bloated, dry and irritated the next day. Thing is, these bad habits wouldn’t just go in a day. It becomes part of the lifestyle which will later make a negative impact to your health.
If you are like me who loves to meal prep, or at least the idea of it, but still struggles with it, I have here some tips on how to come out of it victorious of your goals:
INVEST. If you are new to cooking, you might notice that you will spend a little bit more than you anticipated. Do not panic; this is normal. It can be anything from utensils, pantry staples, ingredients, cutlery and/or tupperwares. I understand because when I started out, I also felt hesitant about spending on ingredients or items that I thought I wouldn’t make much use of but I later realized that almost everything I cook utilizes the same things. Understand that in the first few weeks, you might have to shell out a little more but later on, your expenses will slowly diminish.
MEAT, CARB, VEGETABLES. If you are stuck thinking of what to cook, it is best to remember to keep your meals balanced. There’s three elements I think should always be present which consists of meat/protein, carbs and vegetables. From that, you can think of sauce, rub, dip or spices to pair it with. So for example, I can have Asian noodles, with broccoli, edamame or sugar snaps peas and some tofu or little bits of chicken as a meal and it already completes my three elements. From there, I could either go for spicy peanut butter, sweet chili or oyster sauce to go with my noodles. I could also go with dirty fried rice, mixed vegetables and some cuts of meat or tofu and some sauce. Tortilla, steak and vegetables with spices can also be an option. As long as you have your three elements, you’re safe and filled.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF. This is more like budgeting, but made more fun. Every week, I challenge myself to only spend about a hundred or so bucks or less, for EVERYTHING. That includes miscellaneous expenses and sneak snacking attacks. I make menus and grocery lists throughout the week, whilst consuming my food I have prepared, and buy my grocery on my day-off and cook my first meal for the week that same night. Setting a strict limit sparks my creativity with how I’ll stretch my money to last the week and which meal I’d put more priority to. If I beat my challenge successfully, I put that straight in my pocket for savings.
MORE RAW INGREDIENTS. A common mistake with beginners is relying on prepared or processed items. I wouldn’t completely blame you; sometimes no one really just have the time to make everything from scratch and/or sometimes it can be cheaper. But bear in mind that certain items are cheaper/better when you prepare it yourself. This can be anything from dips, sauces, soups, cured meats, etc. Just a combination of few simple ingredients and you’ll make something equally good, maybe even better than something store-bought. Raw ingredients also yields a lot more than you think.
CHOOSE VERSATILE INGREDIENTS. The best way to utilize a meal prep is to choose ingredients that you can use for more than 1 dish. Things like onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, eggs, milk/cream, pasta, beans, oatmeal, leafy greens and whatnot. It can always be converted to another meal with the inclusion or omission of one to two ingredients. It is also a smart way of cooking since you are stretching out the use of ingredients.
EAT WHAT YOU TAKE, TAKE WHAT YOU EAT. This is something that my dad has taught me when I was younger. Only take the food you are 100% sure you’re going to eat. This way you wouldn’t overspend or spoil anything which would otherwise just end up in the trash. If you can, try to get 10% less of what you’re supposed to buy. Sometimes it is better to go under than over with food since you can always purchase one more piece of something if you’re still craving for it. In the same vein, only take items you are already eating. Familiarity with the profile of the ingredient helps in meal prepping. I’m not saying it is bad to experiment with fancy/different ingredients at times but you have to make sure that if you try something new, take it in small quantities before you dip your feet full-in.
GET INSPIRATIONS. The internet has conveniently provided us with a plethora of resources to get our inspiration from with almost anything now. Take inspiration from other meal preppers, restaurant take-out menus, restaurant apps, online recipes, Youtube, Pinterest, etc. Trust me, you could at least make 90% of your casual restaurant food, you just prefer the convenience. Instead of paying about 4 to 5 times than the total cost of ingredients, get inspired and get to work with the combination of your current craving and an inspiration taken somewhere.
LEARN THE BASICS. One of the things that make meal prepping fun is that you get to learn and experiment as you go. Learning the basics of techniques, ingredients, basic recipes and whatnot is fundamental in kicking this endeavor in the ass. If you know how to prepare your own tomato, pesto, cream, spicy/smoked, asian sauce, the door to a multitude of opportunities in food will surely present itself to you. After some time you will add your signature to dishes and make it your own.
Takeaway? I have learned over time that to succeed in meal prepping, it takes a lot of getting used to to the act itself, and a lot of adjustments over time. Some people are not comfortable eating the same thing everyday or not really that knowledgeable about different cooking methods or techniques that they just easily give up on it. It’s fine, no worries. The trick is to go slowly, not putting pressure on yourself and just having fun and being creative about it. At the end of the day, meal prepping is supposed to help make eating everyday easier for you. So it doesn’t necessarily have to go in just one way. You can have your own definition of meal prepping that works for you and your eating habits.