I recently decided to take charge of my life, my food, and my bank account. After taking a peek at my finances and realizing that $9 a day on avocado toast isn't a sustainable way of life, I knew there was only one thing to do: meal prep.
But here's the caveat — I get bored eating the same thing every day (yeah, even avocado toast), and in general, I hate leftovers. I assumed that with meal prep, I'd be stuck on a glorified version of a leftover meal plan, and that sounded pretty miserable (OK, I'm whining, not miserable but also not awesome). Then it dawned on me: meal prep doesn't mean making a bunch of the same meal for the whole week . . . and I discovered that added variety doesn't always mean added prep time. Let me explain.
It's all about mixing and matching — what, and how much, can you make with your pre-cooked, portioned ingredients? I just prepped a bunch of chicken and quinoa, in separate containers. I'm not going to have the same chicken quinoa bowl every day — I think I'd hate that by day two, and end up chucking my pre-made food and walking across the street for my overpriced toast. To keep the variety (it really is the spice of life), I picked a few different recipes from my arsenal (read: Pinterest) that use chicken and quinoa — and they're all totally different.
I can also make quinoa bowls that don't have chicken (hello, maple cinnamon breakfast porridge!) and chicken recipes that don't use quinoa, like an arugula chicken salad. But my chicken is cooked and portioned out, and my quinoa is in Tupperware ready to go. Same amount of cook time, but I have flexible ingredients that work for multiple recipes, allowing for a varied weekly menu.
Setting up portioned-out packs is essential to maintaining variety throughout the week. Cooked grains can be used in things like salads, bowls, and hot meals for dinner. Portioned veggies can be tossed into a salad or smoothie, or served up as a side. Sliced up fruit can go on salads or chia pudding, or be blended into a quick smoothie, too.
That's how my meal prep started, actually; at any given moment, you can find at least four or five bags of frozen banana chunks in my freezer (I make a lot of smoothies, honestly). But it's never the same smoothie — I make protein shakes, fruit and cream smoothies, and green drinks. Just apply this to other foods and voilà: you've gone from setting your money on fire weekly via takeout, to meal-prepping goddess.
Paleo blogger Cassy Joy Garcia — and author of the cookbook Fed + Fit — can back me up on this. Mixing and matching is actually one of her favorite tips for meal prep — she recommends portioning out individual packs for the freezer. When "your proteins, starches, and veggies are all frozen in individual servings, you can mix and match at mealtime," she said in a blog post.
So take it from both of us, a Paleo prepping pro and a layperson just trying to figure out the meal prepping world, one freezer pack at a time: having an arsenal of prepped ingredients to mix and match not only will make your meal prepping easier, but will also give your more exciting variety and tastier meals during the week.