For adults returning to college, every day is jam-packed. Work. School. Kids. Errands. Cleaning. Homework. And somewhere on the list is cooking. With everything else going on, it’s easy to place a low priority on meals. However, there’s a better way than fast food and microwave burritos. With a little planning, you can prep meals that are healthier, better-tasting, and a lot less expensive than fast food. Let’s see how meal-prepping can save you time and eliminate one more thing you have to worry about each day.

Plan

Start by picking a day when you have a couple of free hours to cook. For most people, it’s Sunday. Next, think about how many meals you want to prep for the upcoming week. Start slowly – pick 2-3 meals to prep on days that you know you’ll be the busiest.

Think about the meal-prep method that works best for you.

Heat-N-Eat Meals (“I’m feeding a family and I’m REALLY busy!”) – these family-sized meals are made entirely ahead of time so that all you have to do is heat and eat. Think soups, stews, casseroles, etc. for fast weeknight dinners.

Grab-N-Go Portions (It’s just me and I don’t have time to cook.”) – prepare foods a day or two in advance and portion them into individual servings for the ultimate convenience. Think mason jar salads, wraps, overnight oats, smoothies in a bag, etc.

Ready-To-Cook Prep (“I prefer to cook most nights.”) – you’ll be amazed how much time you can save yourself by prepping ingredients a couple of days ahead of time. You can chop fruits and veggies and pre-cook proteins ahead of time – then on a busy night, all your ingredients are ready to be cooked and served. Think chili, salads, stir-fry, rice bowls, shish kabobs, etc.

Freeze-And-Store Meals (“I never know when I’m going to need a quick meal.”) – a great way to do this is COOK ONCE – EAT TWICE. Prepare double or triple batches of meals you love, eat one that night, and freeze the others for use in the weeks to come. Think jambalaya, lasagna, chili, beans, and rice, etc.

Once you have an idea of the prep method(s) you’re going to use, you can select a few meals (keep them simple to save more time) and make your shopping list. As you probably know, the internet is saturated with great recipes for all budgets, styles, and dietary preferences.

Shop

Some people love grocery shopping. Some people hate it. Either way, you have to do it. So here are some tips for making it as smooth as possible.

  1. Limit yourself to ONE trip to the grocery per week.

  2. Make a detailed list – organized by department (produce, meats, dairy, etc.)

  3. Stick to your list!

  4. Stay stocked in staples – always have go-to items with longer shelf-lives in your pantry and freezer (rice, quinoa, beans, canned vegetables, frozen fruits, and vegetables, etc.).

  5. Buy in bulk – save money by buying family packs of meat and then portioning them and freezing them for later.

  6. Wash, prep, and store your fruits and veggies right when you get home. (they’ll stay fresher).

Cook

Here you go! Depending on the recipes and ingredients you use, your meal-prep day can look different every time. Here are some basic tips for getting the most out of your meal-prep.

  1. Keep it simple. Limited ingredients mean faster prep. Chicken and veggies can be combined in countless different ways.

  2. Multitask. You’ll quickly learn how to prepare several meals at the same time. You could have meals cooking on the stove, in the oven, in a crockpot… all while you’re slicing and dicing for another meal.

  3. Speaking of crockpots… This is a great tool for slow cooking large meals that you can then portion and freeze.

  4. Cook in bulk. Pick three recipes that call for grilled chicken and grill all the chicken at once. Chop large amounts of fruits and veggies, then store the extras or keep them for snacking.

  5. Cook and freeze rice. Rice goes with everything and it freezes well. Cook it and portion it out into freezer bags. Then just pop one in the microwave and you’ve got a delicious side dish.

  6. Boil some eggs. Hardboiled eggs keep in the fridge for about a week and can be used in salads or a grab and go snack.

  7. Make multiple sauces. Prepare three meals of chicken or another protein and change them up with different flavor profiles (Asian, Mexican, BBQ, Mediterranean, etc.)

  8. Cool before freezing. Let everything cool to room temperature before putting it into the freezer.

  9. Save your recipes. Well, just the good ones.

Store

First – make sure you have quality food storage containers. In addition to zip freezer bags of all sizes, and perhaps some Mason jars, you should invest in a set of glass containers with locking lids. These should be dishwasher and microwave safe at least… oven-safe is even better! (If you have to go with plastic, make sure it’s BPA-free.)

Label and date everything so you know what it is and when you put it in the freezer. Below is a chart from foodsafety.gov showing recommended refrigerator/freezer life for common food categories. A more extensive list is available at the website.

 

Eat

Last, but not least, enjoy the fruits of your prepping labor. Meals that take less time to prepare mean you have more time to spend relaxing or with family. Or catching up on one of the other items on your busy schedule.

Prep for completing your degree

Just like prepping meals, preparing for going back and completing your degree gives you an advantage and a higher likelihood of success. The Complete 2 Compete program helps Mississippi adults identify the clearest pathway to completing their degrees. In addition to offering financial assistance, program participants receive the support of a C2C Coach – who will help navigate the process of completing your degree.