- Review your food prep vision board - Pinterest, Instagram, wherever you get your daily dose of meal-shaming. What account makes you feel most culinarily inferior? Is there a certain food stylist whose food beauty standards are wildly unrealistic? Start there and work your way back. I’d allow several hours for this step; even the most experienced food preppers can scroll into a social Bermuda Triangle and emerge “52 weeks ago” on a stuffed zucchini boat. 1-3 hours.
- Prep your prep containers. Think of your hunger next week as a blank canvas with endless possibilities of mason jars. Tall, short, wide-mouth, curvy - whatever your need, Ball has got your back. Anyone who has ever felt the intense pleasure of putting loose objects into a single receptacle will probably have several on hand, but if not, place your Amazon order and allow 2 excruciating days for delivery. 0 to 48 hours.
- Assemble your ingredients for prep, starting with the vegetables. With a Brigade knife, swiftly behead any lettuce, broccoli or squash. You’ll want to avoid using a dull knife and having to saw back and forth; give them a clean, dignified end. (I haven’t read any studies proving that vegetables don’t feel pain; I once opened up a spaghetti squash to a scene more gruesome than anything in Saw I, II or 9.) 20 minutes.
- Cook your grains. Depending on your present hunger, boiling water can take anywhere from 12 minutes to the actual cook time of quinoa, 4 lifetimes. Unknown.
- Prep your proteins, meat or otherwise. This part is all about intuition (just make sure nothing is pink or bleeding.) 45 minutes.
- For Breathitarians, draw in cosmic energy from the universe, exhale and set it aside in a large mixing bowl to be separated into the mason jars later. 11 seconds.
- Time your prep to end with the “golden hour,” then set up your tripod and lay out the assorted wedding photo booth props in case your stir-fry wants to wear an adorable mustache. Take a series of shots that say “maybe too busy to eat off of a plate, but definitely not too busy to line up matching meal prep containers with laser precision.” 1-3 hours.
- Try not to eat all of the food. 7 days.
Packing your lunch used to be a pretty unsexy event; wrapping a sandwich in tin foil, or sticking some leftovers in a Chinese food container did not a Snapchat make. But not anymore. Prepping a lunch in advance (or any meal) has gone the way of a Kanye West fashion show - a basic concept, bussed out to Roosevelt Island and made to march down the sidewalk in 3/4s of a stiletto. It has become over the top, painful and not a food proposition, a human proposition. (Kanye has a way with words that makes me think one of us doesn’t know how to use them.)
Meal prepping doesn’t need to take hours and it doesn’t require elaborate recipes. It doesn't need to be “inspired” and it doesn’t need to look adorable or edgy or like anything other than nourishing food. You don’t need to do it with two toddlers hanging on to your ankles to feel accomplished, hell you don’t need to do it at all. Plenty of people still cook their meals and eat them in the same day; it’s the hard core masochists who willingly choose to cook piles of delicious food and then put it away.
That being said, it is much easier to resist the temptation of homemade meals calling your name from the fridge than it is to resist the food truck outside, also calling your name, if your name were “melted cheese.” The only real requirements for successful meal prep are 1) that it won’t ruin your weekend 2) that you will look forward to eating whatever you make and 3) whatever you make won’t taste like or become sidewalk garbage after day three. (Fruit cut on a Monday will not taste as good on Friday; this is just a truth of adulthood and just one of the many instafood-fashion myths I will debunk in this blog.)
Here’s some actual advice on meal prep that anyone can implement:
- Don’t skimp on the basics. The surest way to lose hours of your weekend attempting to save time during the week is using the wrong tools. Chopping an onion with a dull knife is like trying to listen to the new Jay-Z album on Spotify: impossible because Jay-Z won’t allow it (and he once made a song cry.) Get your Brigade knife as soon as it’s available. Sign up for the newsletter here for the latest updates.
- Don’t over achieve. Keep recipes simple. The point of meal prep is to make your work week less stressful, but if the process winds up ruining an entire Sunday running back and forth between Trader Joe’s and Pinterest, then it’s probably not achieving its goal. Use sites like Yummly for customized meal ideas, allowing you to search by the ingredients you want to use so you can cook with what you already have. Random recipe selection is a prelude to failure; building up a pantry takes time, so you can’t beat yourself up if you don’t have a coop of Cornish game hens on hand.
- Give in to the lunch box. And the ice pack. These things were terribly unsexy back in the day, and somehow never lost their scent of bologna, no matter what was inside. Luckily, the lunch box has grown up with us to become equal parts functional and stylish. Stanley makes an old school steel lunchbox that’s perfect for tough commutes and keeping your meals unsquished (even if it is just a bologna sandwich). For subway commutes, an insulated neoprene bag (many styles available on Amazon) does the trick. It can fit in a briefcase or by your side and its soft exterior won’t injure any fellow riders if the train comes to a sudden stop, or less likely, a sudden start. Investing in a small ice pack is a purchase you won’t regret. It means you are not dependent on the break room fridge, which was last cleaned 4 years before you were hired.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew…within a couple of days. Food tastes better fresh and produce lasts longer unwashed and uncut. Prep just 2- 3 days at a time so you actually have space in your fridge for your meal containers - most city apartments don’t come with walk in bedrooms, let alone refrigerators. Taking it a few days at a time means less risk of waste because of something going bad (or you becoming bored or unsatisfied, that feeling of satiety you don’t get after a meal you didn’t enjoy).
- Eat with your eyes, then your mouth but never your coworker’s nose. Some things smell like heaven when you’re eating them, but awful when anyone else even says the word “tuna.” If you’re going to make something fragrant, then make plans to eat outside or to fumigate your cubicle afterwards. Everyone deserves food-odorless stale office air,
- Mason Jars. There is a reason they work, and it’s not just aesthetic. They are reusable, microwavable, easy to clean and leak-proof. But they are glass, and if you know you are not to be trusted, or If a mason jar just isn’t your thing, Sistema makes airtight, BPA-free plastic containers that you can microwave, freeze or punt down a football field (not recommended while frozen).
- Save your food porn shots for the good stuff. A massive post-hangover frittata, Sunday sauce cooking in your Brigade pan, the Cornish game hens playing in the backyard - share these with the world and keep an air of mystery around your lunch food game.
Note: Neither Kanye West nor Jay-Z consented to being referenced in the same article, but the author is hopeful that they will get back together soon, go to the spot where the food get grilled and [order] the Kobe beef like Shaquille O’Neal. I mean, not the beef. Some other meat.