When the school year ends and the summer begins, some of us are not so fortunate as to be spending much of our time in the sun. For those of you who, like me, have a summer job, don’t worry. You are not alone.

This summer, I have been inside more hours than not, hoping the day will pass by quickly, praying that it will still be light out by the time I get home, and always needing a healthy snack to wake me up and a good lunch to keep me going. I have been getting pretty tired of my summer days being consumed by work and cooking.

As I began my summer job, I felt as though all I did with my day was go to work and then come home, with enough time left to make dinner, and prepare lunch and breakfast for the next day. Sick of wasting away my summer days indoors, I began meal prepping. And I’m never going back. So let me just warn you now: once you start, you will never stop!

Meal prepping is a lifesaver. It’s easy, saves you time and allows you to enjoy your long summer days. Every Sunday, or even Monday if I had a busy weekend, I did all the cooking I needed to carry me through the work week. Once I began meal prepping, I was no longer hungry at work and found I could concentrate way better with my good food on hand. I was so used to being on a college campus where I could easily grab a snack whenever I wanted, for that little burst of energy or for some protein and brain power. So when I could no longer do that at my full-time job, I wasn’t prepared. In order to fight hunger and stay motivated at work, I found all the answers I needed in meal prepping.

Usually, I begin my meal prep on Sunday nights, after I’ve eaten dinner and am otherwise just watching Netflix.

Step 1: Roast some VEGGIES.

I will fill up an oven tray of all the veggies I want for the week. These can be whatever vegetables I feel like, but usually this consists of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, Portobello mushrooms, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, or really anything else I have in the refrigerator.

I simply cut them up, place them on a tray with a little bit of Pam (olive oil works too!) so nothing sticks, and place the tray into my 400-degree, pre-heated oven. Then, I go about my usual nightly routine; and by the time I’m done, so are my veggies.

Step 2: Prep some GRAINS.

In addition, I often like to pair my veggies with quinoa. Though, any other grain you want (rice, barley, farro, etc.) would work! Grains are also so simple to make. Just throw the dry grains in a pot with some water, bring to a boil, and let it simmer slowly over low heat. I usually make 2 cups of dry quinoa, which usually lasts me 2 weeks. But you can experiment with different amounts to see how much you usually eat. While the oven with the veggies is going, I make the quinoa over the stove and periodically stir it.

The best thing about this meal prep is that it is really all hands off. Once you start cooking, you can step away or watch TV without having to be attentive.

Step 3: Get yo’ PROTEIN.

Since I’m a vegetarian, I stick with veggies and quinoa. When I make my meals, I make sure I get protein from other sources, such as eggs, beans, etc.

But for the meat eaters out there, putting some lightly seasoned chicken in the oven with the veggies will have the same effect.

Step 4: Pack away for later.

After everything is done I simple place everything in large plastic containers and stack them in the fridge. That way, I can take from them as needed throughout the week.

Step 5: Plan for some snacks.

I also found that when I’m working a full day, having a snack in the afternoon gives me the momentum I need to keep going ‘till 5.

These snacks don’t have to be complicated! Some easy and simple snacks I often find myself taking are apples with peanut butter, or hummus and carrots. These don’t require any preparation and they’ve got the nutrients to keep you full during the day. For some more great snack ideas, check out this article.

Since I’m not fortunate enough to be spending my summer working on my tan or traveling, I’m embracing the summer in other ways. For instance, I use fruits and veggies that are in season, which gives me that feeling that summer is in the air!

My favorites are watermelon and mint. If you cut up watermelon into cubes and sprinkle some fresh cut mint, you can leave the fruit in the refrigerator overnight and have your watermelon infused with minty freshness when you wake up. This stays in the fridge for awhile, and the longer you let it sit the better it tastes.

So why else should you meal prep? Meal prepping encourages me to make healthier choices. After a long day at work, I’m tired and it’s easy for me to just grab the easiest and fastest option for dinner (aka, a cereal).

But….meal prepping encourages you to eat better and heathier. Now when I get home, I have healthier options right at my fingertips. All I have to do is just heat up some veggies, put it on a bed of quinoa, and drizzle a little olive oil on top. BAM healthy and delicious meal, in literally one minute. And if you get bored of eating the same thing, the grains and veggies are easy to jazz up with spices and other quick flavor-additions. (Lemon juice, hot sauce, or soy sauce, for example, are all great ways to easily add flavor.)

The healthy options are now easier and faster for me to eat than the unhealthy options. I can put the veggies on top of anything: kale, pasta, throw an egg on top for protein… It all works together! After this experience, I will probably continue to do meal prepping even during the school year. Why not have healthy options on hand? You never know if something is going to come up, and you will have time to prepare a meal in a pinch!

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