person cooking
Kathrin Ziegler/Getty Images

We've all seen the Instagram posts of beautifully organized fridges. The ones stocked with prepared meals and piles of produce. But what if you don't have every Sunday to dedicate to hours of meal prep? Are you destined to be the takeout queen forever?

The average American who orders in spends $1,175 a year on takeout. In case you don't want to do the math, that's roughly $70,000 over an average lifetime. Think of all the things you could buy, trips you could take, or how much earlier you could retire if you saved that $70,000!

Now that we've sufficiently scared you into wanting to cook, here are strategies (and recipes!) that will make meal prep a breeze.


The Method

Pick two days to cook and assemble per week. That way, you're not doing all of the work on one day, and you can switch things up mid-week so your tastebuds don't get bored. My recommendation: Sunday afternoons and Wednesday nights.

Photo by Alisha Hieb on Unsplash.


Breakfast

The most important meal of the day, and arguably the one skipped the most. For all my fellow morning haters, getting up 10 minutes early to eat breakfast sounds terrible. Instead of skipping breakfast, try going to bed 10 minutes earlier, or making a grab and go option the night before to eat at your desk.

If your office has a well-equipped kitchen, you could leave food at the office for a quick assembly breakfast before your first meeting. Or if all else fails, keep a stash of homemade granola bars in your desk and grab a banana from the office kitchen. Voila, breakfast!


Recipes to Try:

Peanut Butter Overnight Oats

Make Ahead Yogurt Parfaits

Healthy 5-Ingredient Granola Bars

Photo by Nathalie Jolie on Unsplash.


Lunch

We all have those days where you look up and it's 12:50PM. You're borderline hangry and your next meeting starts in 10 mins. You don't have time to run out to grab something, so what do you do? Wouldn't it be nice if you had a packed option waiting for you in the fridge?

Next week, try bringing your lunch to work for three days. With your chopped salad addiction down to only two days, it will feel more like a treat. Plus, you can pocket that extra $30+.

Prep a big batch of your favorite hearty soup over the weekend and store in individual containers. Or, make a big batch of your favorite grain, roast two or three different kinds of vegetables and mix and match them.


Recipes to Try:

Mediterranean Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Lemony Lentil Soup

Best Easy Italian Pasta Salad

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash.


Dinner

Coming home after 8+ hours at the office and sitting in traffic (or getting delayed on mass transit) does not make for an ideal cooking mindset. To beat the urge to pull out your phone and hit reorder at your favorite sushi place, set yourself up for success. If you ate out at lunch, commit to cooking dinner, but make something that will take less than 30 minutes.

And remember to give yourself some grace. If you ate in all week, and are craving the Thursday pad thai special from the place down the street, order it. It's about balance rather than a rigid structure.



If you are cooking tonight, try a frittata with a simple salad, or a sheet pan meal that you can prep in 5 minutes and sit on the couch while it bakes.

Another pro tip. Pack a "way home" apple or equally healthy snack in your bag. That way, you'll be less hangry and less likely to hit the order button or grab an unhealthy option. It will also hold you over until you can finish cooking.


Recipes to Try:

Sausage and Potato Roast with Arugula

A Customizable Frittata

Summer Garden Pasta Recipe Plan ahead and marinate the tomatoes before you leave for work.


Snacks

No 3PM slump is complete without a good snack (or caffeine, for that matter). If your office isn't stocked with snacks, bring some homemade trail mix or a few energy balls to hold you over until dinner.


The Reward

Set a goal for yourself. Maybe it's to bring lunch everyday for a week. Or to meal prep on Sundays. When you hit your goal, reward yourself! Take the money you saved by cooking and buy your favorite extravagant coffee drink tomorrow morning, or stash the saved cash and use it to buy something you really want, not just another deli salad.



A little prep can go a long way. Start with these simple and delicious recipes, and I bet you'll be inspired to keep cooking.