Questions I Get Asked A Lot: The Meal Prep Edition

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I love answering questions about my meal prep practices. It’s a more personable way to help others find their footing in the vast world of health — a world that often does not genuinely acknowledge how hard it is to make a lifestyle change.

I’d argue that it’s even tougher depending on where you come from. As a poor black kid from a fairly small town in North Carolina, I ain’t really know nothing about cooking tasty food in a healthy way. I thought healthy food was disgusting and not for me. I also didn’t know how to find time to meal prep or how to put together simple, yet creative recipes. 

And, truthfully, both of these things can still be tough. Being creative with food is fun some days. On others, I find myself stuck in a rut or trying something I thought I would like but it turns out I hate it. I decline invitations to social gatherings in order to meal prep, which is a sacrifice I think is worth it now. I’d rather not hit that brunch than spend all week eating out, feeling guilty about it and then spiraling into a depression driven by my body consciousness (Seriously, this happens to me all the time). 

But, at first? It really sucked to turn down drinking mimosas with my friends in order to cook food that I didn’t think was as good as chicken and waffles. There are days when I feel like I’m always on the go because I have such a strict routine. There are days when I would love to lounge around and not prep, workout or do my job. But my discipline, dedication and scheduled downtime — go ahead and laugh. I know it sounds crazy — is why I’m able to move so effectively in the kitchen and in life generally. Before I incorporated structure into my life, I was never as productive or as happy as I am now. Everyday, every moment has a known purpose. I feel more alive this way.

As I said in my post on mastering meal prep: “This, like most health-related things, is a labor of love. You do this because you want to improve your quality of life.” 

It will not always be fun. You will not always want to cook. But it boils down to how serious you are about making this a pillar of your lifestyle. That seriousness will fluctuate depending on the day — and that’s perfectly fine. If you fall off, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back to it as soon as you can. Nobody is perfect and it’s okay not to be. It’s okay to take a long time to figure out what works for you. You will one day. Keep at it. 

Aight, let’s get into y’all’s questions. 

How do I stay consistent with meal prepping when other factors like work take up so much time and energy?

Remember why you’re meal prepping. Try to view it as a ritual that is adding value to your life instead of a tedious chore. This will help you stick to it. You can also try playing music or listening to a podcast you love while you cook. Make it a thing, make it a dance session, make it that day of the week when you scream Beyoncé lyrics loudly and off-key.

My meal prep is the one day a week where I focus only on myself. I blast music. I find peace in mimicking the food preparation tactics of my great-grandmother who spent every Sunday, like I do now, in the kitchen making sure we could eat that week. It brings me closer to her. It relaxes me. I love being intentional with my food and focusing on taking care of my body. 

Make it a ritual that brings you peace. 

How do I make the time to meal prep?

It has to work for you and your schedule. The short answer is to do it whenever you have time. If you brunch every Sunday and then go drunk shopping — do not judge me — then don’t schedule meal prepping on Sundays. But if you spend Saturday evenings at home, maybe that’s a good time for you to prepare your foods. 

Take note of your schedule and when you have legitimate free time. 

And, before y’all start, you have more than you think you do. Pay attention to when you’re not doing anything, how long you aren’t doing anything and start incorporating prepping into your routine. This may take a while. But the process does not have to be perfect looking, just perfect for you and your life. Don’t try to do what other people do. Make meal prepping your lane. You can do this. I believe in you. 

I eat plant based or 100% vegetarian/vegan meals. How do I make them more filling?

There’s a few ways to do this but, generally, strive to increase the protein, fiber and healthy fat content in your meals. You can do this by adding beans, quinoa, avocado, nuts, seeds and eggs (if vegetarian). 

Also, I’ve found it helpful to increase my portions and eat more throughout the day. If you’re plant based and working out, you’re going to need more food because plants and beans are often not as filling as meat. It also tends to digest faster. And don’t worry about your calorie restrictions. Just focus on eating whole, nutritious foods and not being hungry! 

How do I avoid spending way too much money with meal prep?

Great question. I got some hacks for you because I am cheap/broke/life is expensive. I’m a Trader Joe’s fanatic. I find they have the best prices but their selection is limited. If you can’t find something at Trader Joe’s, you can find it at Whole Foods or your local organic shop but it’s probably going to be more expensive. 

Sometimes you have to take the L and spend the money. Other times, you can find it at a reasonable price on Amazon or in a store like Bed Bath and Beyond (good spices and other items). 

If you live in a town where none of these stores exist and Amazon isn’t going to be an immediate help, you can save money by buying canned and frozen goods. Veggies and fruit are frozen at their peak freshness so that’s a plus. Canned goods are also useful (make sure they’re low sodium). The farmer’s market is also your friend. You’ll save money and the food will be of a higher quality. 

As far as quantity goes, if you plan your meals out beforehand you can avoid overbuying produce. I make grocery lists with how much of each item is needed and I stick to it (see photo below). I don't buy anything extra. Sticking to whats on the list has helped me save money and stop eating a lot of snacks since I love to grab a pack of candy during checkout. 

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How can I be extra careful about things spoiling?

There are a few ways to prevent food waste! 

  • Make sure you’re storing your food properly.

    • Halved avocado: Squeeze half a lemon on the half containing the seed before wrapping it in plastic wrap or placing it in a ziploc bag. Make sure to squeeze all the air out.

    • Tomatoes, apples, lemons: Store them on the countertop in a well ventilated container. (I use a fruit bowl.)

    • Greens: Place them in a plastic bag, squeeze out the air and put them in a your refrigerator’s crisper drawer.

    • Unwrapped onions and garlic: Keep them in a cool dark place like a pantry or cabinet.

    • Berries: Keep in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

    • Plums, peaches, mangoes: Keep in the fridge drawer for 3-5 days or in a fruit bowl on the counter.

    • Cut onions: Keep in a plastic bag for three to five days in the refrigerator. If you want them to last longer, you can cut them up and freeze them.

  • Use your freezer

    • If you’re not cooking meat within 24 hours, freeze it.

    • Store leftovers for up to a month

There’s lots of food storage advice out there! I’d also recommend keeping your fridge fairly cold. And if you buy something fresh that doesn’t go bad within a week — fruit, greens, etc. — don’t buy it again. You probably don’t want to be eating all those chemicals.

Just saying. 

How did you integrate new “white people” food into you diet?

I did it very slowly with things that were cheap. Chia and hemp seeds have high nutritional value so I would throw them in smoothies. Then I moved on to things like kombucha before I started going in on maca powder, spirulina, ashwagandha and shit like that. Next thing you know I’m making chia seed pudding garnished with fresh dragonfruit and bee pollen (I'm kidding. I don't eat bee pollen. I got allergies and consuming what is basically bee shit bothers me.) 

One thing that helped motivate me to try new foods is remembering that most nutritious fruits and veggies have roots in indigenous culture. So when people of color eat this food, we’re eating things that were likely native to our ancestors. I grew up eating squash, zucchini, kale — yes, kale is a Southern black green — creasy greens, green beans, corn, beans, plums, peaches, pecans, melons, all that. I went with my grandmother to pick her kale out of small local gardens. Shit, I cracked pecans with my hands up until I moved to a city.  

Granted, those foods weren’t always prepared in a healthy way. And I didn’t grow up on chia seeds, dragon fruit and nutritional yeast. But, like the stuff I ate growing up, it wasn’t hard to incorporate it into my diet successfully once I figured out how to prepare it to my liking. (It’s also okay to not like all that wild sounding shit. It can be expensive anyway.) 

We think it’s white people food because we aren’t taught how to prepare it in a healthy and equally delicious way. We’re often only exposed to white food bloggers. And it can be expensive. But this food is for us, too. 

But TL;DR — start off slow and know that this food is for you too! 

How do I handle random cravings? 

I have a general mantra about food that helps me with cravings: No food is good or bad. It’s just food. Of course, some foods are more nutritious and research tells us that you should make the bulk of your diet healthy, whole foods. 

So what I do is wait the craving out for 24 hours. If I want brownies at 4PM on Tuesday, I’ll hold off until 4PM on Wednesday. If I still want the brownie in 24 hours, I’ll have one. (Keyword: ONE.) Usually, the craving passes on its own and I don’t end up eating whatever it is I’m craving. Other times, I still want the brownie.  This helps me gauge if I really want something or if I’m just hungry. If I want the brownie and I eat it, I don’t beat myself up because it’s one brownie that I clearly wanted bad enough to still feign for it 24 hours later. This loops back to my food mantra. The brownie was food that I happened to be craving. No big deal. I ate one, it’s over, it was delicious. 

How do I handle random changes to my schedule?

Whew, this is hard especially when the changes are last minute. If you’ve cooked for the week, I would say eat the food you’ve prepared when you can and try to grab healthy snacks. Also, if it’s possible, I’d say block off time for eating and don’t take any invitations to meetings or other social events during that time. If it’s a change that pushes you to eat out, pop down to the next question!

What are some strategies for eating out if you're taking that into account with your meal plans?

If you can plan ahead, do it. Write down what days you’re going to eat out so that you can eat something you prepared beforehand and just have a drink at dinner. But if that isn’t possible, or if you just wanna eat with your friends, I would suggest looking at the menu beforehand, skimming for potentially healthy meals and know exactly what you want before you get there. 

You can also ask for an half order and ask the server to pack up the other half to go so that you don’t over eat. Drinking water before you eat can help prevent overeating as well. And if you can choose the restaurant, pick a place that has a variety of options and serves vegetables. 

How to do I prep for one person? 

Whew, chile. I wish I had a good answer because I, too, am learning how to stop over-cooking. Using a recipe calculator has helped me tailor meals to meet my specific yield needs. But if I still make too much or if I end up not eating every meal I prepared, I try to repurpose what’s left over into another meal or freeze it. 
 

julia craven