Meal Prep 101: How To Plan And Prep On A Student (or any) Budget

With school starting up again, many students are busy balancing school work, personal life, and health/fitness.

With being so busy the easiest thing to do is grab something from the vending machines around campus or get take out in between classes or work meetings.

Cooking all of your meals at your home each day can be a hassle and sometimes absolutely impossible.

This is where meal preparation (“meal prep”) can quickly become your best friend!

Without meal prepping, you increase your chances of snacking throughout the day, choosing unhealthy foods, or even skipping a meal.

I don’t know about you, but when I don’t have something in my stomach, I don’t get hungry…I get hangry!!! (being so hungry that it causes you to become angry, frustrated or both).

So how does one meal prep?

Simple! By following these two simple steps:

How To Meal Prep: Master the Basics

The first thing you should do is invest in some good quality containers for your prepped foods.

When picking out containers, I like to look for big sets rather than individual ones (they tend to be pricey). You can purchase sets of Tupperware online or at your local grocery store!

Keep in mind if you choose plastic containers to go with the BPA free ones, they won’t fall apart or get ruined in the microwave when reheating your meals.

If you are planning to prep for an entire week of meals try to get containers of the same size and shape for your main meals so they can be easily stacked and you’re not playing a game of Tetris in your fridge.

Another thing you may want to invest in is a food scale. These come in handy if you want to get precise measurements of grams or ounces of your protein, carbs, fat, etc. You can find these on Amazon or other online stores.

Plan Ahead

Before you actually start the meal “prep”, the first thing you need to do is PLAN.

If you are sticking to a budget, like most students, make a grocery list of exactly what to get and maybe even stock up on some coupons if you can.

If you are just starting out with meal prep, don’t overwhelm yourself, start out by simply preparing just your protein for the week or your veggies.

To get used to the process of organizing your meals for the week, try and stick to just prepping for 3-4 days. When planning your meals try to choose recipes that you have tried and tested.

It’s never fun to waste food and prepping a whole bunch of food you don’t like is just not worth it.

Many people meal prep for different reasons; having a busy schedule, preparing for a competition, trying to lose weight or reach other fitness goals, etc.

So if you want to take prepping to the next level, plan out your daily macros (figure out what percentage of your daily calories should be spent on protein, carbohydrates, and on fats).

You can find out how to do so online but be cautious when setting your goals, what might work for one person may not work for you. Finding out your macros and daily nutrients is a trial and error process.

A calculated result may say you need only 115 grams of carbohydrates (just for example) but you don’t feel “right” when consuming that amount. The key to achieving results is to really tune in and listen to your body. Food should be consumed as a source of fuel.

So, meal prepping or counting your nutritional intake should never be of restricting your body but instead of putting more nutrient-dense good-for-you foods in replace of those not so healthy choices. Here are a few of my favorite foods to get when meal prepping!

Whenever I go to the store I also stock up on condiments and spices. I choose condiments (such as salad dressings, sauces, etc.) with low sodium and mainly low calorie.

My go-to brand when shopping for these types of condiments is Walden Farms. I also get salt-free spices and olive oil and coconut oil in the spray form (zero calories) as well as my butter.

I do like using the real oils occasionally, but not everyday. I usually hit my fat macros by eating avocados and nuts, but you can do this in a way that best fits your needs.

I've highlighted some options for each food group to get you started:

Protein: Chicken, Turkey, Eggs, Salmon, Tuna, Tofu, Ground Beef (try for grass fed and extra lean), Legumes (ex. chickpeas)

Veggies: Leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, peppers, green beans (and/or peas), zucchini, eggplant, carrots, cauliflower

Starch: Sweet potato, brown rice, lentils, quinoa, oatmeal, anything whole grain

Fats: Avocado, nuts (raw if possible), Olive oil (try to use this oil more often), Coconut oil (watch portions), canola oil.

Snacks: Nut butter, brown rice cakes, protein bars (watch as some contain way too much sugar)

Fruit: Bananas, berries, apples, grapefruit

Prep Time!

Like I mentioned before, chose simple recipes that you already know you enjoy making and eating.

A big thing for me is taste.

I love eating healthy foods that taste amazing, but sometimes I’m fine with eating bland foods such as plain chicken breast, brown rice, and steamed veggies.

The prepping stage is definitely where you can put your own kick on things.

Whether it’s adding spices or homemade dressing and marinades. I like to accompany my protein with spices and seasonings, or add a lemon, garlic, and olive oil dressing to make my veggies a little more interesting.

It’s all up to you and your preferences.

An important thing, especially if you are prepping for a few days worth of meals, is to incorporate as much variety as you can so you don’t get bored of eating the same thing.

This can mean simply switching the spices/seasonings or cooking 2-3 different types of proteins to alternate throughout meals.

Just remember that meal prepping shouldn’t be difficult and it shouldn’t stress you out.

The point of prepping your food (making full meals, portioning out snacks, chopping up veggies, etc.) is to make it easier and more stress-free to live a healthy life that you deserve. I hope this helps some of you beginners better understand the meal prepping process and what exactly it is.

A little bit of meal prep is still better than none.

Want to read more articles like this? Check out our Back2Lifer Portal which contains healthy recipes, workouts, and much more!