NOW Blog - Meal Planning and Prepping

November 15, 2019

food around a notepad that says "meal plan"Your stomach is howling, it’s late, maybe BART was delayed or you got out of lab late, but as you make the trek home you realize you have nothing to eat and that the last thing you want to do is cook … so you order some quick take out to grab on the way. We’ve all felt that hunger, that exhaustion, and all made that decision to get something quick to eat to satisfy our stomachs. It’s the hearty home-cooked meal we want to come home to after a long day, not the sad empty fridge or cold leftovers. 

As a member of the Cal Band, coming home late is routine for me. I know practice will fall between 5 and 8 pm five days a week, and I know that after a two-hour practice I do not want to cook. The task of finding something to eat wasn’t difficult in my freshman year since dinings halls did all the cooking. Yet since leaving the ease of the dining halls, I’ve had to be proactive about my food choices. In addition to planning ahead, being realistic is important too; cooking after a long day isn’t appealing, and following a new recipe is even less enticing. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love to flip through food magazines, watch food-related Snapchat stories, or unproductively rabbit hole my way through food blogs. Finding new recipes is exciting! But if I’m being honest here, I only make maybe 10% of them. Trying a new recipe sometimes takes focus and time, and after a long day of school or work, I don’t have any focus left in me. It’s fun to look at photos of new, delicious-looking foods, but after coming home late or tired it’s easier to reheat leftovers or prepare something you’ve made a thousand times before. That’s where meal planning and prepping both smoothes out the process and eases the mind immensely. 

To help myself with this process, I’ve compiled a list of recipes in a small notebook that include new ideas, as well as my personal favorites of my mother’s cooking. When I’m stumped on what to make for dinner I’ll flip through my notebook until I’ve found something I can work with on that given week. I personally think that deciding what to eat is the hardest part. After that’s accomplished everything comes easy. Next, I’ll make a grocery list and organize it based on the food categories that appear. I do this to maximize my time and not have to zig-zag back and forth across the grocery store while I’m shopping. 

Aside from deciding what to eat, cooking is the second most challenging task to accomplish. It isn’t that my meals are complex or require many hours of prep, but they do take time, and as busy college students time is in short supply. I like to cook during my biggest gap in the day, which is the early afternoon, and then divide up what I made into tupperware to stack in the fridge. I’d like to emphasize that you don’t have to cook everything at once either! For example, if I want to make vegetable rice bowls I might make the rice the day before since it takes the longest to cook and I know I only have time to steam vegetables the next day. At the start of the week, I always cut up bell peppers, or skin and slice a cucumber to put in a couple of bags with carrots. This preparation helps on busy mornings because I can just grab a bag and go! For protein, my go-to is tuna fish! I stock up on tuna fish cans and add a little mayo and chopped pickles for extra flavor. Making a batch of tuna fish is super easy and keeps for days in your fridge. 

Finding a meal prep and planning routine was challenging at first, but after several months of practice, I've developed a natural feel for it. Nowadays, treating myself to a warm home-cooked meal at the end of my busy day relieves stress and keeps me fueled for school and band.