As you know, I have been attempting to meal plan! I’ve been struggling with it, so this week, I asked my friend Katie to share her experience with meal prep. Working in Washington, DC for her spring semester, she’s had to learn how to live on her own and tackle everything from commuting to work to living without a dining hall (and she even found time to train for a marathon with me!).
Hi everyone, I’m Katie, and I am super excited and honored to be doing a guest post for Rosana’s blog this week! I am in the middle of my sophomore year as a physics major when I decided to take a semester off to intern at NASA headquarters. I live in a dorm without a kitchen, so I have to be creative when it comes to making lunch. Here are the tips I’ve learned so far, and I hope you can find them useful too!
I am training for a marathon with Rosana, and because of that I am ALWAYS hungry. I generally have snacks I keep on hand and mix and match them as I want. My favorite snack items involve little to no prep and are easy to eat on the go (banana, greek yogurt, almonds, apple and peanut better).
To store these for on-the-go use, I find random containers. The larger items I will keep in a pint-size mason jar, such as yogurt with chopped banana slices or apple slices with a small dollop of peanut butter on the side of the jar.
I also almost always have almonds with me. I am addicted to the strawberry duo ice breakers, so I use the empty containers to store almonds and throw them in my purse (fun fact, these cute, circular containers store almost exactly one serving size of 24 dry roasted almonds and if you pack it full, it will fit about 30). This helps keep portions in size and gives you a healthy snack option without needing to stop at a vending machine.
Salads- The One Meal You Don’t Need a Kitchen For
I go to the grocery store with the plan to prep four meals at a time. I try to eat one leafy meal a day (and since salads take forever to eat, it sometimes doubles as my snack through the afternoon).
For my salads, I use the quart sized Ball mason jars, which you can find in different sizes at Target or other supermarkets, and I like filling up the first 2 cups with a variety of chopped veggies of my choice (I am a big fan of crunchy pepper slices and sweet snap peas, though I also love a juicy grape tomato). I loosely pack in a mix of leafy greens to fill the other 2 cups of the jar. When it’s time to eat, I pull it out of the fridge and dump the jar’s contents into a bowl. If you like dressing, you can add it to the bottom of the jar before filling it up with veggies. Just make sure to keep the jar upright so the liquids on the bottom don’t get the leaves all soggy. To go with all the veggies, I next choose a protein.
Protein In the Microwave
I do not have a kitchen, so I have learned the magic of the microwave. I bought two silicone epicure steamers from Amazon, and I can have fully-cooked chicken in fewer than 15 minutes and steamed salmon in fewer than 5.
Salmon: I cook two-five ounce filets of salmon in the smaller steamer for 4 minutes with 3 slices of fresh lemon and a sprinkling of lemon pepper seasoning and it becomes a delicious lunch for 3 days. I just store the cooked pieces in a Tupperware in the fridge and pop what I want in the microwave each day for 30-45 seconds to warm it up, and put it on top of my salad.
Chicken: Raw chicken that’s cooked in the microwave is also totally safe to eat, but I learned that it’s best cooked after rubbed down with a little bit of oil and seasoning of your choice. The consistency is a bit more rubbery than when cooked in a pan, but it’s still a great option when you don’t have a kitchen or don’t want to watch the chicken while it cooks on a stove. You can cook the chicken breasts whole, but I prefer to cut them up so they cook more evenly and I don’t have to then cut them after. These take a little bit longer, with thawed chicken breasts needing between 10 and 12 min to steam in the microwave. You can also cook frozen meat in these steamers, either precooked or raw, which opens the door for lots of variety (turkey meatballs, I’m looking at you!).
Veggies, Grains, and Pasta (Oh My!)
Along with the hundreds of mug cake ideas on Pinterest, you can also cook veggies, grains, and pasta in the microwave. I often cook quinoa in the microwave steamers, just measuring out twice as much water as the dry quinoa, washing the grains, them popping them in the microwave for 8-10 min, stirring partway through.
This week, I am going to try chickpea pasta, which needs to be in water a couple inches deep and cooked for 3-4 minutes longer than on the stove top, but you don’t have to wait to bring water to a boil on the stove. Make sure to put the steamer on a paper towel (or if you are using a bowl, cover it, and put it on a plate) in case the water spills over a little bit. I like to taste-test the pasta as it gets close to the end of the time, and cook longer as needed.
Balancing Your Meal Prep
For meal prep, I bought 4 quart jars and 4 pint jars. On my fifth lunch of the week I always have a “fun” lunch and treat myself to something that fits in my nutritional goals and also something I have been craving. Usually, it’s a chicken and cheddar sandwich on multigrain bread from Potbelly’s. Yum!
Eating healthy isn’t about eliminating something from your diet. There are so many rules out there and it’s especially hard to follow theses guidelines on a budget and with limited cooking resources. The best things I’ve done in making moves toward a healthy lifestyle are consistency in my meals, packing one meal in advance that is primarily vegetables and leafy greens, and always having a healthy snack option on me.
You can follow Katie’s marathon training at @runforck on Instagram