Imagine having all of your meals prepped on Sunday night for the upcoming week. Now imagine you aren’t eating the same boring thing every day, but you have Enchilada Casserole, Chicken with Maple Mustard Dressing, Greek Yogurt Blueberry Muffins, Arugula, Chicken, and Berry Salad, with snacks of bananas, skinny popcorn, peanut butter and celery.
Think of all the time, money, and calories you would save! Well, this is a reality for a grad school friend of mine. Tori Martinet, a Registered Dietitian who works in the food service industry, spends almost every Sunday meal prepping. I was so intrigued that I asked her if I could observe the process and ask a few question. Below are the highlights of our chat.
Tell me how the idea of meal prepping began.
Last year, my brother turned 30 and hired a trainer to work with a few times a week. He asked me if I could also create meal plans for him, and I said sure. I said, “I’ll write them up, send you the recipes and the grocery list and you can handle it.” And then a couple months later, I got a phone call asking me if I would just cook for them [Tori’s brother and sister in-law]. They said let’s try it for a month and see how it goes and now this is cook #14.
It seems like a big undertaking. How did you start the process?
I spent about an hour with each of them getting their food preferences. I took down all the pertinent numbers, like age and activity level so I could calculate a metabolic rate and I could figure out a calorie range…so this is pretty tailored. I also talked to them about variety because that’s a factor with meal prepping. Like, how often are you willing to eat the same thing? Because I don’t want to eat chicken and asparagus every night.
Neither do I! So where do the recipes come from?
I have found a number of websites that I really like. I have to have nutrition facts for a recipe. Sometimes if I really like it, I will calculate the nutrition info myself but I don’t want to do that all the time. I use Pinch of Yum a lot—her recipes have nutrition info and are delicious! Right now, I’m making a casserole from her site. It’s the kind of food that I want to eat, so I make it for them. And she doesn’t use low-fat this and non-fat that. Other sites annoy me because they use low-fat versions and I’d rather use the full fat version and use a little less. I usually try one new thing a week—that’s my goal. Since I work in food service, I’m around chefs and food all day long. I sometimes create my own recipes, and my inspiration for those comes from my job. I’m constantly learning about new foods and cooking techniques, and I need to stay current with food trends. Sometimes I just go into the supermarket to see what’s new.
When do you start deciding on recipes?
Monday or Tuesday. Basically I leave here [on Sunday], and I think what did they have this week? By Wednesday, I usually know what I’m making.
I assume the next step is buying groceries. How do you buy all of these groceries?
I order everything on Fresh Direct and they have a refrigerated holding downstairs that the doorman can put it in. He just brings it up when I get here on Sundays.
Okay, tell me about the actual day of meal prepping. How do you organize it all?
I choose recipes that are cooked in a combo of ways, i.e. not too much in the oven, not too much on the stovetop, etc. If I know I’m using the casserole dish for something, I can’t make anything else in it. I also try to pick dishes where I can utilize ingredients more than once, like poached chicken (or a rotisserie chicken) can be put into casseroles, tossed on salad, and put in soups.
I start prep day with a mental list of each task that needs to be done. On the actual day of cooking I start by putting all the ingredients for each dish together on the counter and I look over the recipes one more time. I start by prepping anything that needs to be done ahead, like marinating meats, putting things in the crock pot, etc. I don’t really do a full-blown ‘mise en place’ where everything is prepped and then you cook, but I try to chop vegetables and make sauces as I go. I try to use general food safety guidelines for leaving things out and taking temperatures of meats to make sure they are cooked enough.
As things finish cooking or are in assembly state, I move them off the cooking surface to a different area. When everything is done I plate it all at once. I sometimes use measuring cups to distribute items like grains or sauce, but for vegetables and meat I eyeball the portions. I portion out any snacks that need it and then I get everything organized in the fridge!
Does the food stay good all week?
That was the hard part. You can’t make a salad on Sunday and expect it to be good on Friday. So if I do a salad, they eat that Monday and Tuesday. Typically, if they have fresh vegetables, it’s Monday and Tuesday. One of the things I’ve learned is that blanching and undercooking allows the food to stay throughout the week.
How much do you make?
I usually make 4 entrees for Monday-Friday. It’s 2 entrees for lunch and 2 entrees for dinner. Each of them will eat the same entrée 3 times. I try to stagger the meals so they aren’t eating the same thing every day. But if they do, it’s not that much different than taking leftovers to work.
Where does nutrition come into play? Do you have them on a specific diet?
No, it’s just healthy food, but interesting food. I create a daily breakdown of their menu and what to eat at each meal. I know the things that are higher calorie and I pair them with something that’s lower calorie that day. I also make sure they get at least two different vegetables and two fruits in each day.
How much does it cost to do this?
The grocery bill is about $150-$200 per week for two and a half people [I take some of the food home]. The added cost, though, is my services. The food itself would be significantly cheaper if he wanted to do this himself, but he doesn’t want to do it.
Do you ever feel like your missing out on your Sunday?
Sometimes. A couple of weekends ago I took the whole weekend off and had a regular weekend. But then I missed having the food that week. We always had family over on Sunday nights and my dad would make a big pot of spaghetti, so this reminds me of that.
[to Tori’s brother] Do you feel like you are eating healthier now because of this?
Yes. I think the biggest change is that there’s an ever-present good option. This has also allowed for me to go to the gym every night. If I get home from work at 730-8, I will either come home and cook or go to the gym. I can’t really do both. So this meal prepping has allowed me to go the gym and also eat a home cooked meal.
What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to try meal prepping?
You definitely need a well-equipped kitchen and to buy a ton of food. It took me a long time to be comfortable buying that amount of food.
I would say the place to start is figure out how much you are spending on food right now. For me personally, I used to do it because of the savings. I would say start figuring out where you are spending your money. If it’s at lunch, then prep yourself lunch for the week. If it’s at dinner, then prep yourself dinner for the week. You can try it once and if you hate it, you never have to do it again.
It’s all about what level you want to be on. I prep all of my week’s meals at once, but you can also scale it down and just chop up a bunch of vegetables to make throwing a weeknight meal together quicker and easier. When it comes down to it, meal prepping is about controlling the food that goes into your body.
Any final thoughts?
It’s not that I don’t get how crazy this is, but I don’t care. Food is what I love to do.