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7 Tips for Meal Prepping With Dietary Restrictions

I have a lot of dietary restrictions. It’s something I don’t often think about, since I mostly cook for myself, but recently I’ve been meeting a lot of new people and going out to eat again, and it always surprises people. I have celiac disease, so I can’t eat gluten (wheat, rye, oats, barley). I also can’t eat dairy, and I am a vegetarian.

I also recently moved into my own apartment and have started cooking for myself. While I was in college I mostly cooked for myself, but I’d still eat at the dining halls once a day to see friends. Now that I’m working full time (in person again!) but still recovering from other chronic illnesses that limit my energy, meal prep is something I’ve been learning about.

When I first moved into my apartment, my weekly “menu” looked like what dinners at home or college looked like: a different meal for each day of the week. I had some parts of meals that were parts of other meals, but essentially every day was different. Very quickly, I realized this would not work for me. I didn’t have energy to cook when I got home from work. Which meant I would usually heat up minute rice or pasta and all the vegetables in my fridge would go to waste.

The biggest thing I’ve learned about meal prep is that you need to find what works for you. Food bloggers, everyone on Instagram and cookbooks will all tell you how you “should” meal prep. But ultimately, you need to figure out what’s most important to your diet (and whoever you’re cooking for) and how you can fit that into your schedule.

Here are some things I’ve learned so far:

1. Meal prep doesn’t have to be meals that build off each other.

So many food blogs and magazines tell you how to make one grain or cook vegetables one way for the week, then incorporate them in different meals. I found this to just be overwhelming. And if I like one combination of foods one way, recombining them slightly differently doesn’t make a huge difference to me.

2. Cook foods that you actually want to eat.

Usually I think of meal prep as making full meals, but it can be whatever’s helpful to you. I realized I was spending a lot of money on granola bars and often wanted a small “something else” to go with my meals. I started making muffins each week, and now they are one of the most important parts of my meal prep. I make a different type of muffin each week and freeze them, so I microwave one each morning to have with breakfast and I pack one for snack every day.

3. It’s OK to eat the same meal a few days in a row.

I usually only make one dinner and one lunch for the week (or at least for a few days). I have trouble eating the same thing for lunch and dinner, but if I make one lunch and one dinner, I don’t mind eating them again the next few days. This also helps reduce food waste and the amount of different vegetables etc. I’m buying since I usually only plan two different recipes a week.

4. Vary options by the week.

Even though I like to eat the same food for a week, I found if I eat it too much longer I get bored of it. Especially for something like muffins, I’ve found that if I want to be able to eat muffins every day, they need to be different each week.

5. Use frozen vegetables.

I am an organic vegetable farmer, so most of my friends would be horrified by the suggestion that they should use frozen instead of fresh vegetables. But since I often don’t know when/if I’ll have the energy to cook, it’s much easier to buy something that can last for months until I’m ready to use it.

6. Keep easy to cook foods around.

Sometimes you’ll have planned on making dinner, but something else will come up. Know what you’ll eat then. Maybe you’ll order out, or you’ll have something easy. My favorite go-tos are: peanut butter rice cakes or minute rice with a frozen vegetable.

7. Figure out when works best for you to cook.

I grew up in a family that cooked dinner every night. But when I’m working full time, I don’t have any energy to cook after work. So I typically cook my food for the week on Sundays. Other times I’ve cooked after I’ve eaten dinner, so I will have food for the next day.

What are some of your best tips and ideas for meal prepping?

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