Let's talk meal prep basics!
It is, truly, NOT as complicated, time consuming, expensive, etc. as you may think.
I personally want to spend the least amount of time as possible, and the least amount of money meal prepping, while still eating real, whole foods and being in optimal health, which is what I hear many of you reiterate! In college and in grad school, I had, maybe 5 minutes to put something together, and that was on a good day. So I do, truly hear where you're coming from.
Here are the basics, what I think is good to stock up on, what you really need when "push comes to shove", etc.
Meal Prep 101
So that we're on the same page, here's my philosophy on food to keep around in your kitchen (or kitchenette!) is:
It should be relatively inexpensive, especially when you're beginning, and figuring out what you're actually going to consistently eat
It should be real, whole foods - the food should consist of wholesome, real ingredients
I primarily follow a low-carbohydrate approach which I personally read the science to say is great for one's health, so the foods I recommend are generally of the low-carb variety
Many of the foods should last for a long time. It's TOO STRESSFUL to feel like there's so much fresh food in the fridge (or mini-fridge) that you have to eat asap. This way, you can truly choose what you WANT to eat, WHEN you feel like it. For these reasons, I highly stress finding good, wholesome food for the pantry and freezer that's non-perishable.
Here's the basic grocery list I generally recommend:
IN THE FREEZER
Frozen non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
Frozen proteins such as turkey burger and regular burger patties, shrimp, fish filets, etc.
Frozen meals low in starchy foods, such as Trader Joe's cauliflower crust pizza, or their frozen spinach & artichoke dip (eat it like a soup - SO good)
IN THE FRIDGE
Eggs last a long time, a few weeks at least
Cheeses in all varieties such as slices, round cheese in wax,, string cheese, crumbled cheese, etc. also last a long time
Some fresh vegetables each week are nice to have - they give you more options when cooking!
IN THE PANTRY
Low-carb snacks like baked cheese "crackers", turkey or beef jerky, and single-serving packs of nuts
Canned tuna and salmon
Meal Prep Secrets
I recommend prepping on Sundays and Tuesday or Wednesday nights. This way, you don't have to eat the same food every darn day!
Focus on prepping proteins (e.g. cooking chicken breasts) and cutting up veggies during these Sunday & Tuesday/ Wednesday meal prep times so that you can quickly throw things together at night or in the morning. Choose 2 proteins and 2 non-starchy vegetables for each week (in addition to a lettuce-type veg if you're making a salad) to mix & match throughout the week for easy prep. Again, it's 100% ok to use frozen proteins and veggies. This has to be doable for YOU.
Use different low-calorie seasonings and dressings to spice up your meals and make them different each day. Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel seasoning is excellent, as are a few of their salad dressings. Keep some of these at work or at an easily accessible location (maybe your department!) at school.
In no way do I pretend to be an excellent cook. I learn so much from the internet... and I of course call my mom in a panic semi-frequently. Here are some great, basic guides.
How to cook Tofu
How to cook Chicken
How to cook Ground beef
How to cook Steak
How to make Hard boiled eggs
There are "must haves", and then there are "nice to haves". Let's go through them both:
At least 1 good cooking knife
At least 1 cutlery set (for yourself!)
NICE TO HAVES
Pot & pan set
Plate & bowl set
Cooking knife set
Full cutlery set for 4 or 6
Pressure cooker or Instant pot