Picture this: It’s Monday around lunch time. You didn’t go to the grocery store last weekend, so you’re planning to grab a Chick-fil-A sandwich and a soda at the school cafe. After lunch, there is a long afternoon of didactic courses, so you end up buying a bag of chips to snack on. You study for a while after school, then workout before you have to go into lab to finish working on those dental casts that seem to be ruining your life. You take a quick shower after working out and figure you’ll grab something on the way to school: Wendy’s. Can’t go wrong with a 4 for $4 deal, right? Days like this can be avoided by adopting some lifestyle changes such as planning and making your meals in advance.
In dental school, it can be easy to get caught in a cycle of eating out or eating unhealthily, but meal prepping helps you stay healthy and save time, energy and money. Plus, cooking is a great way to relieve stress.
One of the many joys of meal prepping is that you do not need to do much prior to cooking your meals. First, plan what types of food groups you would like to involve for the week before you do your grocery shopping. A protein group, fruits and vegetables, or foods rich in complex carbohydrates will get you through the end of a clinic day for sure.
Stocking up on ingredients such as salt, pepper, butter, oil and other spices is key when prepping for each week. Large bowls, measuring cups, utensils and cutting boards are not necessary, but they aid the process. Investing in sectioned containers or Tupperware keeps your food safe and fresh. Now they are ready to be transported to school in your favorite lunchbox. Don’t forget your ice pack to keep it cool all morning.
What about when you start to run out of ideas? There are a variety of apps out there that let you browse recipes, view the ingredients so you can add them to your shopping list, and cook the meals with easy-to-follow directions. Meal reviews and the ability to filter recipes enhance the diversity of the meals you can prep as well. If you follow a specific diet, there are plenty of recipes and ideas for meals that are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free, too.
Another option is to have your ingredients and recipes delivered to your door. Sometimes I fall into the habit of prepping the same kind of meals: salmon with veggies for dinner and chicken salad for lunch. To revitalize my menu, I get HelloFresh delivered to my door every few weeks. There is no subscription required, and you get to pick out a few meals with two to four servings per week. This company sends you all the ingredients, including seasonings, in an ice-packed box so it stays fresh until you get home to cook it. They even have Dinner 2 Lunch recipes that make it easy to turn leftovers into different lunch options.
Below is a meal prep plan for four lunches and dinners, Monday through Thursday. I prefer not to meal prep for Fridays because I usually end up going out with friends or out of town altogether.
Monday — Lunch: BLT Pasta Salad; Dinner: Chipotle Beef Bowl
Tuesday — Lunch: Thai Chicken Wraps; Dinner: Pesto Zucchini Noodles with Shrimp
Wednesday — Lunch: BLT Pasta Salad; Dinner: Chipotle Beef Bowl
Thursday — Lunch: Thai Chicken Wraps; Dinner: Pesto Zucchini Noodles with Shrimp
For the BLT pasta salad, prepare your favorite pasta and combine with chopped lettuce, tomato and bacon bits in a bowl. Add the dressing, which is a combination of mayonnaise and ranch dressing. Toss and garnish with parsley. The next dish to prepare is the chipotle beef bowl. Combine cooked ground beef (or turkey for a healthier option) with chopped romaine lettuce, shredded Mexican blend or mozzarella cheese, onions, bell peppers, avocado, sour cream, tomatoes and a can of black beans.
For the next day, prepare Thai chicken wraps by placing strips of cooked chicken on whole wheat wraps. Heat a pan and sauté cucumber, sprouts, carrots, scallions, basil, mint and a sprinkle of sugar and vinegar. Roll everything together with chopped lettuce and soy sauce, if you prefer. The last meal of the week is pesto zucchini noodles with shrimp. While cooking the shrimp, shred a zucchini into noodle-like strips and sauté in a pan with olive oil. Add pesto and combine with the finished shrimp. Add parmesan cheese, if you prefer.
There are many different ways of meal prepping. The hardest part can be getting started, but once you find a method that works for you, you will see how much additional time you have during your busy weeks as a dental student. Now is the time to master meal prepping. You will be amazed at the difference it will make.
~Stephanie Jaipaul, Georgia ’22