11 Meal Prep Essentials To Brighten Up Your Sad Desk Lunch
If you're tired of spending almost $100 a week on indistinct fast-casual bowls of [SEASONED MEAT + SEASONED VEGETABLE + RICE], it's time to start thinking about meal prep. Meal prepping is the wonderful art of cooking a bunch of food over the weekend (whenever you get the time) that you can reheat and eat throughout the week. It sounds like a burden at first, but actually doing it can be a rewarding and fun experience in and of itself, especially if you have the right tools. It won't solve your money problems (remember, the personal finance industry is a scam!), but it will save more money than you think.
If this sounds intimidating, it doesn't have to be. The best thing about meal prepping is that it can be a kind of improvised, recipe-less free-flowing cooking experience. The next time you're shopping for groceries, get some sort of protein (like chicken thighs or black beans), a bunch of vegetables you can roast with olive oil, salt, and some spices, and some sort of grain. Cook each of those elements in as simple of a way as you can (look at Bon Appétit or New York Times Cooking if you need inspiration), and then just combine them together with some sort of sauce or dressing. Boom, you've perfectly replicated that $15 bowl. Actually, four of those $15 bowls.
You probably have most of what you need to get started with meal prep. But in case you don't, here are the essential pieces of gear that'll get you going.
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Nordic Ware Sheet Pan (2-pack)
A sheet pan is the underrated workhorse of the kitchen. Sure, you can use it for baking (and you totally should!), but it's also great for roasting—the primary cooking method of meal preppers. Roasting is probably the easiest way to get really wonderful flavor out of the widest variety of vegetables and meats. Coat some Brussel sprouts, potatoes, carrots, squash, or eggplant in olive oil, salt, and whatever spices suit your fancy, and then spread them out onto a pan. Roast them in the oven, checking and moving them around every once in a while, and voilà, you've found the simplest way to cook a ton of actually healthy food.
$20 at Amazon
DuraHome Deli Food Storage Container (24-pack)
No food-storage container—whether it be those expensive glass ones that will last until the end of time or a plastic one from a 57-pack that will fall apart during its first whirl in a microwave—holds a candle to the ones used by any NY deli or takeout restaurant worth its salt. They're by no means bulletproof. Dropping them at the wrong angle is certain to break them open. But that's not the point. Unlike those glass containers, totally great for storing leftovers, these deli containers are light enough to actually bring into the office. You can toss them into your tote without doubling its weight. Plus, they're super stackable, which makes them easy to store in your cabinet or fridge. Grab a bunch of them and never look back.
$16 at Amazon
Victorinox 8-inch "Fibrox" Pro Chef’s Knife
If you're serious about meal prep, you should probably take our advice and get a good chef's knife. It will make all of the preparatory steps of cooking far easier and faster, which'll make you more likely to do it consistently. This Victorinox knife is used by tons of chefs in real kitchens, largely because it's so cheap. But if you take care of it and get it sharpened regularly, it'll perform as well as knives more than double its price.
$33 at Amazon
Boos Wood Cutting Board
There's nothing quite as pleasant as cutting veggies and meats on an enormous cutting board. It simply gives you all of the space you actually need to debone a chicken thigh, dice an onion, or split a squash. In fact, if you've got a big enough board, you can probably find space to do all of these things without having to move anything to separate bowls. Our favorite is the "Boos Block," which is enormous and wooden and beautiful.
$65 at Amazon
OXO Carving & Cutting Board
If you don't want a wooden cutting board, which requires a bit more TLC than many people have patience for, you should get this plastic cutting board from OXO. It's got grooved edges to catch juices from any fresh meats you're working with and rubber feet to prevent it from moving as you're dicing.
$25 at OXO
Cuisinart Mixing Bowls
If you're going to be roasting a lot of veggies, you're going to need a mixing bowl. It's the best way to get them evenly coated with oil, salt, and other spices. We really like these ones from Cuisinart, which our friends at Epicurious deemed the best available.
$27 at Amazon
OXO Large Y-Peeler
OXO's vegetable peelers are among the few that are actually pleasant to use. They each have a comfortable handle and are angled in a way that makes them easy to maneuver, to deftly peel off exactly as much as you intend. Though this size is meant for big veggies, like eggplant or squash, you can use it for a lime, lemon, or orange. That'll come in handy when you want to finish off your prep with the celebratory cocktail you absolutely deserve.
$10 at OXO
Baggu “Baby” Bag
We love Baggu's normal-sized reusable bags, but if you're just looking for something to carry your lunch, you should consider their smaller options. These "baby" bags will easily accommodate one or two reusable containers without leaving too much extra space. Tie off the bag and put it in your backpack. Even if the containers break, the rest of your stuff should be safe.
$10 at Baggu
Lokass Lunch Bags
Just because you're an adult doesn't mean you shouldn't have a lunchbox. This Lokass one has tons of space for reusable containers, those fruits you picked up at the farmers' market, and that reusable coffee mug you got to try to break your 2 p.m. coffee-shop habit. It might be a little big for anyone who just carries a tote or purse on their daily commute, but it'll fit great in a bigger backpack.
$24 at Amazon
Homestead Choice Plastic Squeeze Bottles (7-pack)
Making simple homemade sauces, like BBQ and vinaigrettes, is a pretty easy way to amp up the flavor of your random amalgamation of roasted veggies, grains, and proteins. Once you've made one (which usually just involves stirring a bunch of flavored liquids together over heat), the best way to store it is in these squeeze bottles. Cut off a bit more of the tip if you're going to use it for a thicker sauce.
$10 at Amazon
Instant Pot DUO60
The year of the Instant Pot, when literally everyone was getting one and using it for everything, has passed. But it's still an excellent cooking tool that will make a ton of tasks essential to batch cooking much easier. This Instant Pot will make perfectly fluffy rice, deeply flavored stews, perfectly textured beans, and even yogurt. If you're going to buy any actual gear, this is the thing to get.
$80 at Amazon