Fellow hard-working millennial professionals, let’s take a moment to empathize and to give ourselves a break. It can be hard balancing domestic responsibilities, personal brand building, networking, romancing, time with friends, working, working out and doing everything . Just ask the more experienced adults around you. And remember, we are known as the generation that wants to have it all, just to take a picture and say we did it.
Research done by Scarborough seems to support the notion that millennials are approval-driven; we are 47% more likely to agree that an impressive lifestyle (or the appearance of one) is important.
Go on and forgive yourself for feeling all sorts of pressure to have a perfect, Instagram-worthy life. Scarborough also reports that a redeeming 59% of millennials are self-described “savers” rather than spenders. That means we are doing something right.
Even if you fall outside either category of our gen-mates, and whether you struggle to save, need to save more or simply want to get into a habit of eating at home, I am here to help us all become more like the millennials who are already preparing ourselves for rainy days that may lie ahead.
Every weekend, I engage in a little adulting exercise called meal prep, and it’s outlined below. Check it out!
Phase 1: Budget and plan.
Don’t let what other people may say fool you. Weekly meal prep is just as much about convenience as it is about eating healthy as it is about saving money. Those 3 things are what makes meal prep essential to anyone trying to make it on their own in this cruel world.
Start by figuring out how much you want to spend. Shouldn’t I make a meal plan and grocery list first, see how much everything costs and then budget that amount every week? Heck no! This is how you are lured into spending much more than necessary. Are you with me? Determine a reasonable amount of money to spend on groceries and, if applicable, dining out each week. As a starting point, you can reference the USDA guidelines food plan for a single person-family. If you are going to prepare all of your meals at home, I recommend a fairly liberal $75 per week. Since I like to do a combination of meal prep and eating out (only because of occasionally odd working hours), I personally budget a total of $100 per week – $50 for dining out and $50 for groceries. Of course, I am always happy when I can keep costs low and pocket extra savings, but this accounts for gluten-free and organic items which can sometimes cost more. (Scarborough also says that 47% of millennials are willing to pay more for an environmentally safe product. They’ve got me there.) When it comes to eating out, budgeting can be a bit more tricky. You will need to look closely at your spending history. Which places do you frequent, and what do you usually order? Do you have a habit of visiting the same places?
Then, decide what you will eat for every single meal and snack for every day for at least a week. Yes, really – do it, and include any dining out expenses, too. Come on, you can do it! I love variety like the next foodie, but if I have learned anything from this simple exercise, it’s that I typically consume less than I buy. The first week, I bought a bunch of fruit I intended to eat for snacks while at the office. The only problem? My days are always unpredictable in terms of workload, so it’s easy to get sucked into working through lunch, much less finding time to snack. So the next week, I stopped buying fruit and stuck to prepping a week’s worth of hearty, protein-laden lunches and dinners. I fit in snacks when I could – with the apples and black plums that remained. I was able to turn a weekly expense into a bi-weekly one.
Trial and error is sometimes the best teacher; throughout this experience, you will absolutely learn what works for you, your schedule and your dietary needs!
Phase 2: Consider new things.
Have you found the best deal on wild-caught salmon? Are you overpaying for fresh herbs? Budgeting and meal planning will help you start to notice how much things cost, especially if you shop around. For example, while cilantro paste at Kroger might cost $5, it could easily be $1 per bunch, fresh, at a farmer’s market. Personally, I have found that fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables are least expensive at my local farmer’s markets, and are almost always offered in organic varieties. Large supermarkets tend to be hit or miss in terms of produce quality, and the prices are typically higher. Conversely, I find the meats to be similarly priced across the board, though there are several carnicerias and international markets I have not yet tried. Ultimately, after a few quality and price comparisons, you may decide to shop someplace new, or even at multiple places like me, for your groceries.
Could you benefit physically from a dietary change? Part of what drove me to start meal prepping was my choice to cut gluten and grains from my diet. Honestly, without staples like bread, pasta and rice, I had to become more flexible in the kitchen. Although that meant becoming familiar with the proper methods for washing and storing fresh herbs and vegetables, plus developing the patience to plan meals, shop appropriately and prepare a week’s worth of proteins, it also meant a noticeable flatter stomach, a healthier bowel and even higher alertness. (Cutting gluten and grains also influenced me to eat out – where wheat derivatives are king – much less, saving me additional money.)
Phase 3: Follow through.
Stick to your plan! Have your best friend, your partner or a colleague with similar goals hold you accountable. Hold them accountable for sticking with any changes they have made to their lifestyle for at least a month. That’s about how long science says it takes to make or break a habit.
It should not, however, take long to begin seeing results! Your body, your creditors, your savings account and your wallet all stand to be immediately and positively impacted by your commitment to a few simple activities.
Phase 4: Repeat.
How does meal prep work for you? What were the benefits? Were there any drawbacks? Leave your comments and questions below!