Meal prep bloggers and ADHD coaches share the best budget-friendly products if you want to get started with this healthy habit.
As a self-proclaimed trend-hater, I’ve had my suspicions about “meal prepping.” One look on Pinterest, and you see an influx of manicured mommy bloggers assembling organic heirloom vegetables in their super-organized kitchens. Without knowing more, I thought “meal prepping” was inherently time-consuming and expensive, something only for fancy people who buy everything at Whole Foods and don’t have day jobs. Spoiler alert: I was wrong!
At the behest of my favorite aunt, who was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, I’m in the early process of being evaluated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Turns out my inability to feed myself and keep my house clean may be more than be being “artsy.” In my research (read: late-night Googling), I’m learning that adult ADHD diagnoses are common for women and people assigned female at birth, who, per the CDC, are less likely to get properly diagnosed. Further, while ADHD is often stereotyped and written off (children are often called “rowdy” or “antsy”), research published in the Journal of Attention Disorders notes that ADHD can present in adults via things like struggling to keep a house clean, feeling overwhelmed by the grocery store and not using food before it goes bad.
To my surprise, my research on ADHD in adults and ADHD “life hacks” led me to meal prepping. Turns out, getting a jump on your weekly subsistence can help you stay cool, calm and actually nourished during the week. It also doesn’t have to be an all-day, costly affair for the domestically gifted.
“Meal prepping is literally just eating your leftovers!” Moncel said. “You portion the leftovers out into single servings before refrigerating to make them really easy to just grab-and-go later.”
Though you may see wellness influencers preparing every single plant-based meal for an entire week, Moncel explains that meal prepping is supposed to make your life easier, not make you feel bad about yourself. Start off by prepping one or two little things, at a speed and quantity that works for you.
“Meal prep is not all or nothing,” Moncel said. “You don’t have to prep three meals per day for seven days. Just prepping a few lunches for the week can go a long way towards reducing your food bill.”
Moncel suggests starting slow and building into a more robust routine. Try making extra chicken breasts or a large curry that can be eaten throughout the week. Once you get comfy with that, Moncel suggests trying to prep an easy breakfast, like overnight oats.
How to meal prep on a budget
If “meal prep” conjures images of fancy, fresh produce and expensive glass containers from trendy “zero waste” stores, I feel you. Though I was skeptical myself, Taylor Stinson, author of the meal prep blog The Girl on Bloor, explained that finding a meal prep routine that works for you can actually help you save money on food and groceries.
“When you open your fridge to ready-made meals, or ingredients that can be cooked within 15-20 minutes, it eliminates your need to grab takeout or pick up extra groceries because nothing looks appealing,” Stinson said.
Meal prep helps you make the most of your groceries. When you get super clear on what you’re making and how much of it you need, you can be more efficient at the grocery store.
Liz Lewis, an ADHD coach, founder of Healthy ADHD and author of an ADHD meal planning ebook, also pointed out that easy-to-cook, versatile foods that last a while (like frozen veggies and microwavable rice in bulk) can help you save money. She suggests making large amounts of proteins, like chicken, in a slow cooker, and then shredding or chopping it and keeping it in the fridge. “That way everybody in the house can use it any way they like,” Lewis says.
Lastly, Moncel, Stinson and Lewis agree that you don’t need to shell out for specialized food storage containers, but more on that later.
“Really simple containers are best because they are the most versatile,” Moncel says. “I have purchased some more ‘fancy’ containers in the past, but they are less versatile, are harder to wash, and have more moving parts that can break.”
According to Sinfield, people with ADHD can easily get super absorbed in a given activity or task and struggle to transition out of it. For example, when you’re in the thick of work emails or running around doing errands, it can be stressful to stop what you’re doing, pick something to eat, get all the ingredients out, prep them and then cook. It can also lead to negative self-talk or feelings of shame and overwhelm for waiting until the last minute.
However, if you find a day or night of the week that you have some spare time, you can put on music or a show you like and give all your attention to prepping your food. Without the pressure of being hangry or in the middle of a bunch of other half-done tasks, meal prepping can be a slower-paced activity.
“It becomes doing one task with a five-meal benefit, versus five tasks for five meals,” Sinfield said.
Of course, Sinfield said that knowing meal prepping can help you through the week is different than feeling personally motivated to go do it.
“A lot of people think, ‘It’s something I should do,’ but that’s not a very compelling reason!” Sinfield said. “When you’ve got ADHD, motivation is key. Identify exactly why you want to do it. Then it will be easier to take the necessary action steps.”
If you’re looking to get into meal prepping to save money and/or to make feeding yourself easier during the week, the experts shared their favorite food storage containers for meal prep newbies.
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1. One-compartment glass containers with easy, press-on lids
For both ingredient storage and something you can throw in a lunch bag, Moncel, Stinson and Lewis suggest one-compartment glass containers with easy lids. “The simple lids don’t have any latches or valves so there is less to break,” Moncel said. “The single compartment is super versatile and the containers are very durable.”
While you may want a set of same-sized containers for daily lunch, Stinson notes that getting a set of different-sized containers is ideal for storing prepped ingredients in the fridge. “I’d recommend buying one set, and then investing in a second if you find you need to,” Stinson said. “It’s best to make sure you’ll actually stick to meal prep first!”
And for those who forget what’s in the fridge, Lewis says clear containers that stack easily may help you better see the food you have. “It’s easier to make on-the-spot decisions when you’re starving if you can see your options,” Lewis said. “Anything hidden in a drawer inevitably rots, ugh.”
2. A colorful, fun container you’ll actually want to use
While it may sound silly, Sinfield suggests shopping around for a container you really like. Whether that’s because of the material, color or shape, it all goes back to motivation. “Using a container you love often increases your desire to want to do meal prep,” Sinfield said. “If you get excited about a jar and the way your salad looks in the jar, that’s an important consideration.”
This plastic container comes in three animal shapes, including this cute bulldog seen.
“Those blue-top Ziploc reusable containers are a great starter option for meal prep,” Moncel said. “They’re inexpensive, come in many shapes and sizes and they’re freezer- and dishwasher-safe. It’s simple, inexpensive and reusable.”
Lewis agreed, noting that freezing food can be a really great tool for adults with ADHD. On weeks you get into a cooking rhythm, you can make extra food and freeze it for weeks you don’t have time or energy to cook.
4. Cheap, microwave-safe plastic containers in bulk
To set yourself up for success, Sinfield suggests finding containers that are in your budget and getting a bunch of them. “That way, you’re all set and not waiting for containers to come out of the dishwasher,” she said. Having a surplus of containers takes away the “I have no clean containers” barrier of meal prep. “People with ADHD don’t like washing, and hand-wash-only things can stack up pretty quickly!” she said.
Additionally, getting containers that you can throw in the microwave saves you from using extra plates or pots to heat your food up.
5. Hot and cold insulated containers for temperature control
If you don’t have access to a microwave or fridge at work or when you’re on the go, Sinfield suggests insulated food containers. If you tend to be picky with food temperatures (i.e., you don’t like to eat cold leftovers), this can help you want to eat the food you’ve packed with you, instead of going for takeout.
For Stinson, reusable food bags are a meal prep favorite. Reusable means limiting your use of one-use plastics, but it also means you don’t have to remember to get sandwich bags every week.
“They are great for storing soups and stews in the freezer, along with any prepped ingredients you would normally put in a Ziploc bag,” she said. “They are one of the top ways I save space in my fridge and freezer. They’re microwave-, oven- and dishwasher-safe. I can’t recommend them enough.”
If you secretly want to look like a meal prep influencer, look no further. In all seriousness, Stinton says Mason jars are budget-friendly and super versatile. That’s probably why so many bloggers use them. “Mason jars are other cost-effective containers that I use primarily for salads or bowls,” Stinson said. “You add the sauce and protein to the bottom, then veggies on top. Your food will stay fresh for days, and they save room in your fridge, too. Again, they’re dishwasher- and microwave-safe to make your life easier.”
9. A slow or pressure cooker insert that can fit in your fridge
Lewis’ best meal prep storage hack? Skipping containers altogether. “If I make something in the Instant Pot or Crock-Pot, I put a lid over it after it cools and store it in the pot,” she said. From stew to rice to meatloaf, make a week’s worth in the pot and take portions out when you’re ready to eat.
If you’re a tapas lover or prefer meals comprised of all different things, Stinton and Sinfield suggest Bento boxes or containers with little sections. These can help you get into an assembly line mode, where you prep lunch or snacks for the week. Instead of trying to find all the things you need the moment you’re super hungry, you can scoop out dips or peanut butter for the week, all at once.
“This way you can take a variety of things with you,” Stinton said. “This also works well if you are someone who gets overwhelmed by large quantities of food; you’re able to say, ‘OK I’ll take a few carrots, a few of this, a few of that.'”
This 37-ounce rectangular container comes with a spoon and fork.
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