Athlete Meal Prep On A Budget: Getting Started
Planning and cooking in advance sounds great, but once the semester gets rolling, you’re training twice a day and traveling many weeks to compete, it can seem overwhelming. For an athlete meal prep on a budget can be achieved without stress if you take is step by step. What’s great too, is that rather than try to accomplish everything at once, you can set goals to work through steps week to week.
For example, our first step, stocking up on the basics is best achieved before your semester starts, but can be the goal this week if you’re mid-semester. Then, once you’re confident in your basics, you can move on to having a plan. For some of you, a plan is all you need! For others, actually prepping on your rest day can help you feel confident tackling your busy week since you know you’ll have the energy and nutrients you need to fuel your body and your brain optimally.
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Step 1: Stock Up On The Basics
Food Storage Containers
Before you start meal prepping, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of food storage containers in a variety of sizes. Any type of containers will do, but if you plan to microwave them regularly look for a glass set, like this Pyrex one. When plastic containers are heated, they can leach chemicals into food – not something to obsess over if it’s once in a while from a takeout container, but glass is best if you can!
While those containers are great for food storage in your fridge, if you’ll be focusing on athlete meal prep to bring your food with you on campus, you may want to invest in a sealable lunch container or a lunch box that your storage containers fit into. We love these PackIt boxes that are stored in your freezer so that you don’t need an ice pack for food safety. They also come in this style.
Appliances & Cookware
Investing in a ton of cooking appliances can add up, not to mention the fact that if you’re living in an apartment and/or sharing a kitchen space with roommates, space can get tight. That being said, there are some basic kitchen items you will need to meal prep effectively. If you plan to make smoothies, the Magic Bullet is a compact and affordable blender that can also be used to make sauces and dips. Slow cookers can also be found for a reasonable price and can go a long way in making your life easier and cutting down on meal prep time. If you need more help getting your kitchen up and running for the school year, check out our top 10 college kitchen essentials and splurge suggestions.
Next, check your spice inventory. The following basic spices will come up in many of the recipes in our upcoming meal prep guide: garlic powder, paprika, oregano, chili powder, salt and pepper. Be sure to include any spices from cultural dishes you’ve enjoyed when living at home.
If you have a local Trader Joe’s or Aldi, they tend to have better prices on spices than your standard grocery store. Dollar Tree is also a good option for low-cost spices, and most Sprout’s and Whole Foods locations offer spices in the bulk section which is a great way to save money on spices you use infrequently because you can just buy the amount you need.
Buying grains in bulk will cost more upfront but save money in the long run. Warehouse chains like Costco and BJs usually sell a variety of grains in bulk, and most Asian grocery stores sell 10-20 lb bags of rice. If you like your rice dry, go for a long-grain variety like Basmati, and if you like your rice more moist try a medium-grain variety like Calrose.
Shelf Stable Proteins
It’s also a good idea to stock your pantry with shelf-stable protein options to ensure you have easy protein sources when you need them. Many of these items can also be bought in bulk at warehouse chains, too.
- Canned tuna and canned salmon are both terrific sources of protein that also happen to be rich in healthy omega-3 fats, which have been shown to be associated with benefits in immune function, brain development, and heart health. Many brands also sell tuna and salmon in self stable pouches, which is perfect for when you’re on the go.
- Dry or canned beans and lentils are a great source of shelf stable plant protein as well as fiber and iron. These will come in handy in soups, tacos, and more!
- Legume-based pastas such as Banza, Explore Cuisine Edamame Spaghetti, and black bean or lentil noodles are another plant-based protein to keep on hand for fast meals.
- A high-quality protein powder, such as whey or pea protein, is another great way to supplement your protein intake. These can easily be added to homemade energy bites, bars, or smoothies. Just be sure that the brand you buy is NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Choice Certified! (You can get 20% of Now Sport protein powder at nowfoods.com with code KELLYNOW.)
Step 2: Make a Plan
Prioritizing Your Prep
Sketch out a rough meal plan for the week and be sure to account for snack options. Keep in mind that trying to meal prep for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week would be extremely overwhelming, so start by identifying the times you struggle most to feed yourself and focus on prepping for those meals. Some questions you may want to ask yourself as you plan:
- Are there certain nights of the week you know you’ll be home later and will have less time to make dinner?
- At what points in your day do you feel fitting in time to make food is most difficult?
- If you have morning workouts, how much time do you have to prepare and eat food afterward? Do you find yourself rushing to get showered and out the door to school or work?
- When are you more likely to head to a dining hall with a teammate? Don’t plan for those days so that you don’t waste food.
Coordinating With Roommates
If you have roommates who are open to a collaborative meal plan, try picking one night a week that each roommate makes dinner for everyone. This is a great way to help everyone save time while also adding variety to your weekly meals and giving you a break from thinking about cooking or meal prep on some nights. If your roommates are also interested in doing weekly ingredient prep with you, that’s another way to lighten everyone’s loads by simply upping the quantity and splitting up tasks!
Putting Your Plan Together
Once you’ve identified the meals (or ingredients) you want to have prepped in advance, it’s also a good idea to plan out some simple meals that you can make quickly the day of. Then, map out your meals by day, indicating whether you will prep a particular meal in advance or on the night of. On the nights you do plan to cook, plan to make double so you have lunch or dinner the next day, or if it’s a large recipe, plan to freeze some or use it for several meals in the days to come! For snacks, you don’t necessarily need to plan out what you will have each day, but it’s helpful to create a list of options you want to have available during the week. Love the idea of planning meals, but not prepping til the day of? Keep a chalkboard or whiteboard in the kitchen so you can review your menu during the week!
Step 3: Shop & Prep
Make a shopping list that includes everything needed for your meal plan and snack list. Then, set aside some time for grocery shopping as well as for the meal prep itself. As long as you aren’t travelling for competition, Sundays are a great day for meal prep so that you feel ready to tackle the week. If you are traveling over the weekend, plan to double some recipes the week before and put portions in the freezer so that you have meals and snacks prepared for when you return.
When it’s time to prep, think about which planned items take the longest to cook. For example, if you are planning on baking potatoes, you may want to get those in the oven first since they cook at a high temperature and take up to an hour. In the meantime, you can work on some of your other items. For example, you might chop and roast some veggies the last 20 minutes of the potato’s bake time. You could also make muffin batter to bake after the potatoes are done, put a pot of rice or quinoa on the stove, get some chicken breasts marinating, and chop some veggies.
Once you have everything prepped, package it in containers for the fridge and freezer, and you’re all set to fuel for a productive week of training and studying!
Comprehensive Athlete Meal Prep Guide
Want more direction to ensure your meal prep has everything you need while keeping it efficient, on budget and less overwhelming? Our Meal Prep Guide drops next week. Sign up for our email list to be notified.
The Athlete Meal Prep Guide will include:
- an assessment of your nutrition needs as a student athlete
- a detailed sample meal prep plan with recipes (with vegan option)
- on-the-go meal prep ideas
- sample eating schedules to trial for different practice times
- ideas for fueling for 2-a-days
- suggestions for sports fueling products to keep in your pantry
Sign up and we’ll let you know when it’s here!
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