I have always been wary of preppers. Not the kind that stores seven years of canned pears in their bunkers (they’re a dime a dozen in North Idaho and usually loan me their tractors or industrious children for chores). Nope, the preppers I’m talking about are friends and acquaintances who meal prep.

You know who they are. They have 70 portion-control lunch containers with three sections and they probably fill the big one with steamed broccoli. They post pictures of them on Instagram and Pinterest, and they look so darn organized. I try to keep up by stacking my French fries like Lincoln Logs before I eat them. 

I thought prep cooking was for childless people who still have sex on weeknights, go to late movies, attend early yoga, and have something called ‘leftovers’ after cooking. I imagine them, home after an evening game of that frisbee sport, listening to Ray LaMontagne, neatly weighing out portions of pork tenderloin.

In contrast, I’m probably wrestling with a can of chili while my kid ‘practices’ cello upstairs as I Google how to explain fraction reductions. I don’t think I have time to color-code and macro-count my meals. I don’t even separate my laundry colors.

But then I saw some of those little containers at the store on sale (they come in packs of forty or so for the particularly ambitious) and I thought, “What if I could be a prepper too?” Would I lose weight, eat more protein, save money, have more time, develop a tan, wear yoga pants to the office? Prep cooking advocates claim all of this and more, or so their selfies would have me think.

I bought two packs and dedicated a Sunday to prepping.

The first week, I realized I didn’t actually have any food to prep, so I mostly filled the containers with tuna still in a can shape, some ancient gluten-free pretzels from the bottom drawer, and some old sauerkraut I found at the back of the fridge. That stuff has a half-life comparable to plutonium anyway. I was tired of the food by Wednesday but don’t expect it to mold until October.

The next week I started planning ahead. Every time a patient would tell me about some delicious food they made, I wrote it on a sticky note and added a grocery list later. Friday I grocery shopped. Sunday I cooked. I had two mains, a loaf of banana bread and a quiche for morning bites, a kale slaw, and roasted sweet potatoes. My whole day was spent in the kitchen. Eight hours of cooking one day means less cooking during the week, but not necessarily less time cooking.

By the third month (yes), I was getting the hang of things. My Costco runs were on a perfect rotation. I was prepping for the week in 3 hours, but often less if I managed to make a few things earlier (like throwing banana bread together while I scrambled eggs for my kid). And here’s what I’ve found to be true:

  • Lunches are nourishing and balanced every day and snacks are well-timed and not desperate grabs for donuts.
  • No more emergency stops for ‘lunch’ at the hippie store for a bag of popcorn, baby carrots, a half pound of organic salami, and a six dollar latte ($22 total).
  • Pre-prepped veggies in the fridge makes dinner faster and healthier.
  • No more food waste: Aging things get thrown into a weekly pot of soup.
  • A significant reduction in the food budget.
  • Perhaps most importantly: More free headspace to think about something other than what to cook for the next meal. It’s already in the fridge.

My conclusion: Start prep cooking and take up a new hobby. You’ll have the time, money, and mental capacity for it. //

Ammi Midstokke regularly attends Prep Church on Sundays where she still relies heavily on cabbage, sausage, and banana bread. Last month, she wrote about radical acceptance of one’s body.