6 Easy and Healthy Meal Prep Recipes For A Hurried Lifestyle

Discover easy and healthy meal prep ideas for the on-the-go lifestyle of college students

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Being a student is busy. You have to attend classes, study, do homework, hand in projects, and take exams. You’re running around, and time is in short supply. And, if you’re like most college students, you’re on a budget.

With so much time devoted to studying, other elements of life, like laundry and dinner, can get away from you.

When you’re low on time and energy, it’s easy to reach for quick and easy processed foods that may end up working against you. Perhaps you even find yourself going for long stretches without eating. This is less than ideal. 

Brain food is a real phenomenon and essential to your cognitive performance, and foods with immune-boosting properties will serve to help you stay healthy all semester. Try practicing self-care by preparing healthy meals at the beginning of the week to save time. 

We’ve put together a list of budget-friendly, weekly meal prep ideas to keep you feeling your best all semester while saving time and money. 

Healthy Meal Prep Ideas for Breakfast

You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you’re not a breakfast person, these ideas for easy meal prep on a budget may just turn you into one. 

1. Overnight Oats

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Oats are a great way to start your day. They’re healthy, energizing, and naturally gluten-free and vegan. They’re also a good source of fiber and not highly processed. 

You can prepare oatmeal in various ways—from bars to puddings—not all of these methods are feasible when you’re trying to get ready in the morning and run off to class. Cue overnight oats. 

Overnight oats taste a lot more like dessert than the first meal of the day. As the name implies, these oats are made overnight. You mix up a batch before going to bed, and then wake up to a rich, delicious breakfast waiting for you. This healthy breakfast is all prep time and no cooking time. And, because you’re able to get the prep work out of the way the night before, you just sit back and enjoy this breakfast delicacy with a cup of coffee or a cold-brew oat milk latte.

To make overnight oats, grab a sealable food container like a mason jar. Fill it halfway with oats and top up with a dairy or plant-based milk of your choice. Stir in around a teaspoon of chia seeds (or more, if you’re making a big batch). Chia is what will give this dish its pudding-like texture. Finally, add any mix-ins. We recommend nut butters, cocoa powder, fruit pieces, chocolate chips, coconut shreds, and sweeteners. 

Leave the sealed jar in the refrigerator overnight. If you’re up late studying, give the contents another swirl to make sure everything stays combined as the consistency starts to get thicker. Enjoy in the morning.

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Short on time but craving oatmeal? Buy readymade RxBar Maple Oats or Quaker Oats Apple Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal.

2. Banana pancakes

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If you have access to a stove, your breakfast prep can go a lot further. This banana pancake recipe is the perfect meal for a Sunday morning after a long week of studying and social events. Invite some friends over or surprise your roommate with a hot, fluffy batch of banana pancakes

To make, gather 2 cups of flour, one-quarter cup of granulated sugar, 4 teaspoons of baking powder, one-quarter teaspoon of baking soda, one-half teaspoon of salt, 1 ¾ cups of milk, one-quarter cup of melted butter, 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, and 1 large egg. Separate the wet and dry ingredients into two separate bowls and stir the contents of each to combine well. Then, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ones, and stir again. Chop in some banana pieces and give the batter one final stir. 

Heat a greased skillet over medium heat and pour in around one-quarter cup of batter. Let the liquid spread out into a large circle, and flip the pancake when the edges are golden and you start to see bubbles on the surface of the uncooked side. 

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3. Caprese Chicken Salad Meal Prep Bowls

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Check out this Mediterranean Caprese chicken salad bowl recipe if you want to start making grain bowls but don’t know where to start. Most bowls contain a base grain, like rice or quinoa, alongside a meat– or legume-based protein source, veggies, and dressing. Once you master the basics, you can start creating your own combinations of healthy ingredients. 

One thing is true about any grain bowl: these dishes are packed with well-rounded nutrients and will help keep you going, no matter how long your day of school. To make, prep three-quarters of a cup of quinoa following the package instructions. 

Then, chop up 1 pound of chicken breast and sauté it in a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper until cooked through. You can also toss the chicken in olive oil and seasonings and bake it at 425°F for 25 minutes if you have an oven. 

While the chicken or your protein cooks, shake or stir up 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, one-quarter teaspoon dijon mustard, and salt and pepper to taste for your dressing.

After the chicken has cooled, prepare your bowls, placing a layer of quinoa and a handful of chicken in each food container. Then, top with basil, fresh mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, and the dressing you made. Chickpeas or feta are a great addition, alongside vegetables like zucchini, sweet potato, or cucumber.

Seal, refrigerate, and enjoy this easy meal each day of the week. 

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4. Chicken Fajita Lunch Bowls

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Buying tacos and other Mexican favorites from restaurants can get expensive, so treat yourself on the weekends by making these dishes at home. 

Like other bowls, this recipe starts off with a layer of grains. In this case, we suggest cooked white or brown rice. Slice up 1 pound of chicken breast, coat it in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake it in the oven at 425°F for 25 minutes, carefully turning the pieces at the halfway point. 

While you’re waiting for the chicken to cook, shake up your dressing, which contains 1 teaspoon of chili powder, one-half teaspoon of paprika, one-half teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of lime juice, one-quarter teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar. 

Then, once the chicken has cooled, assemble your bowls, starting with a layer of rice and a handful of chicken. Add in your favorite veggies like chopped bell peppers, red onion, sweet corn, and avocado. Top with some shredded cheese and the delicious dressing you prepared. Don’t forget to serve with your favorite hot sauce, taco sauce, or salsa

If you want to change things up one day, pack all of the ingredients of this bowl into a tortilla for a lunch wrap.

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Healthy Meal Prep Ideas for Dinner

After a long day of classes, the last thing you want to do is figure out what’s for dinner. You also don’t want to blow your budget on dining out. Prepare these easy and affordable meals over the weekend, and give your future self the gift of time and tasty dinners throughout the week ahead.

5. Easy Lentil Soup

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Lentil soup has a lot going for it—and you. It’s warm, filling, and a super healthy recipe. It’s easy to make a big batch that will get you through a whole week of dinners, too. Vary your meals by pairing this hearty soup with different kinds of breads or wraps, don’t forget the butter. 

To make, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in your largest pot. Once warm, add in 1 chopped onion, 4 minced garlic cloves, and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Cook until fragrant, and then add in 2 chopped carrots, 2 chopped celery ribs, 5 cups of vegetable stock, 1 cup of dry brown lentils, 6 sprigs of fresh thyme, 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, 1 bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon of salt. 

Cover and simmer for around 45 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Squeeze in the juice of 1 small lemon and remove any large pieces of herbs before serving. 

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6. Vegetarian Chili

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It’s tough to beat warm chili on a cold day, and this comfort food is super easy to make. Warm it up wherever you are or take it with you in an insulated container. And if you don’t finish the whole pot in one week, chili freezes up well. 

To make, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot, and then toss in 1 diced yellow onion. Cook the onion until soft, add 1 chopped red bell pepper, and sauté for a few minutes longer. 

Stir in a couple of cloves of minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of ground chili powder, one-half tablespoon of dried oregano, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, one-half teaspoon of dried basil, one-half teaspoon of salt, one-half teaspoon of cayenne pepper, one-half teaspoon of paprika, one-quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper, and 1/2 tablespoons of white sugar. Cook for about 1 minute, just until fragrant.

Then, add in 2 15-ounce cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, 2 15-ounce cans of drained black beans, 1 15-ounce can of drained pinto beans, some green chiles if you like heat, 1 cup frozen of frozen corn, 1 cup of vegetable stock, and a bay leaf. Simmer for 30 minutes. 

For even better texture, carefully extract 1 ½ cups of the chili, blend it (carefully) until liquified, and then stir the pulp back into the broth to thicken it. Right before you’re ready to serve this dish, squeeze in the juice of a large lime. Don’t forget to top with a heaping dollop of sour cream, some shredded cheese, and fresh cilantro. 

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3 Tips to meal prep the right way!

Food Storage Containers 101

Get organized: Make a plan a few days before the week starts and shop for all of the ingredients you’ll need. Expert meal planners use a written or virtual calendar to mark out what they’ll eat each day. If that’s not your style, a loose paper-and-pencil idea will do. This can be a therapeutic, fun activity, so take your time with it. When you’re finished, you’ll have completed an act of self-care that gives throughout the week. 

Choose quality containers: Learning how to store food is an important part of meal prep, so make sure you’re using the best food storage containers available. All food, cooked or raw, fares best in air-tight containers because this keeps out bacteria. Look for containers made from sturdy materials like thick plastic or glass with sealing lids. 

Get organized: Make a plan a few days before the week starts and shop for all of the ingredients you’ll need. Expert meal planners use a written or virtual calendar to mark out what they’ll eat each day. If that’s not your style, a loose paper-and-pencil idea will do. This can be a therapeutic, fun activity, so take your time with it. When you’re finished, you’ll have completed an act of self-care that gives throughout the week. 

Choose quality containers: Learning how to store food is an important part of meal prep, so make sure you’re using the best food storage containers available. All food, cooked or raw, fares best in air-tight containers because this keeps out bacteria. Look for containers made from sturdy materials like thick plastic or glass with sealing lids. 

Before storing any hot food in the refrigerator, always let the dish cool down completely. This prevents the growth of bacteria and helps the food remain fresh. If using reusable plastic containers, let food cool down before putting it in the containers so you don’t accidentally melt the plastic.   

We also recommend keeping some Ziploc freezer bags and sandwich bags on hand. They can help store leftover ingredients or transport sides like bread and chips. 

If you don’t like putting dirty utensils back into your bag, pick up some compostable utensils

Stick to the plan: Meal planning only works well when you stick to the plan and eat the food you’ve made. We know it can be tempting to go out to eat when you’re in a hurry, but this is hard on your wallet. Plus, if you already made food ahead of time, it’s likely to spoil. You can “break the rules” from time to time if you want takeout, but try planning your outings ahead so you don’t prep more homemade dishes than you’ll need for the week.   

If you’re ready to become an expert meal planner, you can pick up all of the ingredients and containers you’ll need from GoPuff. What are you waiting for? Once you place your order, your items will be at your door in minutes. It’s time to jump in and live better.

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