Shelby Spruill is a first-year PA student and shares tips about meal prep. She includes recipes at the end. Take a look!
We are here to talk about meal prep during what will most likely be a hectic time for you, AKA PA school. Along with all day lectures, practicing checklist skills, cadaver labs, solo study time, group study sessions, etc. you are expected to be a functioning human being that performs day to day tasks. You may be thinking you manage to cook, clean, and do laundry all of the time, and you’re not worried about it. Trust me when I say this- in PA school “free time” actually means “free study time,” not time to do chores or socialize.
One of the first chores that gets pushed aside during PA school, besides laundry which gets pushed under the bed, is cooking. I myself am not the type of person that cooks lavish meals that take 2 hours or more to finish. I’m more of a “What can go in the microwave or crock pot and takes minimal effort from me?” kind of gal. So if you like simple, straightforward, affordable ways to meal prep- stay tuned.
First things first- learn to love frozen vegetables that come in steamer bags. These are incredibly versatile and insure you get some veggies in your diet. Something I’ll do if I’m running short on time (which is always) is have a steamer bag of vegetables mixed with brown rice and then add chicken or black beans to it. After that, I dress it like a rice bowl with my favorite salad dressing and bam I have a meal. I use the Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice when I do this, and usually end up with 2-3 meals. I use what I need at the moment and then portion out the rest into containers that I’ll use throughout the week for lunch or dinner. If I feel like adding a flare, I’ll take the time to add avocado. Another way frozen veggies can be used is a quick, one pan stir-fry recipe. If you do a stir-fry, you can cook the meat right then, or use left over rotisserie chicken. These recipes can get ingredient heavy if you search online, but if you want the basics all you need is frozen veggies, chicken, a few spices (salt, pepper, garlic powder, ginger), and soy sauce. From that base you can add anything else you’d like. If you want to take it up a level and throw in sesame seeds, grated ginger, or some cilantro for garnish- you go for it!
Now for those of you that own crockpots- treat that thing like it’s gold, because in PA school it is better than gold- it is PLATINUM. An all time favorite that even my picky niece and nephews (ages 6-12) will eat is crockpot chicken noodle soup. (I’ve provided a link at the end that has a recipe similar to the one I use.) If you aren’t a chicken noodle soup type of person, then try other recipes that you enjoy. The main point is that using a crockpot allows you to put the ingredients in, leave it to cook while you do other stuff (AKA study) and when you come back hours later it’s done! This method also affords you left overs, which you will need throughout the week.
Now let’s talk proteins. First of all, if you’re not crazy about grocery shopping, try buying a lot at once, portion it out, freeze it, and then use as needed. As an example, you could buy 5-10lbs of ground beef at one time and use small portions to make things such as meat sauce for spaghetti (crockpot or stovetop), taco meat, stuffed peppers, meatballs (crockpot or oven), etc. This same method of buy big, portion, freeze, use as needed can be generalized to most meat products… just remember to store properly to avoid freezer burn. If you need a weight estimate for how much to cook at once, I’d suggest cooking 2lbs at a time and portion that out into 5 servings. Another great idea when you are running low on time is to buy a rotisserie chicken and use the left overs in salads, rice bowls, wraps, pasta dishes, or even chicken and cheese quesadillas! For those that are parents, I will say from personal experience the quesadilla idea is always a hit with my niece and nephews. (See links below for quesadilla and rotisserie chicken wraps. The link for chicken wraps will take you to a website with multiple options as well as the ability to select what veggies you have and it will filter available recipes.)
We’ve covered some easy tips for vegetables, grains (rice), and protein. That leaves my personal favorite- fruit! Fruit is more of a snack for me than a meal, but apple slices and peanut butter/ Nutella is the bomb.com AND it’s simple. How simple I hear you ask! It’s so simple a PA student with no time has done it every week since week 1. The only prep required is to slice the apples and put the slices in the fridge until you need them. If the brown edges that occur bother you, try putting some lemon juice on the slices before storing them. Apple slicing is a mindless “brain break” when you need a 10min study break, just be careful with the knife handling or invest in an apple slicer. You’ll thank yourself later when you need a snack while studying, are too drained to make anything, and instead of reaching for the bag of Doritos, you grab the ready to eat apple slices. OK, OK, at least the apples are an option even though Doritos may win out a few times. You can also use fruit as a salad or wrap ingredient. Throw some mandarin oranges in your salad or make a summer style chicken wrap with strawberry slices.
There is also the fruit smoothie option. I put in a good amount of time at the gym, and one of the best ways I’ve found to get veggies, fruits, healthy fats, and protein into my recovery meal is a smoothie. If possible always use some kind of vegetable (spinach, kale, sweet potato, carrot, etc.) so that you don’t have sugar overload from the fruit. Pro tip: you can portion out smoothie ingredients into Ziploc bags so that all you have to do is toss the contents into the blender, add liquid, and hit a button. It can really be that easy.
Lastly, be consistent with meal prepping. If you know you are prone to eating junk food if that’s the only readily available option, then make it a priority to set aside 30min- 1 hour a week to get something in the crockpot, snacks prepped, and everything portioned out for the week. Remember to keep it simple and do what works for you. The simpler the meal prep is and the more convenient it is for your schedule, the more likely you are to stick with it. Good luck!
Shelby Spruill, PA-S1
Chicken Noodle Soup