By Carlee Frank

Welcome to week eight of a Healthier You! I have a question: when did you eat last, and what did you eat? If you are similar to four in 10 Americans, you skipped breakfast and snacked for lunch (ABC News, IDEA). Furthermore, a 2014 Nielson poll found that snacking purchases — such as Greek yogurt, nutritional bars and candy  — grew by $48 billion in one year, whereas overall grocery spending increased by only $1.8 billion. This means people are either overeating as a result of increased snacking, or eating too little as a result of less balanced meals.

Therefore, we must reevaluate our eating habits as a population. Many studies have found that the average workweek for Americans is 46.7 hours, and another 50 percent say they work more than that. It is no surprise, then, that we have less time for balanced meals — so, this is where meal prepping comes into play. Meal prepping is the weekly preparation of meals for a period of time greater than two days. Meal prepping allows you to eat more healthily, budget more efficiently, save time throughout the week and set up a weekly routine. You can meal prep five days a week, seven days a week, or simply meal prep your lunches –it’s incredibly versatile.

Let’s take it step by step. First, choose balanced meals that feature protein, necessary vitamins and minerals and healthy carbs, such as legumes, meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy. For example: overnight oats with berries for breakfast, quinoa salad with black beans, mushrooms, spinach and salsa with sliced banana on the side for lunch and a lettuce wrap with chicken, tomatoes, cheese and hummus and sweet potato mash on the side for dinner.

Next, go to the store and pick up all of the necessary ingredients. If you aren’t budgeting, simply select whatever you need. If you are budgeting, however, be creative — you can make tasty food for only $30 a week. YouTube is a wonderful resource for meal prep ideas and ideas for individuals with dietary restrictions.

Lastly, choose one day a week, such as Sundays, to cook and store your meals. There are multiple containers in which you can store your meals: mason jars, Tupperware or Bento boxes. However, no matter the container, it’s important to store the food items properly. If you don’t think they will store well together, simply separate them within the container. For example, separate the lettuce and fillings of a lettuce wrap and construct it just before eating so it doesn’t get soggy by the end of the week. Additionally, if you choose to meal prep for a full week, save the least ripe fruits, vegetables and other ingredients for the end of the seven days.

Now that you know the steps, let’s discuss the benefits. Meal prepping can save you upwards of $60 each week, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average household spends $3,008 dining out each year. How many times have you run out of time to cook and stopped by a fast food joint instead, or stood in front of the fridge for 20 minutes only to come away with a doggy bag from the night before? Meal prepping alleviates all of these problems.

You won’t have to spend time cooking or searching for food — instead you can use that time on projects, or with friends and families. As you set up a weekly routine, you will feel less stressed, and hopefully more productive. It will also help you to eat healthier food and curb your snack cravings. So, experiment with meal prepping this week, and you might discover a new-found passion.