Meal prep conjures up images of plastic black containers filled with small portions of broccoli and chicken. I’m not surprised that meal prep isn’t always that popular. As an MBA student, it’s also really tempting to order takeout after a long day of classes and networking. Here’s what helped me go from sad desk lunches to food I look forward to eating:

Search out DIY versions of the takeout you love. It may seem obvious, but spending 5-10 hours finding and testing recipes can completely change the game. I love ordered drunken noodles from Thai restaurants, and actually look forward to cooking it on my own. Even if the sauces and special ingredients cost an extra ~$10 or so, this was spread over the many non-takeout meals I ate.

Find cute containers. A glass or metal bento box can really make your meal prep seem more appealing. You’ll feel less awkwardness turning down food from the cafeteria.

Use big enough portions. A lot of people try to dramatically change everything at once: going from large portions of calorie-rich food to super healthy portions and ingredients. If you don’t already eat super healthy, consider taking it slower. Start by packing up what you would normally eat for dinner – rather than optimistically hoping to only need half of that portion.

Bring a treat for yourself. Even the best-laid plans for meal prep can fall apart when it comes to beverages and desserts. If you have a box of cookies or candies, portion out a small amount for each day. If you love fancy beverages with your lunch, buy in bulk and have one a day.

Create tangible reminders of the money you are saving. Create a new account and fill it with the money you would have spent on lunch. Depending on you, you may want to digitally transfer this money from your account everyday or use another kind of tracking system. This basically reframes your thinking from a sacrifice (all the delicious food you are NOT eating) to an upcoming treat (a vacation? designer purse? the options are endless…)

The other tip I frequently see is to create a strict schedule of meal prep – ex. always cooking 6 meals on Sunday night. As a student, this kind of rigid schedule doesn’t really work. I would suggest trying to plan 2-3 days of meals out, and looking for pockets of flexibility (~2 hours or so) when you can cook up those meals. This also helps you not get bored as quickly.

I hope these tips help you!