Meal prepping is one of the most effective ways to consistently eat a healthy diet. It’s a great habit for someone who has limited time and energy to prepare healthy meals during the week. Although it takes some time and effort up front, the benefits are more than worth it. Here’s a guide to help you start meal planning.
WHAT IS MEAL PREPPING?
Meal prepping is simply preparing a meal or an ingredient that can later be incorporated into a meal, ahead of time. This can include washing and chopping raw veggies to use in several meals or making a complete meal that you can heat up on a weeknight. You don’t have to prep all your food for the entire week. Even preparing just a few lunches or dinners will make your week easier and healthier.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MEAL PREPPING?
Better health – Having healthy food already prepared increases the likelihood that you will consistently eat a nutritious diet. By making some of your meals ahead of time, the decision about what you are going to eat has already been made. Therefore, when you’re tired or too busy to cook, just grab one of the meals you prepared earlier. I definitely eat the healthiest the weeks I take time to meal prep!
Saves money – You can make fewer trips to the grocery store, ultimately reducing the amount you spend on food. You’re less likely to waste food if you only buy what you need. You’ll also eat out less if you already have meals prepared. Meal prepping a lunch for work costs far less than the $10-$15 it would probably cost you to buy take-out.
Saves time – Although meal prepping does require some time up front, you end up saving more time during the week. When you’re rushing out the door in the morning, you only need to grab a container of prepped food for lunch rather than spend time putting a lunch together. At dinner, you simply heat up a meal you already made or assemble the ingredients you already prepared.
STEP 1: TAKE STOCK OF THE FOOD YOU ALREADY HAVE
Look in your pantry, fridge, and freezer to see if there is food that you need to use up. If for example, you have vegetables or meat that need to be eaten soon, you can make that the base of one of the meals you prep. Looking through your pantry and freezer will remind you of what you already have and help you determine what you can incorporate into a meal. You may already have some ingredients to work with if you keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer. Once you have assessed what’s already in your kitchen, make a list of some of the food items that you may want to incorporate into meals. Also, consider looking up what’s on sale at the grocery stores you go to. If there are any really good sales, you may decide to make meals that use some of these ingredients on sale.
STEP 2: DECIDE WHAT TO MAKE
The next step is deciding what meals or ingredients you want to prep. I tend to focus on meal prepping lunches and dinners, but it is possible to prepare breakfasts ahead too. You don’t need to make every meal for the week. If you are new to meal prepping, I would suggest starting out by just focusing on one meal, like lunches that you can take to work.
There are two main meal prep strategies that I like to use. The first is to fully prepare a meal ahead of time. This strategy is great for days that you know you won’t have time to prepare lunch or dinner. I generally make one meal per week that I use for 3-4 work lunches. Although you may end up eating the same thing for multiple meals, the main advantage to this strategy is that your meal is completely ready, you only need to heat it up. Some types of meals that work well for this strategy are:
- Stew or chili
- Curry dish
The second meal prep strategy is to batch prep individual ingredients that can be used as the basis of several different meals throughout the week. This works well if it’s important to have more variety in your meals. Some ideas for batch prepping ingredients include:
- Cook a pot of some kind of grain (brown rice, quinoa, pasta)
- Roast vegetables or sweet potatoes
- Make a pot of lentils or black beans
- Cook shredded chicken in the slow cooker
- Hard boil eggs
- Wash and cut up vegetables
Ideally, you want to make meals that are simple and quick to prepare. You may have already come up with ideas of what to make when you were taking stock of what you have in your kitchen. If not, there are several ways to find easy meal ideas. Browsing Pinterest is a great place to start. Searching for “easy dinner recipes” or for a specific type of cuisine will give you lots of potential options. Another strategy is to search for meals that use one of the ingredients you already have, so you can figure out how to incorporate those foods in your meal prep. Over time you will find some favorite go-to meals and ingredients that you turn to consistently.
STEP 3: MAKE YOUR GROCERY LIST AND GO FOOD SHOPPING
Once you decide what meals you are going to prepare, make a list of everything that you need to buy to make those meals. Ideally, you will do your grocery shopping the day of or day before you plan to meal prep so you’re using the freshest ingredients. Since meal prepping requires that you plan what you are going to eat throughout the week, you may be able to buy all your food in one trip to the grocery store, saving you time and money.
STEP 4: PREP YOUR FOOD
Next, it’s time to prep your food. Wash, chop, sauté, bake, roast, or cook all the foods that you decided to meal prep this week. You want to try to multi-task and work on preparing several foods simultaneously. For example, have rice cooking on the stove or in a rice cooker while you wash and chop the vegetables to use in the main meal you’re preparing.
You may want to think about making a double batch of some things so you can freeze the extras and use them in later weeks. If you do this for several weeks, over time you will accumulate a variety of meals that you can grab and heat up. This strategy is good for people who don’t like to eat the same thing several days in a row. Having some extra prepped meals in the freezer will also come in handy for weeks that you may not be able to meal prep due to travel or an unusually busy schedule.
STEP 5: STORE YOUR FOOD
Once everything is prepared you should portion out the food into the number of servings that you plan to use at one meal. This can be individual containers to grab for lunches or a larger container to hold enough servings to feed the entire family for dinner. You may want to think about investing in a set of PBA free glass containers. Pyrex and Snapware are great options that I’ve been using for years. If you make extra food to freeze, store the food in a freezer safe container or Ziplock bag.