MEAL PREP 101
A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Prep
Meal prep can be an EASY way to encourage healthy eating habits, take the stress out of mealtime, make a busy life easier and help you meet your overall health goals.
But finding the time in your busy schedule to meal prep and knowing how to start can be overwhelming. I get it! I’ve been there!
As a working mom, with four kids, I know first-hand how busy life can get and in order for meal prep to work for you and your lifestyle it has to be SUSTAINABLE.
There can’t be one right way or method to meal prep – it has to be about what works best for you.
In this guide to meal prep for beginners, you’ll learn:
- How you can benefit from meal prepping
- How to carve out time in your busy week to meal prep,
- Tips to set you up for meal prepping success
- Simple to prepare meal prep recipes for beginners
- Important considerations when it comes to meal planning
- Meal prep methods and effective meal prep strategies
Here you will learn how to use meal prep to help you make healthy, quick and delicious meals.
WELCOME – I’m so glad you’re here!
WHAT IS MEAL PREPPING ANYWAY?
Meal prepping is the process of preparing the food you’re going to cook for the week. It can be as simple as having all your ingredients chopped and measured out ahead of time, ready to go before you start cooking or as elaborate as cooking complete meals for the entire week.
Do leftovers count as meal prepping? MOST DEFINITLY!
Leftovers are awesome, although generally when we speak of ‘meal prep’ we are talking about several days’ worth of food prep. Finding the time to prep meals, snacks or treats in advance can be a much more efficient use of your time and allow for ready-to-go meals and snacks when you are too busy to cook (or too tired). Just keep in mind that meal prep looks a little different for everyone – and that’s ok! The fact that meal prepping and meal planning can be totally customizable depending on your needs, your schedule, your lifestyle, your budget and even your skill level in the kitchen (or lack thereof) means meal prepping is possible for everyone!
BENEFITS OF MEAL PREPPING
There are so many important reasons to be meal prepping, but here are my personal favorites:
#1 Meal prepping can save you TIME and reduce STRESS.
As a full-time working mom, raising four kids, I have limited TIME and no shortage of STRESS, so for me, this is definitely the number 1 reason why I choose to meal prep. AND although these days more of us are working from home, that doesn’t mean we have more time to spend in the kitchen. There’s always one more email send, one more paragraph left on that report and before you know it your tummy’s rumbling and your kids (and likely your significant other) are hovering around asking “what’s for dinner” and you haven’t got a clue. Knowing what you’ll be preparing for dinner (or lunch or breakfast) and having that meal fully prepared or even components of that meal ready and waiting can feel like a huge weight off your shoulders.
#2 Meal prepping can contribute to HEALTHY EATING and even WEIGHT LOSS.
The more things we can make from scratch at home the more opportunities we have to make healthier + fresher + cleaner options. Chances are that if you have a healthy meal already prepared or at least components of a meal that you can put together in minutes – it will likely help to eliminate the temptation for takeout or prepared foods. Healthier snacks and homemade meals – where you are in control of the ingredients! That means less sugar, less salt, less preservatives, no additives or fillers. Preparing your food ahead of time can also be used as a way to portion out your meals and snacks if you need helping managing portion control or looking to ensure you consume a healthy amount of nutrients.
#3 Meal prepping can help you save MONEY.
It’s no secret that dinning out and ready-made store-bought food can put a real dent in your wallet – something we’re all pretty contiguous about these days. Making food from scratch can be much more affordable and allow you to shop for ingredients that are on sale, in season, less expensive or available in bulk. When you start planning out your meals you are more likely to utilize all of your ingredients for the week and hopefully eliminate food waste. Have you ever had to throw away produce that spoiled before you had a chance to eat it? We’ve all been there, and it’s not a good feeling. Efficient meal planning and grocery shopping are KEY components to meal prepping and I’ll share more about this later in this guide.
#4 Meal prepping sets A GOOD EXAMPLE for our children and loved ones.
Think about it. The more you’re cooking from scratch, the more opportunities you have to get your kids working in the kitchen and teach them an important life skill. You also have a chance to teach them about healthy eating and the importance of each ingredient. YES it may result in extra spills and added clean up time – but think of it as a good opportunity for bonding with your children (and less screen time if nothing else!).
FINDING TIME TO MEAL PREP
Whatever your lifestyle demands you can make meal prepping work for you without committing to spending the entire weekend in the kitchen. Some people are intimidated at the thought of meal prepping because they have this idea that you need to devote your entire weekend to cooking and baking and I can see how that can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Learn more about efficient meal prep strategies here – designed to save you time in the kitchen so you can get the most out of your meal prep. Working SMARTER not harder! Once you start putting meal prep closer to the top of your list (prioritize it), in the end you’ll find that meal prepping will actually save you time overall so that you can actually get more done!
#sundaymealprep is not for everyone, so consider this…
…you can meal prep on any day of the week you have the most time or break up your meal prep over multiple days
Short on time? You can do as little as prepare your produce for the week. Having fruits and vegetables washed, chopped and ready to use can be a big-time saver!
Prefer not to cook complete meals ahead of time? You can work on planning out your meals for the week and simply prepare the ingredients needed for those meals. Wash, chop and measure everything out – no cooking required! If a recipe calls for a sauce, marinade or dressing – get that prepared ahead of time. Basically, have everything ready to go before you start cooking. You can carve out a bit of time to get this done the night before or prepare for the entire week on a day you have more time. Again, it really depends on what works for you and your lifestyle and how much time you can carve out.
SO remember – you can prep as much as you want or as little as you want and whenever you want.
If you want meal prepping to be a sustainable habit in your life – plan a flexible schedule and be realistic. Be mindful that your meal prepping schedule may change from week to week. Have fun with it and don’t be too hard on yourself. The best meal prep schedule is the one that works for you and your family.
Have the time but lacking the motivation? Maybe you have enough time to cook up complete meals for every day of the week but you’re currently in a recipe rut and find yourself making excuses not to cook. I got you!
If you’re lacking inspiration check out the BLOG for delicious recipes, snacks and treats. All of my recipes are easy to prepare, require minimal ingredients and are kid friendly of course!
TOP TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
The key to meal prepping, when you’re just starting out, is to KEEP IT SIMPLE by limiting the number of recipes and the complexity. You also want to KEEP IT SHORT by focusing on the meal that causes you the most stress and BE FLEXIBLE when you’re scheduling time to do your actual prepping.
Whether you’re new to meal prep or you’ve tried it before and it just didn’t stick – follow these top 4 tips for beginners (and born again meal preppers) to guarantee meal prep success:
#1 LIMIT THE NUMBER OF RECIPES: Attempting too many recipes straight out of the gate can leave you feeling overwhelmed and overcomplicate your meal prep. Too many ingredients, too many steps, hours in the kitchen – are all factors that make meal prepping an unsustainable habit and can turn you off of meal prepping altogether. Limiting the number of recipes will help ease your transition into meal prepping.
#2 STICK TO RECIPES THAT ARE EASY TO PREPARE: Avoid the temptation to try out new and elaborate meals which may be time consuming and leave you feeling deflated. Stick to recipes that you know and love eating and feel comfortable making – then slowly introduce new recipes as you build up your confidence in the kitchen.
Looking for some super simple (and tasty) meal prep recipes? Here are my favorite MEAL PREP RECIPES FOR BEGINNERES:
Looking for some super simple (and tasty) meal prep recipes? Here are my favorite MEAL PREP RECIPES FOR BEGINNERES:
#3 KEEP IT SHORT: Consider the meal that causes you the most stress in your week and focus your meal prep on that one meal. For my family that’s weeknight dinners. When you’re just starting out with meal prepping, focusing on one meal is much more attainable then setting out to make breakfast, lunch and dinner, snacks and treats for the entire week! You can gradually add on other meals as you start to get more comfortable. MINI MEAL PREP SESSSIONS spread out during week are also a great idea for newbies. They can be quite effective and FUN!
#4 BE FLEXIBLE AND COMMIT: Blocking off time to actually do your prepping is important! Grab a calendar and consider your week ahead. Be realistic with the amount of time you estimate to complete your prep as well as the day and time you’ve chosen. Once you have your meal prep scheduled – you need to show up! And if you don’t get everything prepped that you had planned either because your timing was off or life got in the way – don’t stress out about it. Have fun and continue to show up! Each time you complete a meal prep session, you will get better at estimating prep time.
Even if you take my advice and limit the number of recipes and meals you are prepping for the week, having a plan will set you up for success which is especially important for beginners. There are a few things you need to consider when it comes to making your meal prep plan. Keep reading to learn more…
EFFECTIVE MEAL PREP PLANNING
“If you fail to PLAN, you are planning to FAIL.”— Benjamin Franklin
Taking some time up front to plan your meal prep is very important. It can mean the difference between having an effective meal prep session and not meal prepping at all because you simply weren’t prepared.
There are many factors that come into plan when it comes to effective meal prep planning. Here are a few things to consider:
#1 Consider what meals to prep for the week (or weeks ahead)
To get the most out of meal prepping, consider prepping the meals that will benefit you and your family the most. If busy weeknights make cooking dinner overwhelming, consider focusing on make-ahead dinners. Are you rushed out the door most mornings and find yourself passing through the drive-through on your way to work? If so, then you might consider prepping breakfasts that are grab-and-go. Click here for my CHOCOLATE CHIA SEED PUDDING recipe. Determine what your specific needs are. Are you meal prepping for health, to save money or save time? Giving some thought to this will also help you narrow down what meals or recipes to make. Maybe you’d like to reduce the amount of processed snacks and store bought treats you’re consuming during the week, in which case having some healthy options prepped and ready in the fridge or freezer could be very rewarding.
#2 – Consider what ingredients are in season or on sale.
Taking the time to plan ahead gives you the ability to choose recipes that call for seasonal and local ingredients. When it comes to healthy eating this is sometimes overlooked but I think eating seasonally is important for so many reasons. Buying fruits and veggies in season generally means they are more nutrient dense, they hopefully are less chemically treated, they have spent less time in transport so less impact on the environment, not to mention that you are supporting local with is so important for your community. In the fall, my favorite soup to meal prep is butternut squash soup. So when this squash is in season (and on sale) I make sure to stock up and make triple batches of this yummy soup.
#3 Consider what ingredients you need buy vs. what you may already have.
Once you have decided on the meals and the recipes you want to prepare, its important you have all your ingredients ready for your prep day – so there are no excuses! But before you rush out to the grocery store, remember to check your fridge, freezer and pantry for items you may already have or need to use up before they expire. Write out your shopping list by department to navigate through the grocery store quickly. And don’t forget to stock up on storage containers. I prefer to use glass containers with air-tight lids as well as mason jars and re-usable freezer safe bags (which are great space savers). Learn more about food storage HERE.
#4 – Consider when to meal prep and schedule it in your calendar
Remember…you can meal prep on any day of the week you have the most time or break up your meal prep over multiple days.
Consider when you have the most time. This will look different for everyone. It might be on the weekend or once the kids have gone off to bed. There might be pockets of time throughout the week – which is perfect for MINI MEAL PREP SESSIONS. Be realistic with the amount of time you estimate to complete your prep as well as the day and time you have scheduled and be sure to BLOCK it off in your calendar!
#5 Consider what to prep when.
Effective meal prep planning involves making the most of your valuable time. Mapping out the order of operations and utilizing various meal prepping strategies allows you to work smarter in the kitchen not harder! The same is true whether you plan to meal prep on one day during the week or break up your meal prep over multiple days.
Meal prepping all on one day >> make the most of your time by starting with foods that take the longest to cook examples would be roasted veggies, beans, grains. Preheat the oven and start your pot of water boiling, is using. Prepare the ingredients that will be cooked first. Recipes that call for the same ingredients can be prepped at the same time and divided to use as needed. Reserve recipes that do not require cooking to the end like no-bake treats, salads, toppings, dressings etc.
Meal prepping over multiple days >> first consider what you plan to eat when so you can plan out your meal prepping tasks accordingly. For example, if you plan to meal prep for an hour on Sunday afternoon and 45 minutes on Tuesday evening – you will want to consider prepping the meals or ingredients you need for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday during your Sunday afternoon meal prep and then use your Tuesday evening prep time to prepare what you need for the rest of the week. This might sound very intuitive but when you break up your meal prep over multiple days you likely have limited time during that meal prep session so you really need to be efficient and make sure your game plan is tight. Also, by prepping the meals and ingredients that will be consumed first, will ensure optimum freshness. As a rule, I try to use up my food within 3-4 days in the fridge – if longer then I will store directly into the freezer. I share some great storage tips and food safely guidelines in this post.
….when you are considering what to prep when, give some thought also to whether there are any ingredients you need to have ready the night before your prep day, like soaking dry beans or grains overnight or defrosting something from the freezer. Include these tasks as part of your meal prep plan – leaving no excuses for your prep day!
Once you have given thought to some of these things – I guarantee your meal prepping will go much more smoothly and you’ll be making the most of your valuable time.
MEAL PREP METHODS AND STRATEGIES
Depending on your schedule, the meals snacks or treats you plan to prep ahead and your comfort level in the kitchen – you may decide to focus on one meal-prep method or a combination. Make-ahead meals and batch cooking are quite popular and the methods I use weekly. Prepping ingredients so that they are ready to go before you start cooking is also a great meal prep method – think sheet pan dinners, stir fry’s and more! If you need help managing portion control or the convenience of grab-and-go meals you may choose to focus on individually portioning out your meals. Determine the method (or combination) that works best for you. There are also many strategies I use to get the most out of my meal prepping sessions. Learn more about my meal prepping strategies HERE designed to save you time in the kitchen so you can get the most out of your meal prep. Working SMARTER not harder.
…there is no one right way to method or meal prep – it’s about what works best for you. It has to be in order for meal prep to be a sustainable habit in your life and not something you try and fail. Meal prepping can lead to long term habits that produce results but it may take time to develop a routine that works for you and your lifestyle – so have patience, commit and most of all have FUN!