Want to learn how to meal prep but don’t know where to start? Well, this beginner’s guide to meal prepping will take you from zero to hero. Not only will you learn to save time, but these handy tips will start your week off on the right foot (without any added stress!).
Look, I get it.
The last thing you want to do when you get home from work is slave over a hot stove.
And before you start thinking of meal prep as another boring, time-consuming task to add to your to-do list, hear me out: I was exactly like you!
But a few simple tricks and a change of mindset transformed my way of seeing meal prep just as another chore.
This ultimate guide will teach you how to meal prep, prepare healthy and nutritious ingredients in advance, store them with food-safety rules in mind, and provide you with a few tasty meal ideas!
Although it might seem overwhelming at first, learning how to meal prep will help you to seriously simplify your life.
And find more time for the things you really value!
How to Meal Prep: A Beginner’s Guide to Simplify Your Life in the Kitchen
What Is Meal Prep?
In basic terms, meal prep is the concept of planning and preparing dishes in advance.
These meals are usually pre-portioned and are perfect for managing busy schedules, sticking to a healthy, wholesome diet, or just simplifying your life!
There are a few different approaches to meal prepping which include:
- Preparing full meals in advance
- Batch cooking and freezing
- Prepping ingredients and pulling things together when you come to eat (spoiler alert – this is my favorite way of meal prepping!)
Why Meal Prep Will Change Your Life
There are so many things that meal prepping helps with.
Imagine coming home after a long day at work and knowing that you have a delicious, healthy meal already prepped and ready to go.
No more staring into the fridge, wondering what to make for dinner, or resorting to takeout.
- You will save time: Dedicating a few hours to meal planning, creating a shopping list, and whipping up your food will ultimately save you hours during the week.
- Eat healthy meals all the time: By having your meals planned in advance, you can have nutritious and flavorful meals that will keep you energized throughout the day.
- You will save money: Planning an entire week’s worth of meals helps to cut down on food waste and avoid impulsive purchases, which will reduce your food budget.
Best Meal Prep Containers
- Glass airtight containers: Glass containers like these are environmentally friendly and free from toxins. So they won’t release chemicals in your food!
- Mason jars: Perfect to prep parfaits, overnight oats, or layered salads. I love how cute they look and are perfect for keeping food fresh. Ball or Weck are my go-to brands. If you want to take smoothies on the go, glass bottles work well instead.
- Stackable containers: If you want to keep your fridge organized, these containers are designed to sit on top of each other in the fridge without taking up much space and are usually of equal sizes for easy portioning.
- Bento boxes: I love making bento boxes for lunch! You can opt for stainless steel or BPA-free plastic ones (although I prefer stainless steel for environmental and health reasons).
3 Best Ways of Meal Prepping
If you think that meal prepping involves grocery shopping and prepping individual portions of main meals, you’d be right.
But that’s not the only way you can meal prep!
Depending on your time, you don’t need to spend an entire day (or evening!) cooking full meals.
Here are a few different meal prepping methods you can choose from.
1. Making whole meals ahead of time
I am not a big fan of reheating entire meals. I often prefer the texture of freshly cooked ingredients, but there are a few exceptions.
Curries are even better reheated than as soon as cooked.
And there’s nothing quite as good as having something ready to eat that you just need to whack in the oven or pull out of the fridge.
Especially when I am tired at the end of the day, this gets something nutritious on the table for dinner in minutes.
2. Cooking in batches
Cooking in batches means that you’ll cook large amounts of one recipe before splitting it into equal portions.
This typically involves freezing (as some portions will go bad!), but it depends on how many people you’re cooking for.
3. Preparing ingredients ahead of time
This is, by far, my favorite way of meal prepping.
By taking the time to wash, peel, chop, and portion out your ingredients ahead of time, you can save valuable time and energy during the week.
And still enjoying freshly home-cooked meals!
I always make sure to have the following handy:
- Grains: Opt for whole grains. Things like quinoa, farro, couscous, and brown rice, to name a few!
- Leafy greens: Washed salads, kale, chopped cabbage, and washed spinach are always on my list!
- Proteins: I mostly eat plant-based proteins, so plenty of beans (like these chickpeas) and tofu, but you can also boil eggs in advance or roast your chicken.
- Veggies: I love spiralizing veggies or roasting them in the oven to have them ready to eat and add to pasta dishes or salads.
- Sauces: Never underestimate how much a good sauce can elevate a simple meal. I love to prep dressings in advance (perfect for adding creaminess and flavor to bowls and salads), and also pasta sauces like pesto (perfect for freezing!).
This way, I can throw everything together in a matter of minutes for a fresh meal every single night.
What Meals Can You Meal Prep?
There isn’t anything that you strictly can’t meal prep. Especially if you use my favorite way of meal prepping ingredients.
But if you prefer to cook full meals, some things hold up better than others.
I recommend sticking to meals that are still delicious a few days after cooking, like:
- Buddha Bowls
- Bento boxes
- Vegan recipes (on the whole, these don’t degrade as quickly as meat-based dishes)
- Stiff veggies
- Lean proteins
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole fruits
The main thing to remember is to avoid ingredients like soft vegetables. These items will degrade quickly in the fridge and taste mushy when reheated.
How to Cut Down Cooking Time
1. Stick to a schedule
First of all, you don’t need to set aside a whole day of cooking. Make it simple and plan an hour of your time to start with.
I usually set aside 15 minutes on Monday morning to plan a week ahead (so I don’t get stressed out over the weekend), order groceries online for delivery on Friday night (cheaper than Saturday morning), and set aside an hour for prepping and cooking on Sunday morning.
It doesn’t matter which day you pick – just make sure it aligns with your schedule and is something you won’t skip.
2. Pick the right recipes
Picking tasty recipes that you enjoy is key to meal prepping, but you can also save time by being strategic.
Choosing meals that you can make in the oven and while you have something whizzing on the stovetop is awesome.
To make things even easier, pick a few hot dishes and a couple of cold lunches like salads, wraps, or sandwiches to free up kitchen space.
And more than anything: keep it simple!
3. Plan ahead
Think about what you want to cook for the whole week ahead of time. Start with a few simple meals you enjoy while you get the hang of it.
Also, before you start cooking, take a few minutes to understand all your tasks. This will give you time to start from the most time-consuming first, so you don’t run out of time.
How to Safely Cook, Store, and Reheat Your Meals
1. Cool foods as fast as possible
I’m big on food safety and always cool my ingredients as quickly as possible to prevent bacteria growth and condensation.
You’ll want to have your meal prep in the fridge within 2 hours to keep everything safe.
To speed up cooling, stand your containers (carefully!) in cold water or spread your recipe over a larger surface container while it cools.
2. Freeze and reheat your food only once
Reheating food too many times is a recipe for food poisoning.
Avoid reheating food more than once (and at the right temperature, too!).
3. Consume within the proper time frame
I always recommend labeling your meal prep containers with the date you cooked the recipe (especially if you are going to freeze them).
Most meal prep dishes should be eaten within 3-4 days if they’re in the fridge.
Frozen batch meals can last up to 6 months in the fridge, but it’s best to work case by case!
How Often Should You Meal Prep?
The answer to this question is entirely up to you.
Experienced meal preppers can batch-cook an entire week’s worth of meals at once.
For newbies, I suggest trying a couple of days first and building up from there.
Regardless of how often you’ve been meal prepping, it’s usually best to prep twice a week.
This will keep your meals within food-safe windows and make everything tastes as fresh as possible.
How to Meal Prep in 3 Simple Steps
1. Make a meal plan
You should start by making a simple meal plan with ingredients, quantities you’ll need, and any recipes you’ll need to get cooking.
To avoid mealtime boredom, choose at least a couple of different recipes that you can rotate (and that you actually enjoy!).
To make your week easier, consider naming each day of the week after a meal you plan on eating and popping this on your meal planner.
So, you might have Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, or Pasta Wednesdays that’ll help you easily remember what you’re making!
Oh, and I suggest asking your family what they’d like to eat throughout the week.
You don’t need to include every single choice, but why not let each family member choose one meal a week?
They could also help to prep their own meal. Everybody wins!
2. Write your grocery list
Once you’ve got your ingredients written down, make a detailed grocery list.
I prefer to shop online since it saves me plenty of time and helps me avoid impulse purchases at the grocery store, but it’s totally up to you!
P.S.: When you’re at the store, go for the freshest ingredients with long expiry dates!
3. Get cooking
Start slow and simple
Starting your meal prep journey will feel a tad overwhelming.
So, it’s a good rule of thumb to start slow and simple with easy-to-cook meals (it’s a great way to build habits, too!).
If you want to make things even more effortless, pick meals that share ingredients that you can prep at the same time.
Also, don’t stress: make it a chill, relaxed time. Listen to some music and drink a cup of tea (or wine if that’s your thing) while chopping and washing.
Remember: you are taking care of yourself and your family by setting aside this time to prep nutritious meals
I get that you might want to create a colorful meal plan packed with variety.
But sticking with the same meals for a few days makes things so much easier in the first few weeks.
Just make sure you choose recipes that hold up well in the fridge, and you can face eating several times.
Add more plant-based meals to your plan
If you’re a meat eater, it’s worth adding new plant-based recipes to your plan.
Meatless Mondays are the best way to incorporate fresh vegetables into your diet.
Plus, these recipes last exceptionally well in the fridge and can easily be jazzed up with a handful of herbs and spices.
Opt for cold meals
It doesn’t take much time to prep cold meals, and they’re great for pulling out of the fridge if you don’t have access to a microwave.
Make the most of leftovers
If you’re easing into meal prepping, just make a few extra servings of your main meals!
Most hot meals taste just as good the next day, and you can save a lot of time by practicing basic portion control.
Shove the leftovers into glass containers, and you’ll save yourself so much time!
Prepare only the ingredients
If you prefer a freshly cooked meal like me, you can prepare the ingredients ahead of time.
Chop the veggies, marinate any lean protein, cook up the grains, and you’ll still save yourself plenty of stress during the week.
There you have it!
I used to hate the idea of meal prepping.
But by taking the time to understand what kind of meal prepping works for me – mostly prepping ingredients and meal blocks ahead of time – I found a way to reduce the time I spend in the kitchen and have finally been able to prioritize my health and well-being.
I now eat more wholesome, healthy meals that nourish my body and give me much more energy to tackle each day.
If you want to make a positive change in your life, give meal prepping a try!
With a bit of trial and error, you’ll be able to enjoy all the benefits of this simple yet powerful habit.
How to Meal Prep 1.0
- 1 bunch radish
- 2 carrots
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 2 bell peppers
- 2 cups grains - quinoa, couscous, farro, brown rice, etc.
- 1 batch Turmeric Tahini Dressing
- Wash all your veggies under cold running water, pat them dry, cut the carrots using a julienne peeler (or cut them into sticks), slice the radish, and cut the peppers. Store all the veggies in glass containers.
- Cook your grains of choice according to your package instructions. If using quinoa, remember to rinse it well under running water first.
- Preheat the oven to 390F (200C).
- Slice the tofu into thick slices and then into sticks.
- In a shallow bowl, mix the soy sauce, milk, and flour until you get a thick sticky consistency. Spread the sesame seeds on a plate.
- Dip each tofu stick into the mix, press it onto the sesame seeds, and coat on all sides, gently pressing to help the seeds stick. Place the tofu sticks on a baking sheet.
- Peel and chop the sweet potatoes, chop the broccoli, and peel and slice the red onion. Place everything on the same baking sheet as the tofu, coat with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle everything with salt and pepper, and roast for 20-25 minutes, stirring it well after 10-15 minutes.
- Make a batch of this turmeric tahini dressing or your favorite dressing.
- Store everything in glass containers. You can store each component separately or assemble your bowls into individual portions.