I am a big fan of meal prepping! There is no way I could make new recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday! To hear more about my journey of learning about meal prepping check out this blog post where I share my story!
Now let’s break down the basics for meal prepping!
What is Meal Prep?
Meal Prep is the process of planning and preparing meals in advance of eating them. There are a few different forms of meal prep.
- Batch cooking, making a large quantity of one dish and storing it in one container. Think about a large pot of pasta for a family with servings to last throughout the week night dinners. My mom did a lot of batch cooking when I was growing up!
- Freezer meals, preparing a meal and storing it in the freezer to thaw, heat and eat at a later date. An example of a freezer meal is soup stored in a pyrex container or ziplock back that is cooked in October but consumed in November.
- Individual meal prep, this is my favorite form of meal prep! I cook twice a week and prepare all the meals for the week in individual portion containers. On Sunday I prepare three servings for breakfast, lunch and dinner to eat Monday through Wednesday. Wednesday night I prep my meals for Thursday-Saturday. For breakfast I love to make overnight oats, for lunch I might make mason jar salads and for dinner I could make a grain bowl.
Don’t you get bored of eating the same thing?
There are lots of ways to mix up your meal prep so you don’t end up eating the same thing ever day. Alternating you lunch and dinners is one options. If you make a pesto pasta recipe you can eat that for lunch on Monday and Wednesday and for dinner on Tuesday. Adding different sauces can really mix things up. If you have a roasted veggie bowl, you can use a balsamic vinaigrette on Monday, some hot sauce on Tuesday and some pesto on Wednesday. Trying a variety of recipes will also keep things interesting.
Listen to your body
Meal prep doesn’t have to be restrictive. After your first round of meal prep ask yourself, should I make bigger or smaller portion sizes next week? You can also prep your snacks and eat those when you get hungry. You can also stop eating when you are full and save the rest for later. I get full really quickly so I would rather eat four small meals throughout the day but my husband prefers to eat three bigger meals and not to have to stop and snack. Meal prepping can be flexible to fit your needs. It is also normal to have different levels of hunger on different days.
Understand your “why”
Why do you want to start meal prepping? Are you looking to eat more veggies? Does cooking dinner every night after a long day at work stress you out? (I know it stresses me out, I tried it once since graduating college, that’s not happening again, lol.) Maybe you are looking to reduce your spending on takeout or groceries. Are you looking for some spare time in your week to spend with your friends or family? I meal prep so I don’t have to worry about cooking every day, to save money and spend more time with my husband and friends. Understanding your “why” can help you stay committed even if your first try at meal prepping isn’t perfect.
How to start meal prepping
Start small to stay sustainable! If you have never meal prepped before just start with meal prepping your lunch for three days. Use a recipe you already know and love. Starting with just a lunch can be easier than meal prepping for every meal using all new recipes.
As you get in the habit of meal prepping you can add dinner and then breakfast too. Over time you can branch out and slowly try new recipes. Taking it one step at a time can help build a lasting habit instead of getting overwhelmed. The more you meal prep the faster you will become! In college I could go to the grocery store and meal prep very simple recipes and have everything done in two hours.
Choose a day and time that will work for your schedule. I like to cook on Sundays and Wednesdays. The best days to meal prep are the days that are most sustainable for you.
Meal prep containers & tools
The first step to meal prepping is getting the right tools. You can use the containers you have or buy matching ones. These containers work great for lunches and I use these mason jars for layered salads. A funnel is helpful when you want to assemble meal-preps quickly but don’t want to get quinoa all over the table! I meal prepped for years without a funnel but this little tool is probably the best $4.00 I spent all year! Other basic kitchen tools are also necessary such as a cookie sheet for roasting veggies, a pan for sautéing onions and a pot for soups.
Recipes suited for prepping
Once you have the right containers you can choose your recipes. Some recipes are better fresh and don’t keep all week so try to choose recipes that will still taste good a few days later. When choosing your recipes also consider your schedule for the week, are you meeting a friend for dinner or do you have a work event coming up? Adjust the portions you prepare accordingly.
Shop with a list
With recipes in hand, head to the grocery store. Combine the ingredient lists from your recipes to one master list, add other snack items or pantry staples you need to replenish for the week. As you get into the habit of grocery shopping off the planned list you will start to learn how to write the grocery list to fit a walk through your specific grocery store.
Cook with a plan
Once you have the food, get started with the prep! Think about what will take the longest to cook and start with those tasks. When meal prepping multiple meals at once you don’t have to stick to one recipe at a time. You can start cooking rice for a veggie bowl while also boiling water for veggie mac.
Make it fun
If cooking isn’t your favorite pastime, try out these tactics to make it more enjoyable.
- Cook with a pal! In college I was always inviting my roommates to cook with me. My husband and I also love to cook together.
- Blast your favorite music. 🎶
- Enjoy your favorite drink. I love to try different flavors of kombucha!
- Calculate all the time you will save during the week by not having to cook or drive to a fast food place for every meal. Make a plan for how you will enjoy that extra time! ⌚️
- Calculate all the money you will save and then do a little celebratory dance! My prepped meals cost an average of $2.00 – $3.00 per meal. In NYC, where I work, you can easily drop $20.00 on a salad, and that’s not even including the delivery fee! 💸
Store & chill
Distribute the food between your containers, clean your kitchen and take a deep breath! You are done cooking! Grab your lunch on your way out the door and enjoy yummy and affordable meals at work! After work, spend more time with your friends and family instead of slaving over the stove! Finish putting away the laundry and you will be all set to conquer the week!