Many of us aspire to live a healthy lifestyle with home-cooked meals every night but, let’s face it, life can get busy! By the time you finish work, drive home, make dinner, eat it, and clean up, it can feel like it’s almost time to go to bed. Enter meal prep – a simple planning tool that can help make eating well so much easier. So, whether you are looking for some help with breakfast, lunch, or dinner, here is everything that you need to know about meal prep and 9 easy meal prep tips to help get you started.
What is meal prep?
Short for meal preparation, meal prep is the act of preparing all, or some, of your meals ahead of schedule. Meal prep can be done by batch cooking, individually portioning meals, or simply pre-preparing ingredients for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner for the week ahead.
Why meal prep?
Meal prepping is a great way to help make eating well easy and can also save you time and money in the process. By simply planning your meals ahead of time you can ensure that you only buy what you need, don’t waste food, and save time trying to decide what to eat during the week. Meal prepping can also help you learn the art of portion control and help support weight loss in the process.
How long does meal prep take?
The answer to this is totally up to you! How long meal prep will take is completely dependent on your skill level in the kitchen and what you choose to make. If you want to keep things simple, you can easily be in and out of the kitchen in under an hour, but if you are looking to make more elaborate dishes it may take you a full afternoon.
How long does meal prep last?
Depending on what exactly you choose to prepare, meal prep can last anywhere from 3-5 days in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer. To help maximize the lifetime of your meals, store them in air-tight containers and label them so things don’t get left (or lost!) in the fridge or freezer.
What are good meals to meal prep?
The best foods to meal prep are ones that hold up well in storage and maintain their taste and texture after a few days in the fridge. Cooked meats, grains, beans, lentils, vegetables, soups, and stews all make great meal prep ingredients because they can easily last up to a week in the fridge and freeze very well. Raw vegetables are also good meal prep ingredients, however, be sure to not add any sauces or dressings until it is time to eat since they may wilt and get mushy in storage. I’ve shared a ton of recipes that you can use for meal prep, however, my Meal Prep Breakfast Bowls, Meal Prep Buddha Bowls and Sticky Chicken Meal Prep bowls are some of the most popular.
How do you start meal prepping?
The best way to start meal prepping is just to start! There is no need to get bogged down in the details or to overcomplicate things. Start by selecting a few dishes or recipes that you are comfortable making and go from there.
Healthy Meal Prep Tips
Ready to get started? Here are 9 simple but effective meal prep tips that will help get you started today.
1. Make a Plan
It may sound obvious, but trying to meal prep without a plan is less than ideal. When it comes to meal prep, there are truly so many different ways to approach it, so you simply want to choose the method that works best for you. You can batch cook full recipes and portion them off into individual containers, or you can batch cook individual ingredients and store them in the fridge for quick and easy assembly when it’s time to eat. The most popular meal to prep is lunch, given most people are not at home at this time but, depending on your schedule, meal prepping breakfast and/or dinner may also be beneficial.
2. Schedule It
Much like anything else, meal prep won’t happen unless you make time for it. Although most people choose to meal prep on Sunday, meal prep can actually be done at any time of the day or day of the week. Simply find a slot of time in your schedule, it can be as little as 15 or 30 minutes, and schedule it. Regardless of the specific strategy you choose, planning meal prep time right into your schedule is the best way to hold yourself accountable.
3. Make a Grocery List
Once you’ve made a plan, it’s time to make a list. Write down all of the recipes that you want to make and make of list of the ingredients you need. Not only does having a list help ensure that you get exactly what you need, but it helps keep you focused while you are at the grocery store so you can stick to your plan and your budget.
4. Look for Shortcuts
The biggest misconception with meal prep is that everything needs to be cooked from scratch. There are so many ways that you can cut corners and save time in the kitchen by buying the right ingredients. Items such as pre-cut or frozen vegetables, canned beans, rotisserie chickens, marinades and sauces are all shortcut ingredients that can help to make meal prep a breeze without forgoing nutrition or flavour.
5. Learn to Multi-Task
When it’s time to cook, make a plan of attack before you get started. One of the biggest time drains when cooking it not multi-tasking or doing every recipe individually. Consider the items you need to cook and then consider how you can cook multiple items at the same time. Can you boil the rice while you roast the potatoes? Can you cut the vegetable for the soup and the stew at the same time? Can you prepare all of the ingredients before you get started? Even just reading the recipe from start to finish before you start cooking can help you avoid any mishaps and help you save some time.
6. Make Double Batches
I can’t stress this one enough: if you are cooking something just double the batch! Not only will this provide you with more servings, but it will save you a ton of time in the long run. Cutting two onions at the same time is much faster than cutting one onion twice, so if you are already standing in the kitchen just make a double batch of soup, stew, rice or meatballs so you don’t have to do it again. Although this may create more servings than you need, you can simply store them in the freezer and pull them out on the nights when you don’t want to cook and just want to order takeout.
7. Use Good Containers
Having high-quality containers is key to successful meal prepping. Although you might be able to cook up a few recipes, if you don’t have anywhere to store them (or matching containers and lids!) it’s going to be tough to complete the job. When it comes to containers there are truly so many options to choose from, however, my personal favorites are glass containers and stainless steel containers. Not only do they help to ensure that you avoid the harmful chemicals in plastic containers, but they store well and wash even better. However, always do what works best for your budget because any containers are better than none!
8. Portion Individually
When it’s time to divvy up your recipes, I suggest doing so in individual portions. Although you can certainly store the whole batch of soup, stew or stir-fry in one large pot or container, when they are portioned individually they are much easier to grab and go out of the fridge, and you can only take what you need out of the freezer instead of thawing the entire dish.
9. Start Small
If you have never created a meal plan or tried meal prepping it can certainly feel daunting and overwhelming, but you don’t need to do everything at once. Instead of tackling multiple recipes or trying to cook for the entire week, start with something small; chops some veggies, cook some rice, bake some chicken or try one recipe. Learning to meal prep is no different from developing any other habit in your life; it takes time, patience and practice.
The Bottom Line
Meal prepping is all about organization and planning ahead. Although it may seem overwhelming at first, once you get started you will see that meal prepping is truly not that complicated. Make a plan, make a list, get some containers and start cooking. With a few simple meal prep tips and some healthy recipes in your fridge you will see how simple eating well can be.