A Guide to Meal Prepping for Beginners
How to save yourself time and money during the week
Before you roll your eyes at more praise for meal prepping, keep reading. Yes, meal prepping looks like a lot of effort. Cooking a whole week's worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner sounds totally hectic. If you haven't tried meal prepping you probably imagine you need some sort of special organizing skill or timing talent. How does one cook so many meals in a single afternoon without totally losing it?
Believe it or not, meal prepping can be easy when you follow a guide and get familiar with the process. Once you've got your meal prepping tools in tow and the basics down, it's actually a breeze. The best part is you only have to cook once. Yes you might spend a few hours cooking in a single afternoon, but then guess what? You don't have to cook again for the entire week!
If you're a busy working parent or even just streamlining your life and looking to save a little extra cash, meal prepping is so worth the once a week effort. You can even meal prep your kids' packed lunches! You'll save yourself time during the rest of the week, money from picking up last minute takeout, reduce food waste, limit your use of single-use-plastic-to-go-containers (from all that takeout), and make it easier to stick to your nutritional goals.
To help you keep your cool in the kitchen while you prep an entire weeks worth of food, we're breaking down the meal prepping basics for you.
Pick a day that works for you to meal prep and stick to it
Food Prepping SeriesFF Mag
Fitness enthusiasts have adopted Sunday as the weekly meal prepping day. Sunday also makes a lot sense for professionals or family meal prepping before school and work starts on Monday. You've usually got less going on and have the extra time.
If Sunday doesn't work for you pick any day that does. And if cooking all your meals in one afternoon is too overwhelming divide it up into two days. It will still save you time and money the rest of the week. The key to sticking with meal prepping is making it work for you. You can just as easily prep half the week's meals on Sunday and the rest of the week's meals on Wednesday. Splitting it up into two shorter sessions can also help keep your meals fresher during the week.
Define your goals
It's important to figure out what your goals are with meal prepping before you start. Are you trying to lose weight? Stick to vegetarian meals during the week? Or are you open to a variety of recipes and just looking to save time and money during the rest of the week? Figure out your nutritional goals, portion sizes, and even how much money you're hoping to save.
You also want to be realistic about how many meals you really need prepared during the week. Just because you can meal prep an entire week's worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner doesn't mean you have to. If you know you have frequent work dinners or date nights, try meal prepping only your breakfasts and lunches. Maybe your office pays for lunch, but you always get home exhausted and out of options for dinner. In that case, try meal prepping just your dinners. Meal prepping is here to suit your needs.
If you're a busy parent, keep it simple and just meal-prep a week of healthy family dinners on Sunday. Don't overdo it. Be realistic or you might end up with a lot of uneaten meals.
When you're just getting started with meal prepping it's best not to try any complicated, gourmet recipes. Even if you love to cook and think you can handle it, preparing multiple meals at once can get complicated. Stick to easy recipes with just a few ingredients. Remember to figure out your portion sizes and then multiply by the number of meals you want for the week.
Sheet pan recipes are great to consider for meal prepping. Everything gets thrown on one pan and there's minimal effort involved. You're also going to want to dust off that slow cooker.
Invest in these meal prepping tools
Making sure you have all the tools you need for meal prepping to be easy is the key to sticking with it. Consider investing in:
- Tupperware: a durable set that has a variety of sizes
- Slow cooker
- Rice cooker/food steamer
- Storage bags: yes, ziploc works great but consider these eco friendly alternatives instead
- Dry erase markers: for labeling your tupperware
- Sharpies: For labeling your storage bags
- An insulated cooler: if you're going to be prepping breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a whole week, you might want a cooler to carry your meals to work for the day
Plan out your meals and make a list before you go grocery shopping
Once you've figured out how many meals you want prepped for the week and decided on your money-saving and nutritional goals, find some easy recipes that fit your needs. Eating Well's 30 days of healthy meal prepping challenge is a great place to start. You'll find tons of easy, healthy recipes and meal prepping tips to go along with them. After making your shopping list hit the grocery store or farmers market.
Healthy Meal Prep GuideEating Well
Once you've loaded up on groceries, start building your meal prepping station by laying out tupperware for each meal you're going to make. Organize them by breakfasts, lunches, and dinners so you don't get confused.
You can cook a few meals at the same time if you've planned it out right. Throw the dinner ingredients in the slow cooker and the lunch ingredients on sheet pans you can throw in the oven. While it's all cooking work on your breakfasts or snacks.
Make sure you've carved out enough time to finish cooking without feeling rushed. Once you're comfortable meal prepping, it's a fun thing to do with your roommates, spouse, or even kids. Grab a glass of wine, or two. Relax. You can do this.
Basic guidelines if you aren't following a recipe:
- Wash and prep your fruits and vegetables
- Cut your produce up and store it in your containers
- Bake your proteins and brown your meat
- Cook your starches like rice, pasta, etc. and store in the containers
- Assemble in containers.
Labeling your containers makes it easy to grab your meals on the go. This step is super easy. Just sort out your reusable containers and label them: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks. Or label them with the contents: i.e curry chicken and rice. You also might want to include the date you cooked the meal in case you have any leftovers.
Rinse and Repeat
As you become a more experienced meal prepper you'll figure out your own strategies and time/money saving hacks. You can also start experimenting with more complicated recipes. When you're just starting out, stick to the basics, easy recipes, and on making meal prepping a habit.
Even if you don't do it every single week you can still reap some rewards. Meal prepping will help you stick to your nutritional goals, keep you accountable for portion sizes, and help you save a little extra cash. You might just turn into the kind of person who leaves Sunday brunch saying "I have to go home to prep my meals for the week."