Meal prepping—long thought of as something only hardcore fitness fanatics like bodybuilders did—has gained a lot of attention and popularity in mainstream culture. It’s a smart choice for many different kinds of people and when done right can help add health and time to your day.
I started doing meal prep last fall when I realized that my poor eating choices were the biggest thing standing in the way of me and my goals. I was working very hard in the gym, but often got busy at work and just grabbed the easiest choice (read: mostly junky protein bars) or skipped meals entirely. Meal prepping helped change that because it was easy to grab something that was already prepared.
Why meal prep?
Meal prepping can work great for a lot of different people and situations.
- Those who hate to cook
- The busy person who ‘doesn’t have time to eat healthy’ or cook
- Someone who has a hard time making healthy food choices in the moment
- People who want to lose weight
- Those on a budget or wanting to save money on food
Personally, I find it hard to make smart food choices when I am really hungry, stressed, or tired. When I meal prep, the thought is already put into my meals and I just need to eat them. I hate wasting food, so 95% of the time, I will eat what I prepped.
I also hate cooking. “But wait… don’t you still need to cook?” Probably, but that will depend on the meals you choose. I still cook, but I do so once a week, rather than every day. Which is a great trade off, if you ask me.
Things to consider
The first, and most important, step is to sit down and decide what you will be eating and how many days you will be prepping for. I typically prep on Sundays and prepare enough meals and snacks to last the entire week.
Think about the foods you like, but also think about the foods you don’t like. It doesn’t make any sense to bake fish for lunches if the smell of fish makes your stomach turn. I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t matter how badly you want to eat something. (It’s good for you… you should like it , right?) If you don’t like it, you won’t eat it. Or, maybe you will eat it, but you will hate it and that defeats the purpose.
After you’ve planned your menu, you will need to grocery shop and buy all the ingredients. Take the time to read the labels on everything you are putting into your cart. One of the best things you can do for your health is learn to read food labels and learn what the claims (like ‘all natural’ or ‘trans fat free’) mean. Labels make your head spin? Check out this article on how to read food labels to get started.
Another item you might consider purchasing is some good quality food storage containers. If you’re taking the time to prepare food for the week, you want it to still be fresh and delicious when you are ready to eat it. The key to that will be your storage containers. I don’t advocate a certain brand and it’s an individual choice whether you will choose plastic or glass containers. Think about the meals you will normally be prepping and buy containers that make sense size-wise. Consider how easily the containers will stack to save room in your refrigerator.
how to meal prep
You’ve made it home with your groceries and your food storage containers. Now what?
Sit aside all ingredients you will be using for your meal prep. Choose one meal to start with and move on from there. Start cooking the ingredients (if necessary) or emptying them into the food storage containers. Think of ways you can save time and energy. For example, when making frittata muffins for breakfast, I’ll go ahead and get the eggs in the oven before setting out the containers they will be going in. While they are baking I will start chopping vegetables for another meal.
Think about all the things you can do ahead of time to make your week run more smoothly and make meals as easy and hands-off, during the week, as possible. Sometimes I will feel lazy and not prep some meat that I’m using for dinner, telling myself it won’t take much time or effort the night I’m making it to prep the meat then. Inevitably I regret my decision and wish I’d went ahead and taken care of the prep.
If you are having yogurt mixed with fruit and oatmeal for breakfast, go ahead and portion out the yogurt, oatmeal, and fruit into your containers. If you’re worried about food getting soggy (like the oatmeal), you can always portion it into a small, separate container.
There’s no way to plan what might pop up during a day, but we can plan our meals and be prepped for whatever comes our way.
- You don’t necessarily have to prep the same meals every single week. Sometimes I will get into a rut of doing this for a while, but as soon as I get sick of a meal or start to dread “having” to eat it, I take that as my sign to switch it up. Most of the time, though, I switch up my meals from week to week depending on the season, my current preferences, or any cravings I am experiencing.
- If the idea of prepping a lot of food feels overwhelming, start small. Try prepping just your lunches for the week. Once you get the hang of prepping one meal, add in another.
- Enlist help—my husband helps me with any dinner prep I do. He doesn’t personally meal prep, but as a fellow cooking hater, appreciates anything that makes the chore easier, quicker, and more efficient.
- Remember what you like and don’t like. I like having a sandwich or lunch most days, but realized that even in decent storage containers, the bread often dried up on me in the fridge. I remembered that and started packing the bread separately and leaving it out of the fridge.
- Always keep food safety in mind. Not everything is safe to store and eat days later. Here are some basic guidelines for storing meat in the refrigerator.
- Use your freezer. The freezer can be a great helper and even save you money. Store freezer-safe meals that you’ll be eating later in the week and pop the in the fridge the night before to thaw. Consider whether you will be freezing meals when you are selecting your food storage containers.
- There’s no wrong way to meal prep—learn and do what works for you and your family. I prep as much as I can, but a lot of my husband’s and my dinners are not prepped. This is what generally works the best for us.
If you have any questions or tips on meal prepping, please leave them below. Also, feel free to share any resources you have found helpful.