Meal Prep 101: How to Meal Prep for Beginners
Ever hear the phrase, “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”? Well, that’s kind of how meal prep works in the context of weight loss. When we plan and prepare our meals ahead of time, it’s easy to stay on track with our goals. Meal prep makes choosing healthy, nutritious meals easy. When there’s no plan in place, anything goes.
BENEFITS OF MEAL PREP
Although meal prepping will take some work initially, the end result is absolutely worth it. Meal prep can be especially useful for those with a busy lifestyle. Meal prepping has several benefits, including:
- Keeping you on track with your health goals
- Saving money/sticking to a budget
- Preventing food waste
- Saving time on cooking/cleaning each night
How long will my food stay fresh?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating cooked leftovers within 3-4 days in order to decrease the risk of foodborne illness.
hOW TO MEAL PREP
1. GET YOUR KITCHEN READY
Start by cleaning out your refrigerator and pantry. Toss out any old or expired food, condiments, or seasonings. This will make the meal prep process easier later, when you need to take inventory of ingredients you already have on hand. Plus, it will give you more space for new groceries.
Make sure you have a clean kitchen to cook in later. You will want to clean any dirty dishes so all of your cooking utensils and food storage containers are ready to go when you need them. After your dishes are clean, set aside various sizes of the food storage containers you’ll be using to store your meal prep.
2. CHECK YOUR SCHEDULE
Pick one day during the week where you can sit down and review your upcoming schedule. Decide exactly how many meals you will be needing and for which days.
Take into consideration any pre-scheduled events you may have that may change what kind of meals you need. For example, if you know you won’t have access to a microwave, plan a meal that doesn’t need to be reheated. Leave some wiggle room for flexibility in case events come up during the week. If you know you’ll be eating out for a certain meal, don’t plan on prepping food for that meal.
Typically, I like to plan my week out on Sunday morning so I can prep food for the work week when I am most busy. I choose to plan a 5-day menu and prep 3-4 days worth of food at a time.
3. PICK YOUR MEALS
This is the fun part! Try to think of meals you would typically eat that don’t require hours of cooking. Find simple recipes where you can reuse similar ingredients. For example, you can prep shredded chicken to use in a chicken salad sandwich for your lunch and a chicken taco bowl for dinner. Here are some more tips for deciding what meals to prep:
- Find simple recipes using similar ingredients in order to minimize food waste and save money.
- Choose recipes that involve different cooking methods (oven, stove top, air fryer, etc.) in order to cook more than one meal at a time.
- Incorporate leftovers
4. MAKE A GROCERY LIST
Now that you have picked your meals for the week, go through and review each recipe. Write down the amount of ingredients you will need for each meal. After your grocery list is complete, check to see if you already have any of the ingredients on hand. If you already have some of the ingredients, remove those items from your list.
Tip: Sort the list by the type of item to make shopping easier.
5. GROCERY SHOP
When grocery shopping, don’t be afraid to pick convenience items. Meal prepping can feel overwhelming if you are making several meals at once, so consider using pre-cut vegetables to save time later on.
This stage will look different for everyone, depending on your time and schedule. Decide whether you want to prep and portion multiple meals at once, batch cook and portion later, or just prep certain items. There is no right or wrong way! The key is to do what works best for you.
To ease your way into meal prep, you can start by:
- Washing and cutting produce for the week
- Portioning snacks for the week
- Batch cooking sides (rice, grains, vegetables, etc.) to use throughout the week
Here are a few pointers if you are ready to jump right into prepping multiple meals at once:
- Start by cooking items that will take longer (example: shredded chicken in the crockpot, rice on the stove, etc.)
- While those items cook, wash and cut any produce
- Let items cool before portioning
- Don’t worry about the dishes until after