What pops up when you type #mealprep into your social media search bar? Food storage boxes packed with ground turkey, cubed sweet potatoes and vibrant strings of green beans all nestled together; bulk packages of the trendiest health foods posed for a photo-op on a kitchen counter; a shot taken from above of someone’s grocery cart proudly filled with a rainbow of fruits and veggies and raw proteins wrapped up in cellophane.
If you’re new to this trendy concept we call “meal prep” you might have some questions. I was once a doubter, feeling disgusted at the thought of eating the same meal of grilled chicken breast and brown rice with veggies every day of the week. But with the help of a reformed lifestyle and much trial and error, I’ve learned that meal prep is so much more than whipping up make-ahead dinners.
Meal prep can save you tons of time spent in the kitchen when busy lives don’t permit long hours working on a meal. It can also promote better health and nutrition by giving you access to healthy foods and snacks for when you’re tempted to reach for something not so clean. And it doesn’t end with the physical health benefits: by taking the time to prep your meals you could end up saving hundreds of dollars a month and cutting way back on food waste.
So if you’ve ever been curious about meal prep, start here and start now with this easy beginner’s guide.
Before you begin…
Think about why you want to meal prep. Is it because your work schedule is so hectic you don’t have time to spend cooking in the kitchen? Or are you wanting to build a healthier diet? Maybe you’re trying to cut back on eating out and save some money in the process. Whatever your why is, keep that in mind when you build your meal plan. For example, if you’re looking to save time in the kitchen, don’t plan meals that will dirty lots of dishes and require hours of cook time.
Get your family/roommates on board with you! This one might be tough, but let your loved ones know what your purpose in doing this is and help them understand that meal prep will save a lot of time and money. My family loves the way we meal prep because dinner is never a question. And on nights I’m at work or out with friends, my partner isn’t stuck wondering what to cook!
Step 1: make a game plan.
Making a meal plan (i.e., planning out meals for the week) is the first step of meal prep. Be forewarned that meal prep can take a good 2-4 hours out of your day if you do it all at once, but will save you all that time throughout the week. Some meal plans can be done by planning meals for every time you eat throughout the day (snacks included) while others only include breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If this seems like a lot for you, start by planning out just dinners for the week.
When planning your meals, keep in mind of any perishable foods you already have, instead of buying more food and wasting the usable goods. I also like to scan the weekly grocery ads for good deals and then plan my meals with those foods in them. Its an instant money-saver!
Once you have your meals planned out, make a grocery list. How you write it is up to you. My grocery list is organized by departments so I can be in and out of the store as fast as possible!
Step 2: get in the kitchen!
This is probably where most of your time will be spent, but how much time is up to you! The process of meal prepping is all about cutting down time spent in the kitchen throughout the week, so if you have lean proteins like chicken breast or ground turkey in your meals, get those cooked now. If you have fruits and veggies that will need to be rinsed and cut, get those ready to go!
Other tips I’ve found to be helpful…
- I love setting up a “snack attack” plan by sticking a few protein bars in my bags or in my car so if I’m hungry on the go I won’t be tempted to buy something while I’m out.
- Post your meal plan on the fridge as a reminder to reach for what you have already bought/made. This is also really helpful for families with busy schedules!
- Do a weekly fridge purge to clean out any expired foods and to take count of what you already have that you could use in the upcoming meal prep.
- Save one day out of the week for leftovers – throw all your veggies together in a pan with some rice and do a saute! Or make a fruit salad!
Remember that no matter why you’re getting started with meal prep, you’re doing it for yourself! So do it how it best fits your lifestyle. If you need to split up grocery shopping into two days throughout the week, that’s fine. #MealPrepSunday doesn’t actually have to be on a Sunday either! Do what works for you.
I hope this simple guide helped all of you looking to start out with making a great lifestyle change. Have a fantastic week and let me know what your favorite meal prep ideas/tips are below!!