This post shows you how to meal prep for the week with step by step photos. Tips, recipes and strategies to help you find a system that works for you!
What is meal prep?
In simplified terms, meal prep is the act of preparing meals or meal components ahead of time, and storing in the fridge or freezer.
By putting in the effort ahead of time, this makes getting meals on the table simple and efficient later on when you may be short on time.
Some ways you can meal prep:
- reheat meals- fully cooked meals you simply need to reheat.
- assemble ahead meals- assemble ingredients ahead (don't cook), then freeze for later.
- ingredient prep/portioning things out- no cooking required, simply chopping and portioning things out.
- buffet style- prep ingredients ahead and mix and match to create different combinations.
- batch prep- cook a single ingredient ahead and base several meals around it.
Click for more details on Meal Prep Strategies
What are the benefits of meal prep?
- save money- because you're not wasting ingredients or buying your lunch
- save time- prepping components or whole meals ahead means less time cooking during the week
- reduce your stress- one less thing for you to worry about all week
- eat healthier- it's hard to argue with convenience. Meal prep really takes willpower out of the equation!
Meal prep containers
Having a set of dependable meal prep containers is important, because it can help keep your food fresh and reheat it evenly.
Here are my five faves:
- Snapware 2 cup glass storage containers- durable, freezer, microwave and dishwasher friendly, and are great for pre-cooked meals
- 6 cup glass storage containers - great for snacks or chopped veggies
- pint size mason jars- great for storing veggies, overnight oats, parfaits etc
- sandwich Stasher bags- great for chicken marinades, energy bites, smaller freezer meals and more.
- gallon size freezer bags -great for freezer meals
Further reading: The Best Meal Prep Containers for a more detailed post on the best meal prep containers I've found
Keeping it simple to start
It's easy to get overwhelmed if you do too many things at once in the kitchen. I recommend that you pick just one meal to start.
Pick the meal that gives you the most grief. Focus on that meal. Even prepping just one meal ahead will give you the benefits of meal prepping. I promise!
For me, that was breakfasts. I prepped my breakfasts for the week at first, then I started adding in lunches, and finally snacks.
Here are four tips for food prep beginners:
- Keep it simple- like we discussed above, just picking one meal that pains you and focussing on that will prevent you from getting overwhelmed, and you will still feel the benefits of meal prepping!
- Schedule it- write it on your calendar. Block off time. Make it as difficult as possible to make excuses.
- Use dependable recipes- it might not be the right time to try a crazy new recipe. Using recipes you know are easy and tasty is a great base to start off of.
- Have fun and reward yourself- I like to crank up the music and have fun when I'm prepping. And it doesn't hurt to bribe yourself with a coffee or a bit of chocolate, right?
STEP ONE: Make a meal plan
Even if you don't prep your meals ahead, having a plan is an easy way to save time and reduce stress.
- I start by writing out our dinners, since we eat something different each night.
- Next, I add in breakfast and lunches. We often eat the same thing 3-4 days in a row for breakfast and lunch, so they are easier to fill in.
- And last but not least, I pick some healthy snacks.
Further reading: How to Write a Meal Plan (+ printable planner) for more details on how I decide what to cook each day OR watch the video below for my strategy
STEP TWO: make a shopping list and get your groceries
First, I go through my meal plan and write in ingredients that we need beside the menu item. Then I write up a shopping list. I use Evernote for this, which is an app that synchs between my phone and computer. I love that I can make check lists because I get great pleasure in checking things off my list.
Further reading- check out 5 Free Meal Planning Apps that I use, in case you're interested!
Get shopping- If you haven't tried it yet, I highly recommend ordering your groceries online. Not only does it save you time, but you are less likely to impulse buy, and will end up with exactly what you need for cooking.
STEP THREE: start prepping!
You have your meal plan, you have your groceries, you've got this! Remember to pick one meal and focus on that to start.
There are SO many different ways you can meal prep. Let's discuss some strategies.
Guess what? You DO NOT need to prep full meals. Small steps like cooking a batch of rice, chopping some veggies, or tossing some chicken in the slow cooker are going to help you out BIG TIME during the work week, I promise.
Let's run through some meal prep strategies. You can pick one (or more than one) that works for you and run with that. These are just ideas, and you don't have to use all of these strategies!
1. Buffet style meal prep
A lot of people enjoy prepping their veggies, protein and carbs ahead, then using them for easy meals. This is great for tacos, salads and that sort of thing. You can also prep a big portion of protein and use that as a base for several meals through the week.
- chop or spiralize your veggies
- roast up vegetables or potatoes in some seasoning (here are 7 spice blends you can use!)
- shake together vinaigrettes, sauces, etc
- cook up grains, pasta, quinoa, rice
2. Batch cooking
Cook up a big batch of something and enjoy it through the week. You can base several meals around a big batch of protein!
- Some ideas:
- soups, stews
- cook a whole chicken
- cook a big batch of chicken in the slow cooker
- cook up some perfect black beans or legumes in the Instant Pot
3. Portion things out
Whether it is an entire meal or just a component, portioning out is one of the most important steps of meal prep because it means you can just grab your meal and go.
- Some ideas:
- trail mix
- hummus or dip portions, with veggies for dipping
- overnight oats
- smoothie packs
4. Assemble meals (don't cook)
This is typically done with freezer meals, but you can often store in the fridge as well. By assembling your meals ahead, when it comes time to cook, you simply need to dump them in the slow cooker or Instant Pot, and press the button!
5. Pre-cooked meals
This is my approach for breakfasts and lunches, and is perfect for meals that you don't have time to prep on the days you will eat. All you need to do is grab them from the fridge, re-heat if necessary, and enjoy!
- Some ideas:
- breakfast: egg muffins, steel cut oats, breakfast sandwiches
- lunch: stir fries, sheet pan meals, jar salads
- dinner: any dinner that can be re-heated. Soups, stews, stir fries, and curries are all good bets.
Pick one of these strategies and get started. You can refine the process over time and find what works best for you.
For my family, I pick a combination of pre-cooked meals (breakfasts & lunches), portioned out snacks, and freezer slow cooker or Instant Pot meals (dinners).
STEP FOUR- Prepping multiple meals at once
Once you've mastered prepping one or a few meals at once, you can get more advanced and prep multiple at a time!
- make a plan
- clear your calendar
- gather all your ingredients
- set up an assembly line
- get prepping!
- reward yourself!
Need some help with this step? Check out the following meal prep plans, which come with a video prep tutorial and printable shopping list:
You really do!
The benefits of meal prep are so worth the effort. You will save yourself time and money. You will feel less stress. You will eat healthier. Just remember this if you start to feel the resistance (the one that tells you you'd rather watch Netflix).
Feel free to leave a comment with any questions you might have. I love sharing the meal prep love and I'm here to help!
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