How to meal prep for the week- tons of tips to get started, strategies to find a system that works for you, and lots of recipe inspiration!
How to meal prep
Interested in prepping your meals ahead but don't know where to start? You are in the right place!
I believe in you! Yes, you. You can do this.
Meal prepping can look so intimidating when you're getting started. I know I was overwhelmed when I first started out.
Want to know a secret? You don't have to prep all your meals for the week. You don't have to prep 30 freezer meals in one go.
Start off simple and you will be amazed at how much impact even a little bit of meal prep can have!
Why 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!
How to Meal Prep
This post covers a LOT! Click on any of the links below to go directly to that section
- Prep 101: tips for getting started
- Step One: Make a Meal Plan
- Step Two: Shopping & Groceries
- Step Three: Meal Prep Strategies
- Recipe Ideas
Don't forget to pin this post to save it for later!
101: tips for getting started
The first thing? Just start. Just do it. It doesn't have to be perfect, you don't have to get fancy.
Pick one meal. 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?
Some of my favorite containers for prep ahead meals:
- Snapware 2 cup glass storage containers- durable, freezer, microwave and dishwasher friendly, and are great for pre-cooked meals
- pint size mason jars- great for storing veggies, overnight oats, parfaits etc
- 6 cup glass storage containers - great for snacks or chopped veggies
- gallon size freezer bags -great for freezer meals
(Pictured: an example of my meal plan. I write it out on my Evernote App, and write the ingredients I need to shop for in brackets)
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.
See: How to Write a Meal Plan (+ printable planner) for more details on how I decide what to cook each day
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.
Here's a post with 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.
- Some ideas:
2. Batch cooking- cook up a big batch of something and enjoy it through the week.
- Some ideas:
See 60 Ways to Meal Prep When You Don't Have Time for a ton of batch cooking ideas!
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.
4. Assemble ingredients but 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!
See 60 Ways to Meal Prep When You Don't Have Time for a ton of freezer meal ideas!
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:
See 38 Easy Lunch Meal Prep Ideas for more 'cook ahead and reheat' options!
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).
I want to finish off this post with some ideas for easy recipes that are perfect for beginners. These are the simple recipes that I come back to time and time again! Any one of these recipes would be perfect to start your meal prep journey with.
- Breakfast Egg Muffins- this post has SEVEN different flavors, and can be stashed in the fridge or freezer!
- Steel Cut Oatmeal- another post with SEVEN different flavors, plus instructions on prepping in your Instant Pot, slow cooker or stove top.
- Breakfast Burritos- this recipe contains kale, mushrooms and onions to sneak some veggies into your morning routine.
- Smoothie Packs- assemble your smoothie ingredients ahead and store in the freezer. 5 recipes to get you started.
- Or check out this round-up with 28 Healthy Breakfast Meal Prep Ideas
- Turkey Taco Lunch Bowls- easy to customize based on what you have in your fridge, and under 400 calories per serving.
- Honey Sesame Chicken Lunch Bowls- this stir fry is great for a prep ahead lunch or dinner.
- Southwestern Sweet Potato and Lentil Jar Salads- vegan, gluten-free, and so easy to throw together.
- Chicken Fajita Lunch Bowls- chicken, veggies and rice tossed in a fajita-inspired vinaigrette.
- 38+ Healthy Lunch Meal Prep Ideas- this round-up is updated often, and contains lots of lunch ideas, plus tips and a video.
- No Bake Energy Bites 7 Ways- a nut-based energy bite recipe with 7 different flavor combinations. Vegan and gluten-free.
- Nut Free Energy Bites- these energy bites are date based...three recipes to satisfy your cravings.
- Greek Yogurt Fruit Dip- serve with fresh fruit for an easy way to mix up your fruit.
- Here are 7 Amazing Hummus Recipes- make ahead and serve with veggies or pita chips.
- 17 Healthy Office Snacks- perfect grab and go snack recipes to keep you out of the tortilla chips.
- 7 Chicken Marinade Recipes You Can Freeze- portion out your chicken breasts right into a marinade, and freeze it for an easy, flavorful dinner option.
- Baked Turkey Meatballs 7 Ways- prepare and freeze some turkey meatballs for an easy and healthy dinner option.
- Freezer Slow Cooker Meals- assemble your slow cooker recipes ahead and freeze. When you're ready to cook, thaw, dump into the slow cooker and press start. Easy!
- Here are 42 Healthy 30 Minute Dinner Ideas plus tips for prepping them ahead.
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!