Meal prepping is one of those things you keep saying you should do, but then you never seem to actually make it happen, right?
Meal prepping is the concept of preparing whole meals or dishes ahead of schedule.
It’s particularly popular amongst busy people because it can save a lot of time if your prepared and have all the right tools.
Having pre-prepared meals on hand can also reduce portion size and help you reach your nutrition goals, helping you to avoid quick unhealthy options especially when you’re overwhelmed or exhausted.
And since it requires you to determine what to eat ahead of time, meal prepping can lead to more nutritious meal choices over the long term.
Despite what people may think, there are various ways to meal prep — not all of which involve spending a whole afternoon cooking dishes for the week to come. You can choose methods that work best for you.
Here are a few ways to Meal Prep:
You may think that cooking meals for the week ahead will consume a big chunk of your weekend.
However, because there are various ways to meal prep, you don’t have to stand in the kitchen for an entire afternoon.
Some popular ways to meal-prep include:
- Make-ahead meals: Full meals cooked in advance which can be refrigerated and reheated at mealtimes. This is particularly handy for dinnertime meals.
- Batch cooking: Making large batches of a specific recipe, then splitting it into individual portions to be frozen and eaten over the next few months. These make for popular warm lunch or dinner options.
- Individually portioned meals: Preparing fresh meals and portioning them into individual grab-and-go portions to be refrigerated and eaten over the next few days. This is particularly handy for quick lunches.
- Ready-to-cook ingredients: Prepping the ingredients required for specific meals ahead of time as a way to cut down on cooking time in the kitchen.
The method that will work best for you depends on your goals and daily routine.
For instance, make-ahead breakfasts might work best if you’re looking to streamline your morning routine. On the other hand, keeping batch-cooked meals in your freezer is particularly handy for those who have limited time in the evenings.
The different meal-prepping methods can also be mixed and matched depending on your own circumstances. Start by choosing the most appealing method, then slowly experiment with the others to determine what suits you best.
Figuring out how many meals to make and what to include in each meal can sometimes be tricky.
The best way to plan ahead is to first decide on which meals you’d like to focus and which meal-prepping method fits your lifestyle.
Then, check your calendar to decide the number of breakfasts, lunches and dinners you’ll need for the upcoming week.
Also, remember to account for times you’re likely to eat out — for instance, on dates, at brunch with friends or at client dinners. Having a manageable meal plan and grocery list keeps you focused and on task at the grocery store and prevents you from overloading your grocery cart with junk.
When selecting which meals to make, it’s best to start with a limited number of recipes that you already know. This will ease your transition into meal planning.
It important to avoid picking only one recipe for the whole week. This lack of variety can lead to boredom and won’t provide your body with the nutrients it needs.
Instead, try picking meals that contain different vegetables and protein-rich foods, as well as varied complex carbs such as brown rice, quinoa or sweet potatoes.
Stick to a Consistent Schedule
Meal prepping works best when you stick to a regular schedule. Knowing exactly when you’ll shop for groceries and prep your meals will help you form a good routine.
The schedule is up to you and should fit your weekly routine. Keep in mind that picking specific times and sticking to them will simplify the decision-making process, freeing up mental space for other things.
Make a Shopping List
Grocery shopping can be a big time waster.
To streamline the time you spend in the grocery store, keep a detailed grocery list organized by supermarket departments.
This will prevent doubling back to a previously visited section and accelerate your shopping.
Limiting grocery shopping to once per week and making use of a grocery delivery service are two additional ways to spend less time shopping.
Food safety is an important yet overlooked component of meal prepping.
Cooking, storing and reheating foods at the right temperature can prevent food poisoning, which affects an estimated 9.4 million Americans each year. Here are some government-approved food safety guidelines:
- Be mindful of proper temperatures: Make sure your refrigerator is kept at 40°F (5°C) or below and your freezer at 0°F (-18°C) or below.
- Cool foods quickly: Always refrigerate fresh foods and meals within two hours of purchase or cooking. For quick cooling, spread out cooked foods in shallow containers and immediately place in your refrigerator.
- Keep storage times in mind: Cook fresh meat, poultry and fish within two days of purchase and red meat within 3–5 days. In the meantime, keep them on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator.
- Cook at the right temperatures: Meats should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of at least 165°F (75°C), as this kills most bacteria.
- Thaw foods safely: Thaw frozen foods or meals in your refrigerator instead of on your countertop. For faster thawing, submerge foods in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes.
- Reheat foods only once: The more times you cool and reheat a food, the higher the risk of food poisoning. That’s why defrosted foods should only be reheated once.
- Reheat foods at the right temperature: All meals should be reheated to 165°F (75°C) before being eaten. Frozen meals should be reheated and eaten within 24 hours of defrosting.
- Use labels: Remember to label and date your containers so that you can consume foods within the food-safe period.
- Eat foods within the right time period: Refrigerated meals should be consumed within 3–4 days and frozen meals within 3–6 months.
Prepping a week’s worth of meals can sound daunting, especially for first-timers. But it doesn’t have to be hard.
Below, you’ll find a simple step-by-step guide to streamline your meal prepping process.
- Select your meal prep method of choice: This can also be a combination of methods and should be based on your lifestyle and nutrition goals.
- Stick to a schedule: Pick one day each week to do your meal planning, shop for groceries and cook.
- Pick the right number of meals: Bear in mind your calendar and the restaurant meals you’ve planned for the week.
- Select the right recipes: Keep an eye out for variety and preparation methods. When starting out, stick to recipes you already know.
- Reduce the time you spend on grocery shopping: Make a grocery list organized by supermarket departments or shop for groceries online.
- Spend less time in the kitchen: Choose which meals to cook first based on cook times.
- Store your meals: Use safe cooling methods and appropriate containers. Refrigerate meals you’re planning to eat within 3–4 days, then label and freeze the rest.
Meal prepping is great for people who want to spend less time in the kitchen.
It can also promote nutrient-rich, healthy meals and discourage less nutritious fast food options.
Depending on your goals, schedule and meal preferences, meal prepping may involve making large batches to be frozen, full meals to be refrigerated or prepared ingredients to be combined as needed.
Find a method that works for you and pick one day per week to meal plan, shop and cook.
Meal Prep: Everyday Breakfast