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By the time you’ve arrived home from work, cook, clean up, and eat, it’s time for bed. That’s not fun. But, that can all be changed with a simple concept – meal prepping.
Picture this scenario.
You arrive home from work, open the refrigerator, and pull out a ready-made container filled with a meal to enjoy for dinner. There’s absolutely no cooking involved and very little cleanup. You’ll actually have time to sit down and watch your favorite show, finish the book you started months ago, or catch up with your college girlfriends.
All thanks to meal prepping.
What is meal prepping?
According to GoodHousekeeping, meal prepping is a planning method that simplifies cooking. Based on a schedule that you choose, you prepare meals just a few times a week so that you can spend your time engaging in activities that you love rather than cooking three meals a day, seven days a week.
Benefits of meal prepping
We’re all looking for ways to gain more time in our day and to save money. Meal prepping grants you both time and more money since you’re buying and preparing your food in advance.
You simply pick a day or two during the week to cross meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prepping off your to-do list and you’re all set.
No more worrying about what you’re going to eat daily, no more reaching for unhealthy items, and no more stopping through the drive-thru on your way home from work. You’ll also limit the amount of food waste you’re creating weekly by only buying the food you need and eating what you have.
What’ll you need to get started with meal prepping
- Food storage containers — I find that three-compartment containers work best
- Slow Cooker — make food items for busy days
- Instant Pot — cook food items quickly
- Rice Cooker — not only great for rice but great for steaming vegetables
- A lunchbox — to carry your meals to work
- Ziploc Storage Bags — gallon size
- Reusable Snack bags — awesome to break down bulk snacks
- Dry erase markers — to write on your containers
- Sharpies — to mark on plastic bags
- Mason Jars — for items that don’t need to be separated
- Kitchen shears — to easily chop vegetables and meat
- Cutting board — to protect your counters when you’re cutting and slicing
The ultimate meal prepping guide for beginners
As a beginner, meal prepping may seem a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to start small and with recipes you’ve already perfected to keep things simple, quick, and easy.
Make a plan
Meal planning is asking “What’s for dinner?” once for the entire week. Creating a meal plan makes meal prepping so much easier.
You’ve already decided what you’re going to have for the week and purchased everything that you need. This will prevent you from making extra trips to the store during the week, causing you to exceed your grocery budget.
Tip: Plan to make meals with similar ingredients to help keep your meal prep time low and your grocery budget to a minimum.
Make a grocery list and stick to it
Plan your grocery budget and your grocery list before you go to the store. Be sure to shop your pantry first so that you don’t buy duplicate items and so that you can use up the items you have before they expire, eliminating food waste.
When you go in the store, stick to your grocery list as close as possible so that you’re not tempted to exceed your budget.
Schedule a day for meal prepping
Once your meal plan has been set and your grocery trip is complete, you need to pick a day or days to prepare your meals.
For most the weekends are best because you’re off work, the kids are out of school, and you can lean on the family to provide assistance if needed.
If you’re a beginner, you may find that meal prepping twice a week works best. Once on Sunday for the first half of the week and then again on Wednesday for the second half.
Stock up on containers
Having the right containers will be key to your meal prepping success. You should stock up on reusable, air-tight food storage containers that’ll help your food stay fresh longer and keep any bacteria and odors out.
I find that three-compartment containers work the best for me and it makes separating food a breeze.
Every day for lunch or dinner, just grab a new container out of the refrigerator and you’re good to go.
Learn how to multitask
Multitasking is a very important step. While your water is boiling, begin chopping your vegetables.
You can also cook all your food at once. Your oven has multiple racks for a reason. So use them.
You can bake chicken, sweet potatoes and vegetables all at the same time. Be sure to keep an eye out on your vegetables though because they cook faster than other items. I usually like to add them once my protein is nearly finished cooking.
Using your stove combined with your slow cooker and/or Instant Pot will help you get through meal prep in just a few hours.
Clean up as you go
To maximize your space and time, clean up the kitchen as you go. Once you’re finished using the cutting board, wash it. Finished using utensils, wash those too. Once a dish is complete, transfer that food item over to your food storage containers and wash the pot.
That way once you are finished meal prepping, your kitchen will be clean as well. This is a good tip to follow in general when cooking even if you find that meal prepping isn’t your thing.
Bring out the slow cooker and/or Instant Pot
A quick cleanup tip I found when using my slow cooker is to use liners. Simply line your CrockPot before adding your items and once they’re done, transfer the food to your food storage containers and toss the liner out. Cleanup is complete and that’s one less dish you’ll need to wash.
Use mason jars
Use mason jars for meals and snacks that don’t need to be separated. They are great for salads, overnight oats, soups and more. Mason jars are also very inexpensive, easy to use, airtight and they store so well.
Season, season, season
How you season your food is a huge determining factor in how your meal prep will come out. Just because you’re eating healthier and at home, that doesn’t mean that your food has to be bland.
Be sure to season your food with whatever combination you enjoy the best. Seasoning is little to no extra calories, so take advantage.
Use the Ziploc bag trick
Use the Ziploc bag trick to make sure that oil and seasoning spread evenly over your vegetables, meat, etc.
Using kitchen shears to chop your vegetables or slice your meat. Place the food items in a gallon size Ziploc bag and drizzle it will olive oil and then add your seasoning.
Close the bag and mix the contents around with your hands to evenly distribute the oil and seasoning, ensuring that each piece will be evenly coated.
Best foods for meal prepping
- Frozen vegetables: peas, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green beans, veggie pasta, cauliflower pizza crust, riced veggies, veggie-based tater tots
- Starchy vegetables: parsnip, cassava, potato, yuca, taro, parsnip, sweet potato, canned pumpkin
- Stiff fresh vegetables: celery, carrots, bell peppers, cabbage, radish
- Sturdy greens: romaine, green leaf (dress just before serving)
- Whole grains: oats, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, sorghum
- Pulses: chickpeas, lentils, beans, peas
- Lean protein: frozen or canned seafood, eggs, unsweetened Greek yogurt, skyr, reduced-sodium cottage cheese, shredded cheese, tofu, lean cuts of chicken, turkey, beef, pork
- Whole fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, clementines, plums, peaches, pears
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, chia, flax
How long will my meal prep last?
Once prepared, food can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-5 days and in the freezer for up to four months. To prevent foodborne illnesses, be sure to use food storage containers that are airtight to keep bacteria and order out. They’ll also help lock in the flavor and keep the moisture in.
Meal prepping can help you save so much time during the week. By reclaiming your time, you can keep up with after-school activities, work, family time and so much more without having to worry about what you and your family will eat on a daily basis.
If I can learn to master meal planning and prepping, you can too!
Do you meal prep? Share some meal prepping tips you’ll share with a beginner in the comments below.