Use these meal prep tips to learn how to start meal prepping. It includes tips for fitting prep-ahead meals into your busy schedule.
What is Meal Prep
While many associate meal prep with a counter of pre-made salads and broiled chicken breasts, meal prep is more than just that. Meal Prepping is simply making some, or all of your meals ahead of time. You can prep meals for the next day, for the next week, or for longer periods of time using freezer meals.
You can meal prep for one person or for your entire family.
Why Meal Prep
There are many reasons to add meal prepping to your weekly routine.
- It will save you time. A one-hour meal prep session can easily save you 5 hours or more throughout the week on cooking or running out for meals.
- It will save you money. Eating meals cooked from scratch are much less expensive than eating packaged foods or take-out.
- You will eat less processed foods. Prep-Ahead Meals are made from wholesome ingredients without fillers or preservatives. You have complete control of the food that ends up in your body.
- Portion control. The meals are divided into meal-size containers ahead of time making it easy to stick to healthy portion sizes.
- It will reduce your morning stress. You don't have to worry about make breakfasts and lunches if they are already made. Depending on your schedule and lifestyle, you can meal prep recipes that just need to be reheated or grab and go meals.
How to Start Meal Prepping
Start small. If in your exuberance for meal prepping you try to make all of your meals for the whole week in one day, you will likely be overwhelmed and give up after a week or two. Meal Prepping is a wonderful way to save time and money while eating healthier foods and I want you to be successful. So start small and build up as you get more efficient.
Start with Meal Prepping One Meal for the Week
Instead of trying to start meal prepping all of your meals for the whole week, choose one meal to prep-ahead in the beginning. Examine which meal causes you the most stress and start by making that meal ahead of time. Once you have that meal down, add another meal.
Here is an example of how to ease into meal prepping:
If you want to save money while eating healthier, start by making 5 days worth of lunches on Sunday night to get you through the work week. This will eliminate the stress of trying to pull together lunches in the morning and eliminate the temptation to eat out for lunch.
Once you have your lunch meal prep down, add make-ahead breakfasts. Start your meal prep session by making baked scrambled eggs or baked oatmeal or some other breakfast recipe that makes a lot of servings, so you have plenty of pre-made breakfasts for the week. While breakfast is in the oven, prep your lunches for the week.
Once you have breakfast and lunch meal prep down, add some dinner prep to your routine. Batch cook some chicken breasts and rice to use as a base for some of your dinners, put something in the oven for breakfast, then prep your lunches for the week while breakfast is in the oven. Each week you will become more organized and faster in your meal prep.
How to Fit Meal Prep Into Your Schedule
Schedule a Time to Meal Prep
The truth is, we rarely prioritize things if we don't actually schedule into our week. Meal prep doesn't even have to take much time. It can often be done in as little as an hour a week of kitchen time. I like to do my meal prep lunches on Sunday evening while I am preparing Sunday dinner, but you should pick a day and time that works best for you.
You also don't have to do all of your meal prep in one session. I often make my breakfasts for the week on Saturday morning when I am making brunch for my family. Since I am already making breakfast foods it is easy for me to make extra at that time.
Batch Cook Staples While You are Cooking
I often batch cook my proteins and grains on a day that I have other things going on in the kitchen. If I am already in the kitchen preparing dinner, I can often work some batch cooking in. You can find batch cooking video tutorials demonstrating a variety of batch cooking techniques here.
Make Your Oven Do Double Duty
Every time I turn on the oven to cook something I think, “is there something else I can cook at the same time?” Even if it is just to grab some veggies from the crisper I always try to make my oven do double duty! Some things you can toss in the oven without much work:
- Baked Scrambled Eggs
- Baked Oatmeal
- Drop Biscuits
- Roasted Vegetables
- Baked Potatoes
- Baked Rice
- Baked Quesadillas
Prep Once, Eat All Week
Double Your Dinner Recipes. Use the excess food to create “One Bowl Wonders” such as rice bowls, deconstructed burrito bowls, chicken and quinoa bowls for your lunches.
Not all meal prep needs to involve cooking. Portioning raw vegetables and nuts counts as meal prepping. So does making salads. Instead of making a small dinner salad, make a large salad. Then use the extra salad greens to create salads for your lunches or to make another dinner salad on a busy night.
More Meal Prep Tips
Choose Simple Recipes
The simpler the recipe the better when it comes to saving time. Get out of the mindset that says each meal has to be a big show. A simple lunch of ham and cheese quesadillas and a garden salad is still lunch! Rice Bowls, Soups, Casseroles, and Salads lend themselves to batch cooking and meal prep and are easy to throw together. Do you need simple recipes that are easy to use with meal prepping in advance? Check out my cookbooks!
Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch includes recipes for batch cooking staples and 100 recipes using those batch cooked ingredients to quickly create easy dinner recipes.
Create a Grocery List
Once you have chosen your recipes for your meal prep session, make grocery lists to go with them. Make sure to also include a list of the bulk items you want to always keep on hand for batch cooking.
One way to save time at the grocery store is to group items on your list by where they are located in the store such as pantry items, meats, dairy, etc. Here is a printable meal plan with grocery shopping list.
The Best Meal Prep Method
The best meal prep method is the one that works for you. There are a number of ways to make prep-ahead meals from batch cooking ingredients to make a week's worth of rice bowls to making breakfast sandwiches. You will have to experiment a bit to find which methods are easiest for you to incorporate into your schedule. If you have any questions about meal prepping, you can ask them in our Prep-Ahead Meals Facebook Group.