If you’re trying to eat better, have a busy lifestyle, or have kids, making balanced daily meals can be challenging. Use these meal prep tips to make it easy to have good-for-you food ready all week long. All it takes is just a little bit of planning!
While shopping and devising weekly meal plans may seem intimidating, it’s easy once you make it a habit. Read on to learn more about the art of meal prep, along with tips and tricks that turn you into a meal prepping master in no time.
What is Meal Prep?
The term meal prep refers to making meals for the week on a schedule. The idea is that you’ll have nutritious meals on hand throughout the week, so you don’t have to worry about cooking or planning out your menu every single day.
People who follow specific diets, for example, a plant-based one, enjoy meal prepping since it makes it easier to have what they need close at hand. The process also helps you control portion size better since each meal is separated and stored every day.
Benefits of Meal Prepping
There are many excellent benefits of meal prepping, including:
- Money-Saving: When you plan your meals, you’re more careful about what you buy. There’s also less waste, which means you’re saving money in the long run.
- Time-Saving: Preparing your meals in advance frees up your time during the week for other things. You won’t have to spend every night in the kitchen cooking, so you’re able to focus on the things and people you love.
- Portion control: Since your meals are prepared and stored separately, it’s easier to manage portion control to stick with. You can also choose more nutritious meals to make in advance so that you won’t be tempted to munch on junk food or order takeout.
- Stress-reducing: Having all of your meals ready for the week can reduce your stress and worry about what to buy or what to cook for yourself and your family. You’ll also feel confident knowing you have something to eat every day and don’t need to make last-minute trips to the grocery store.
Types of Meal Prep
There are several methods you can use when meal prepping:
- Make-ahead meals: Cook a complete meal in advance, then store it in the fridge or freezer. These meals can easily be reheated during dinner, making them fast and easy to serve and enjoy.
- Batch cooking: This type of meal prep includes making a large batch of a recipe that you can separate into individual portions. Simply freeze each portion, then enjoy it as a meal over a span of a few months, which is optimum for a warm lunch or dinner.
- Ready-to-cook ingredients: By preparing the ingredients needed for specific meals in advance, you can reduce your cooking time significantly.
- Individually portioned meals: This method involves making fresh meals and portioning them into smaller sizes that you can grab when you’re on the go. They’re refrigerated and eaten over the span of a few days, which makes it easy to have a quick lunch for work or school.
- Assemble ahead meals: From burritos to lasagna, making a complete meal in advance and storing it in the fridge allows you to simply pop it in the oven when it’s dinnertime.
- Breakfast prep: Many of us are in a rush in the morning, so it’s useful to have washed and prepped fruits, overnight oats, soaked chia seeds, cooked grains, granola, etc. all set and ready to eat.
Choose the Right Containers Before You Begin
When you’re working on freezer-friendly recipes or make-ahead recipes, you’ll need to store your meals appropriately. Here are some meal prep tips for this category:
- Airtight containers: Store the ingredients for your ready-to-cook meals in airtight containers to keep them fresher for longer.
- BPA-free microwavable containers: When you’re cooking microwavable meals you’ve planned ahead, always choose glass or plastic material that is safe and listed as BPA-free.
- Freezer-safe containers: You definitely don’t want your delicious meals to get freezer burn, so make sure you store them in freezer-safe containers that will keep them from getting nasty frostbite.
- Leak-proof, compartmentalized containers: When you’re taking your prepped meals on the go, look for leak-proof options that feature separate compartments. This will keep the different food items separated so that you don’t end up with a muddled mess at lunchtime.
5 Meal Prep Tips for Success
Follow these five steps to ensure that your meal prepping goes as planned:
- One: Decide which meal prep method will work best for you. Whether it’s batch cooking, making items you can pop in the oven, or putting together all of your ready-to-cook ingredients, the meal prep type will determine how you plan the rest of your week and how your food is stored.
- Two: Stick to a schedule when meal prepping so that it becomes a weekly habit. For example, you can dedicate your Sundays to prepping, cooking, and storing all of your meals for the rest of the week, and then you’re done!
- Three: Another key to success is sitting down and making your weekly meal plan in advance. Write down the meals you plan to make for every day of the week ahead of time, so you can keep things exciting and know what you need to do.
- Four: When meal prepping, you’ll need to write down a comprehensive shopping list before you head to the grocery store. Once you have all the ingredients you need close at hand, it’s much easier to get those meals prepped and ready for your busy week ahead.
- Five: With your meal plan, ingredients, and containers ready to go, it’s time to start prepping! Make sure you have everything ready to go, then spend some time making your meals or preparing the ingredients for the remainder of the week. Depending on how many meals you plan to make or the complexity of the recipes, it shouldn’t take too long once you get a system in place.
You may also like Helpful Vegan Meal Planning Tips for Busy Cooks.
Best foods for meal prepping
You can prep just about anything when making your meals, but here are some of the best foods to include when you’re working on your weekly meal plans:
Frozen vegetables: Frozen veggies are perfect for adding to many recipes, including beef stew, vegetarian lasagnas, soups, and more. You can quickly grab a handful to add to your recipes and leave the rest in the freezer for other meals later.
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other roots are some examples of starchy vegetables that can quickly be cooked on their own or added to recipes. They also keep” longer than some other types of vegetables, so you can stretch them out to include in your meals over several weeks.
- Fresh vegetables: Choose fresh vegetables like lettuce, tomato, and cucumber when prepping meals like salads or making assemble ahead meals. When the meals are cooked, they’ll taste much better thanks to fresh ingredients.
- Hardy greens: Kale, chard, and collards are hardy greens, which means they’re prime for cooking. Stock up on these greens to make a range of meals for the week ahead. Prepping them — stemming, washing, and chopping — will ensure that they’re ready to roll when you are. And by wilting them down, they’ll take up a lot less room in the fridge.
- Whole grains: You can make an endless variety of meals using whole grains like rice, barley, and quinoa. Not only do whole grains store well, but they make a delicious, filling meal chock full of fiber.
- Pulses: Pulses include foods like lentils, beans, chickpeas, and peas, that can be added to recipes. Look for canned pulses that you can add to meals or cook your own pulses in large batches to include in your weekly meal prep.
- Whole fruits: Peaches, melons, and berries are excellent additions to meal prep whether you eat them as a snack or include them in some of your favorite desserts. Apples, pears, and bananas become discolored and/or mushy when prepped ahead, so those are best cut up at the last minute.
- Nuts and seeds: Not only do nuts and seeds make wholesome snacks, but they’re also a wonderful ingredient for desserts and savory dishes. Keep a variety of nuts and seeds on hand in your pantry to include in your meal prep regimen.
Keep these tips in mind to ensure that your meal prepping venture is a success.
- Keep it simple: Don’t stress about planning elaborate meals for the week. Choose easy recipes that can be put together ahead of time or assembled at the last minute. Keeping it simple is a key to ensuring that the whole family will love the meal being serve.
- Prep balanced meals: Eating a balanced diet is important, so make sure that your meal plan includes foods from all food groups and that every recipe is packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
- Cook what your family will eat: For meal prep to be successful, you have to make meals that you and the rest of the family will eat. A fun tip would be to let everyone in the family, including the kids, suggest a meal for the week, and plan your prep and shopping accordingly.
- Involve your family: Building on the previous tip, have your family join in the fun of meal prepping by helping you cook and put the food into containers.
- Make enough food: Always prep more than you think you’ll need so you don’t run out midway through your week. It can’t hurt to have more than you need since you can always store the excess in the freezer to enjoy later, or pack for a delicious lunch for school or work.
- Use recipes with an overlap of ingredients: Come up with recipes that you can use certain ingredients interchangeably. For example, a delicious tomato sauce can be added to various meals ranging from lasagna to spaghetti and baked ziti.
- Have fun and reward yourself: Meal prep should be fun for it to be a success. Make it an enjoyable activity by playing energetic music or watching a favorite movie while you prep. Reward yourself for a successful meal prep session with another activity you enjoy.
Whether you’re eating on a budget, looking for ways to save time, or determined to eat better, meal prep is a smart way to plan your week. Use these tips to ensure that your meal prep plan goes off without a hitch.
Always plan your meals in advance and ensure that you have everything on your grocery list, including the proper storage containers. With some practice and preparation, you’ll love how much meal prepping saves you time, money, and stress.
Contributed by María José Meneses: María José is a Marketing Specialist and does Content Marketing at Porch. She is passionate about animals and her hobbies are reading, writing, traveling and music. Originally published in Porch.com; reprinted by permission.
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