Meal Prep 101:
The Beginner's Guide
Even if you’re not a Pinterest fanatic or foodie blog follower, chances are you’ve still heard of meal prepping.
If you’ve never prepped a meal in your life and don’t know where to begin, don’t worry.
I'll will walk you through everything you need to know about weekly meal prep: how to do it, ingredients, weekly meal ideas, and more.
This guide will help out even the most novice meal preppers.
Ready to get started? Let's dive in...
What is Meal Prepping?
This structured food fad has plenty of loyal devotees and those who partake in the weekly ritual can’t find enough good things to say about it.
Meal prepping simply means batch cooking a week’s worth of meals in advance. There’s no “one size fits all” when preparing meals. One person’s routine may not be the best routine for another person. The trick is to find the perfect routine for you and your family.
Batch cooking is all about planning out quick and healthy meals and preparing them for an easy, convenient, grab-and-go menu.
Who’s it for?
Contrary to popular belief, meal prep isn’t just for avid gym-goers. It can benefit everyone, no matter how new you are to the practice.
It’s for on-the-go individuals who want to stay healthy with a busy schedule. Whether you have a office job that you’d like to prepare healthy lunches for, or a busy home life and want to make sure your family is eating healthy all week long, batch cooking can be a valuable tool.
Although it seems like preparing a week’s worth of meals takes a long time (and it does, even after you’ve settled into a routine) spending a little more time up front saves time in the long run.
Consider how much time you’re already spending with cooking each day - washing, chopping, stirring and cleaning.
Now imagine all that rolled into one day. You’ve already got the cutting board out and dirty, why not chop a few more carrots? Chopping a few more carrots today means not having to get that cutting board back out later this week. That’s a win in my book!
For those with busy families especially, a meal prep plan for the week can free up time by clumping most of the work together in one day.
What are the Benefits of Meal Prep?
There are numerous benefits from cooking a weeks worth of meals at once: from saving time and money to helping you stick to a diet plan. Below you'll find a list of benefits that come with batch cooking.
1. It’s a money saver
Meal planning and prepping can save you money each week at the grocery store. Rather than blindly shopping for ingredients to hopefully throw together in a meal, your grocery list will include everything you need for each planned meal for the week, which keeps you from buying unnecessary items.
2. Meal planning gives you more variety
When you spend time planning your meals, you’re likely not sticking to the same old, tried-and-true meals. You search for new, interesting recipes for your family to try each week.
3. Can help you lose weight
Meal prep reduces the temptation to eat unhealthy foods. If it’s not on your grocery list, don’t buy it! And, if it’s not already prepped for you to eat, don’t eat it! It simplifies the whole process of eating healthy, making it much more likely you’ll stick to your weight loss goals.
4. It helps you stick to a particular diet
Dieting can be tough. Even with a set structure to follow, preparing diet-specific meals each night can be hard work after a long day. By preparing all your diet meals in advance, you can easily stay on track and stick to your set meal plan with ease.
How to Get Started
Figuring out where to begin when you’re new to batch cooking can be the most difficult part of the whole process. But, rest assured, once you get into a steady routine, all of this will begin to come naturally to you.
If you’re looking for some help getting started, I suggest checking out MyFreezEasy. These meal plans will help you prepare 10 meals in under an hour. A massive time saver!
Below I’ve outlined the steps you need to take to get started with meal prepping:
1. Food Prep Containers
If you’re going to be prepping food for the week, you don’t want it going to waste! Before you begin prepping, you should take time to invest in the perfect containers that’ll keep your food as fresh as possible.
Look for plastic or glass containers with an excellent seal, such as ones that have closures on all four sides for an airtight seal. Containers with a label area are extra handy, too, so you can write the meal’s name and date you’re using it.
Lastly, find containers that are microwave, refrigerator, freezer, and dishwasher-safe. If so, they’ll be able to go wherever you need them, which can be a lot of places when you’re meal-prepping!There are a lot of options on the market, and deciding which ones are right for you can be a bit daunting. This guide on meal prep containers takes you through some of the different containers available and the pros and cons of each, so you can confidently choose the best one for your needs.
2. Getting Clear on WHY
Next, identify WHY you want to start meal prepping (this will help you find weekly meal ideas and help make sure they meet whatever goals you are trying to achieve).
Some of the most common reasons for people to want to start prepping meals are:
Easy to prepare
Weight loss meals, for example, will help you keep portion sizes correct, ensure you are getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber, lean protein and the right amount of fats for your weight loss goals.If you exercise regularly or are trying to put on weight in a healthy way, you may opt for a muscle building plan, which will hone in on muscle building ingredients, like proteins, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
3. Pick a day
Now that you’re clear on your goals, you need to figure out the best day to plan and prep. Give yourself time once a week to plan out your meals, go shopping for ingredients, and prep your meals for the week.
I personally love setting aside a Sunday afternoon to get all this done, but choose a time and day that works best for you.
4. Plan the Menu
Now comes the really fun part - putting it all together and designing your weekly menu!
A great tip here if you’re new to meal prepping is to stick to meals you’re already confident in cooking. If you choose unfamiliar meals straight away, you may find the whole process overwhelming and lose motivation.
To start out, stick to a few family favorites to help ease into learning how to plan your meals for the week and create a grocery list.
Once you gain more experience in planning and start feeling comfortable, it’s time to get creative! Head on over to Pinterest and start pinning to your heart’s content - breakfast, lunch, dinner, even snack ideas!
And, of course, check out your favorite food blogs and recipe sites, raid your grandmother’s cookbooks and beg for the secret family recipe for spaghetti sauce from your great aunt.
A quick hint on organization: You may want to consider using a basic spreadsheet on your computer to help keep you organized.
Include the days of the week, your breakfast, lunches, and dinners for each day with a link to the recipe, if desired, and the list of ingredients needed for each meal.
When you’re done planning, print it out, and use the blank template to create a new one next week.
Planning Healthy Meals
For the healthiest meals, you should add the proper ingredients to each meal you’re planning. According to Heart.org, a person on a 2000-calorie diet should have the following number servings from each food group:
When planning your meals, take into consideration the portion sizes of the recipes and how they relate to the recommended food group servings.
Each of your meals, ideally, should have some of the following components included to help you reach your daily food goals:
- Fish (choose fatty fish, like salmon 2-3 times per week)
- Lean red meat
What a serving looks like: 3 oz. Approximately the size of your palm.
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
- Quinoa & other whole grains
- Wheat bread
What a serving looks like: 1 medium whole fruit, 1/2 cup chopped fruit or 1/4 cup dried fruit.
*If you choose non-dairy products look for vitamin D fortified products.
What a serving looks like: 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt or 1.5oz of cheese.
- Nut butters
- Olive oil
- Flax & chia seeds
- Fatty fish like salmon or sardines
What a serving looks like: 1 TBSP oil, avocado or nut butter.
- Kale, spinach and other leafy greens
What a serving looks like: 1 cup raw leafy greens, 1/2 cup cooked veggies or beans
Creating Your Grocery List
If you decided to use a spreadsheet to help plan your meals, you’re already one step ahead of the game. The easiest thing to do now is print your spreadsheet with ingredient lists included.
If you’re not using a spreadsheet, list all ingredients needed for each recipe, including the amounts, on paper. This will keep your time in the supermarket minimal, and reduce the risk of buying unhealthy snacks.
You may wish to skip the grocery store altogether. Amazon Pantry has tons of low price items from some of the top brands. You can order as much or as little as you need and they deliver right to your door. This is a great option if you have young kids or work long hours,so the idea of a longer grocery shop seems overwhelming.
Another great online option and a personal favorite is Thrive Market. Just like Amazon Pantry, they deliver discounted branded products straight to your door, but offer a wide range of organic products - a great benefit if you want to keep you and your family healthy.
Simple Meal Prepping Hacks
Here are a few helpful suggestions for saving time cooking:
If you’re struggling to find time to meal prep, freezer cooking is a great option for you. You can easily make 10 meals at a time and the prep time is minimal.
On busy weeknights or days that just don’t go as planned, it’s handy to have meals ready to go in the freezer that are tasty and healthy. Imagine the stress you’ll save knowing you have them as a back-up.
If the idea of freezer cooking as piqued your interest, you can check out what it’s all about at myfreezeeasy.com. It has everything from easy, quick freezer recipes, how to prep your meals, and how to save money.
Meal Prep: Step By Step
This particular guide takes you through buffet style meal prep. This means prepping a variety of ingredients in advance to use throughout the week, as opposed to set meals.
This can be a good alternative if you’re worried about getting bored having the same meals all week.
Step 1: Planning
Get all your ingredients out on the counter ready so you’re not hunting for them later on.
Then, jot down a few notes including what you’re planning to make throughout the week, what appliances you’re going to need and how long each meal will take to cook.
This will help you determine the quickest dishes and which you can work on simultaneously to save yourself more time during the week.
Step 2: Roasted Veggies
Roasted vegetables are an easy, quick meal prep staple that takes no time at all. Cut up your veggies (broccoli, onion, sprouts and fresh garlic are great options) into evenly sized pieces and toss with with olive oil, salt and pepper. Put them to the side for now.
Step 3: Sweet Potato Toast
This is a great gluten-free alternative to toast and easily injects more veggies into your diet.
To make the toast, slice the sweet potato in even slices. Add them to a parchment-lined baking tray. Add a little bit of oil and set aside ready to go.
Step 4: Baked Chicken with Herbs
It’s also a good idea to add a protein to your meal prepping. And chicken is a simple staple.
Coat two chicken breasts with oil and season with salt and pepper (enough for one person - double or triple up if you’re prepping for the family). Sprinkle on your favourite herbs (rosemary, thyme, garlic powder are all good options, but choose your personal favourites and get creative). Place them on a tray ready to roast.
Step 5: Get Your Cook On!
Put all your prepared items in the oven to cook - simple!
Step 6: Cook Your Starch
While your food is roasting in the oven, it’s time to prepare the stove-top ingredients. First up, the starch.
Choose your favorite starch for the week (rice, quinoa, other pulses or grains). You can switch this up every week to avoid getting bored with your meal prep. Measure out enough for the week and put it on to boil.
Step 7: Hard Boiled Eggs
While the rice is cooking, put on your eggs to boil.
Make sure to check on your roasting items at this point and give your sweet potato toast a flip. Your chicken should also be done at this point, so check it, and take it to rest if cooked through.
Once your eggs have boiled, submerge them in cold water to instantly stop them from overcooking.
Step 8: Preparing Your Chicken
Slice or dice your chicken, depending on what meals you plan on cooking later in the week. This will save you that extra time when cooking later on.
Step 9: Storing Your Ingredients
Transfer the chicken and rice into separate storage containers ready to use during the week.
Peal your eggs and place them in a container ready to eat as a quick snack or use in a recipe. Put your roasted veggies and sweet potato toast into separate storage containers, too.
Step 10: Homemade Almond Butter
Roast 4 cups of almonds for 10 minutes and then blend on high for one minute. This is an extremely easy prepping technique and creates smooth, creamy almond butter. You can store it in a plastic or glass container ready to use throughout the week.
Stepp 11: Veggie Sticks
Celery and carrot sticks are a quick and easy snack you can easily prepare in advance. Simply chop them up and store them in a jar with cold water. The water keeps them crisp for the whole week so they maintain that wonderful crunch.
Step 12: Zucchini Noodles
If you have a spiralizer, zucchini is a great option. It stays fresh for 5 days and is a tasty healthy alternative to carbs. Once made, store in a glass container with a sheet of kitchen paper to absorb any extra moisture.
If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can buy these already prepped at many supermarkets.
New to Meal Prepping?
Grab a copy of our FREE Meal Prep Planner to help you get started!
How long does the food last?
A good rule of thumb is up to 4 days. Some foods last longer, some less, but this is a good time to plan around.
What’s Buffet Meal Prep?
This is when you prepare a selection of different ingredients in advance and then use these to make different meals throughout the week. As opposed to prepping entire meals in advance.
What containers are best?
The type of container you use will depend on your personal needs. Plastic or glass containers both have their advantages and drawbacks. For a more in-depth look at which containers are best, check out this detailed review here.
You may also want to check out the different bags for meal prepping.
How do you find the motivation to meal prep?
It can be hard work to begin with, but once you’ve prepped meals a couple of times, it becomes a habit. And you get into a routine that becomes effortless. The trick is to stick with it and not give up after one week.
How do I figure out portion sizes?
This will obviously vary from person to person, but as a general rule it’s best to aim for 4 oz of protein, 1/2 cup of grains and 2 cups of veggies per meal. Do some research and use apps like MyFitnessPal (free) to help you hit your daily portion targets.
Do I freeze all my meals?
I recommend freezing meals you don’t plan on eating within 3 days, otherwise keep them in the fridge to keep them as fresh as possible.
How do I reheat meals?
The night before you plan to eat a frozen meal, move it to the fridge to thaw overnight and then reheat it in the microwave when you want it. Easy!
How do you stop getting bored with meal prep?
If you hate the idea of eating the same meal every day for a week, start out by trying buffet-style meal prep. This is prepping a variety of meals and using them to make different meals through the week.