What is Meal Prep?
Meal prep is to the process of planning, preparing, and cooking meals in advance, typically for the purpose of saving time, improving health, and reducing food waste. It involves preparing large batches of food and dividing them into portions to be consumed throughout the week. Meal prep can include a wide variety of foods, from simple snacks to complex meals, and can be tailored to meet individual dietary needs and preferences. This guide should give you everything you need to know to get started. If you’ve already been prepping for awhile, it can give you new ideas to make it easier or try new things!
Benefits of Meal Prep
Save time: Meal prep can save you time by allowing you to prepare meals in advance and avoid the need to cook every day. With meal prep, you can set aside a block of time each week to plan and cook your meals, which can free up time during the week for other activities. Additionally, prepping ingredients in advance can significantly reduce the time it takes to prepare meals, allowing you to enjoy healthy and delicious meals without spending hours in the kitchen. Overall, meal prep can help you streamline your cooking process and save time while still eating nutritious and satisfying meals.
Save money: Meal prep can save you money by allowing you to buy ingredients in bulk and avoid the high costs of eating out or buying pre-made meals. When you buy ingredients in larger quantities, you can often take advantage of sales or discounts and save money in the long run. Additionally, by preparing your own meals, you can control portion sizes and avoid waste, which can further reduce your overall grocery expenses. It also prevents you from splurging on expensive takeout when you don’t have meals ready.
Improve health: Meal prep can improve your health by allowing you to control the quality and quantity of the ingredients in your meals. When you prepare your own meals, you can choose fresh, whole foods and avoid processed, high-calorie options. Additionally, meal prep can help you stick to a balanced diet by ensuring you have nutritious meals readily available, reducing the temptation to eat unhealthy options on the go. It can help you stick to any diets you want to follow.
Less food waste: Meal prep can help reduce food waste by allowing you to plan and purchase only the ingredients you need for the meals you are going to prepare. This helps avoid overbuying and allows you to use up ingredients before they go bad. Additionally, by prepping and portioning your meals in advance, you are less likely to let food spoil or go unused because you have a plan for how to use it.
Types of Meal Prep
Make-Ahead Meals: Make-ahead meals involve cooking complete meals in advance that can be reheated quickly during the week. These meals can be stored in the fridge or freezer, and reheated when needed. Examples of make-ahead meals include casseroles, stews, and soups.
Batch Cooking/Freezing: Batch cooking is the process of preparing multiple batches of a recipe and freezing them for later use. This is great for those who want to save time and money by cooking in bulk. Examples of batch-cooking meals include chili, curry, lasagna, and casseroles.
Individually Portioned Meals: This type of meal prep is perfect for those who have specific health goals or those who are always on the go. It involves preparing foods and portioning them into individual servings. This helps to control portion sizes and makes it easy to grab a healthy meal on the go. Examples of individually portioned meals include overnight oats, mason jar salads, and pre-portioned snacks.
Ready-to-Cook Ingredients: If you prefer to cook your meals right before serving, prepping ingredients in advance can save you a lot of time. This type of meal prep involves chopping vegetables, cooking grains, and preparing other ingredients in advance. This makes it easy to throw together a healthy meal quickly during the week.
Meal prep containers: Glass containers are a popular option, as they are sturdy, microwave-safe, and don’t absorb odors or stains. You can easily find individual meal-size glass meal prep containers on Amazon, Walmart, and Target. Ball jars of different size are also common options and are especially useful for salads and overnight oats. Plastic containers can also work well, particularly ones with 2-3 portioned sections to store different parts of your meal, but make sure to choose ones that are BPA-free and microwave-safe.
Basic cooking materials: Knives, cutting boards, measuring cups, bowls, etc.
Storage bags: If you’re planning to prep ready-to-cook ingredients or freeze meals, storage bags are a great option.
Look for recipes that are easy to make and can be made in bulk.
Choose recipes that use ingredients you enjoy and fit within your dietary preferences.
Consider recipes that freeze well for future meals.
Meal Planning and Making a Grocery List
Choose your meals: Decide on your meals for the week(s) including anything you want to prep for – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Choose meals that are easy to prepare. Look for recipes that are simple and require minimal preparation time. One-pot meals, slow cooker meals, and sheet pan dinners are all great options that can be prepared with minimal effort.
Here are some meal planning resources:
Make a grocery list: Based on those meals and what you already have in your house, make a list of all the ingredients you need to make those meals. Go ahead and shop the day before or day you plan to meal prep. To save time on shopping, you can have groceries delivered using services like Instacart, Target delivery, or Peapod.
Preparing for Meal Prep
Set aside time. Choose a day and time for meal prepping. A lot of people meal prep on Sundays to have everything ready for the week. Consider prepping ingredients in advance to save time.
Prep kitchen space: Clear off your kitchen counters to give yourself enough space to work. Clean your kitchen appliances, utensils, and containers. Prepare your workspace for easy meal prep. Gather all the tools and equipment you need before you begin cooking. Make sure you have all the ingredients you need.
Proper food storage: Choose containers that are airtight to keep food fresh. Label your containers with the date and contents of the meal, especially if you’re freezing them so you know how long you’ve had them.
Meal Prep Tips and Techniques
Batch cooking: Cook in bulk to save time and have meals for the week. You can then freeze meals for later use. Try choosing ingredients that can be used in multiple meals.
Use a slow cooker or pressure cooker” These appliances can save time and cook food evenly. They’re great for making soups, stews, or chili in a slow cooker. Pressure cookers also cook grains and meats quickly.
Prep ingredients in advance: Chop vegetables and fruits in advance to save time. Cook grains and proteins in advance. Prepare snacks or salad ingredients in advance. Then you can cook and assemble them quickly.
How to Meal Prep for Different Goals
Meal Prep for Weight Loss: Choose recipes that are low in calories and high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Examples include grilled chicken with roasted vegetables, quinoa salads, and Greek yogurt with berries.
Meal Prep for Muscle Gain: Choose recipes that are high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Examples include baked salmon with sweet potato and broccoli, protein smoothies with almond milk and peanut butter, and quinoa and black bean bowls.
Meal Prep for Athletic Performance: Choose recipes that are high in complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. Examples include brown rice and grilled chicken with avocado and cherry tomatoes, sweet potato and black bean chili, and whole grain pasta with roasted vegetables and pesto sauce.
Other Options for Food and Meals at Home
Meal Delivery Services: Many companies offer meal delivery services that provide pre-made meals delivered to your door. This can be a convenient option for those with limited time or cooking skills.
To find local companies that can deliver to you, type your city in the search bar on NoStove.com, or look at a list of companies that ship across the us on NoStove as well.
Personal Chef Services: For those who want a more personalized approach, consider hiring a personal chef who can create customized meal plans and cook meals in your own home.
Takeout and Restaurant Meals: While not the healthiest option, occasionally ordering takeout or dining out at a restaurant can be a convenient option for those who don’t have the time or desire to cook.
Grocery Store Prepared Foods: Many grocery stores offer prepared foods that can be a convenient option for quick and easy meals, such as rotisserie chicken, pre-made salads, and deli sandwiches.