Arming yourself with meals for a full week can be an incredibly helpful and stress-free process. You’ll find there’s loads more time for family events or evening activities – if you actually know how to meal prep, that is.
Meal prep is an effective tool for large families, or working individuals, for many reasons. It’s a great way to minimize time spent in the kitchen, control portions for healthy eating and weight loss, and save money by maximizing grocery trips and minimizing waste.1
With a few thoughtful steps, you can meal prep like a pro, and say goodbye to hectic mealtimes!
Know Before You Go
A huge part of successful meal prep is deciding what style of prepping works best for your lifestyle, and which part of the day to focus your meal prep efforts on. Do you find that mornings leave you without a moment to think? Consider prepping no-cook breakfasts, or pre-assembled smoothie packs, to start your day off right. Are you totally burned out by evening, and you can’t even think about food choices? Whole meal prep, or prepping a week’s work of ingredients, is likely to help you out.
Think about your routine for the upcoming week, and allow your schedule to be your guide. Plan accordingly around dinner invitations that will eliminate the need to cook, days where you know you’ll be late at work, or days where your kids will be having dinner at a friend’s birthday party.
Your schedule is a major factor in how much food you buy – and how much you prep.
Which Method Is Right for Me?
The answer to that question is simple: The right way to meal prep is the one that works best for you. Here are a few methods to consider as a guide:
Big Batch Meals:
This method works best if you love leftovers and you don’t get bored by the same pot of soup, or dish of casserole. This approach to meal prep requires a little more front-loaded effort and one big vessel for cooking (think Crockpot, stock pot, or dutch oven). It also means your work is relatively effortless once ‘cooking day’ is done.
Individual Ingredient Prep:
This method works best if you want to create new meals each night and you can plan your menu based on recipes with similar ingredients. Washing and slicing enough vegetables just one time can mean a stir fry, a soup, a saute, and a vegan veggie omelet as the week goes on.
Frozen Prep and Meals:
This method is awesome if you have plenty of freezer space, if you’re organized with your labeling, and if you know you’ll need family-sized portions at a later date. Most staples, like starches, greens, and proteins, can be frozen at different stages of raw, blanched, or fully cooked to assist your fresh meal creation as needed.2
Fully Portioned Meals:
This method is best if you are prepping food with the goal of losing weight, as portion size is a huge factor in even the healthiest of diets. When all you have to do is grab a pre-portioned meal, maintaining your calorie intake goal is easy to achieve throughout the week.3
Get To It: How To Shop For Your Meal Prep
Say it once, say it twice, say it the whole time you are shopping…
Schedules and lists are my meal prep friends.
A successful meal prep starts with a successful planning session – so, get yourself organized!
Choose your week’s menu with as many overlapping ingredients as possible. For example, cooked broccoli can be:
- A side dish on Monday
- Turned into vegetable fried rice on Tuesday
- Put into a broccoli stir fry on Wednesday
- Thrown into a pot of soup on Thursday
Next, create a shopping list with the weekly quantities, not daily quantities, so you don’t get stuck shopping a second-time mid-week to make your meal prep successful. Sometimes, a big grocery store trip can be a daunting task. Do yourself a favor and further prioritize your shopping list by store section. This is a great way to ensure you don’t skip any items, and won’t burn out from doing unnecessary laps around the store.
Another easy, money-saving step to meal prep is buying dried and canned goods in bulk. By stocking up on items that get used regularly, you can save a significant amount of money. You could enjoy an almost 50 percent savings when comparing 10+ lbs. of non-perishables, like pasta, flour, or rice.4 Ten pounds of anything might sound like a lot, but it disappears quickly when eaten over the course of a month. Stocking up ensures you are ready to prep a large variety of meals.
Execution: Make it Happen
Once you’ve planned and shopped, sticking to your chosen recipes can really help alleviate the stress of ‘getting it right’ while prepping.
Look through your recipes, and take a survey of how much of each ingredient you’ll need to prep for the whole week.
Tip: Refer to your shopping list, as you’ve already done this work. For example, peel all the carrots you’ll need first – then divide them up by recipe. Note whether they’ll need to be diced, julienned, baked, steamed, etc.
After the basic ingredient prepping, like washing and peeling, is done, start with foods that take the longest and need to go into the oven – think baked potatoes, or protein-based casseroles. Once that aspect of your meal prep is in the works, you’ll find you have space in the sink, and on the stove, to boil your rice, saute all your greens, and steam your vegetables, as the final steps of meal prep.
Fun Fact: Greens cook down by half their original mass and weight, on average!5
The Fruits of your Labor: Storage
You’ve proudly roasted carrots, steamed brown rice, and grilled chicken tenders. Now what? Whatever prepping method you choose, you will always need to effectively store your meals for week-long consumption, or long-term freezing.
Be sure to find appropriately sized containers for your chosen prepping method and lifestyle. Bringing a large container to the ‘work fridge’ on Monday, and removing it on Friday, cuts back on clean up. But choosing to portion out meals eliminates the urge to overeat and makes early morning decisions very easy. Do what works for you.
Most importantly, arm yourself with plastic bags that are meant for the freezer, waterproof markers, and airtight containers when you are choosing to freeze whole meals or ingredients. Moisture and excess air are your enemies when it comes to preserving textures and flavors in the freezer, so labeling clearly, and sealing correctly, can make or break your hard meal prep work.
Rock it out
Knowing how to meal prep means you can feel good about your food all week. Plan effectively, and be sure to set aside the appropriate amount of time for preparation. Follow this simple guide, and take the necessary steps listed to ensure that your meal prep process stays enjoyable and effective.
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