Learn how to meal prep and the benefits of meal prepping, with ideas for beginners and busy people to get healthy food on the table fast!
What is Meal Prepping?
Meal prep has become a buzzword lately. It’s risen in popularity over the past couple years, promising to help you lose weight, save time, and save money. Does meal prepping really have all of these benefits? I say yes, and I’ll share why in this post.
Don’t let the term scare you.
Meal prep simply means working ahead of time to either get the ingredients for a recipe ready to cook or cooking one to several recipes ahead of time before eating them.
Why Meal Prep?
Hardly anyone has the time anymore to prepare and cook every single meal. The fact is that it takes less time to microwave a frozen meal or order out than to cook a homemade meal from scratch–unless you’re meal prepping.
Meal prepping truly lives up to the hype, once you get the hang of it. When you set aside the time each week to meal prep you clean eating recipes, there are several undisputed benefits that might just make all the difference for your health and your budget.
Here are some ways meal prepping can benefit your health and budget.
1. You have control over all the ingredients
By following a clean eating meal prep, you can avoid questionable oils, preservatives, or quality issues, and you can create meals that follow your family’s dietary/allergy needs. You can also eat seasonally and choose organic ingredients, if that’s a priority.
2. You save yourself time (and your sanity!) throughout the week
No need to scramble to think of what you can make and then go through the entire prep/cook process–with meal prepping, you have healthy food ready to go.
3. Meal prepping reduces stress
Most of us aren’t in tune with our bodies enough to recognize creeping hunger or blood sugar signals–it’s something you learn! By the time you recognize that you need food, you still have to think of a meal and cook. By then, your blood sugar is already declining and sending stress signals throughout your body.
By meal prepping, you can get healthy food when you need it. This is true “fast food!”
4. Meal prep saves money and decreases food waste
This is a selling point for meal prepping that’s actually true. With meal prepping, you decide your meals ahead of time, write out your list of ingredients, and buy only what you need.
Whole food ingredients are often cheaper than pre-packaged meals. When you stick to your list, you decrease impulse buys, lower your grocery budget, and decrease the amount of food you’re throwing away each week. It’s a win-win for your wallet and the environment!=.
5. You can control your portion sizes better
Everyone’s caloric needs are different–when your default is a frozen meal or box dinner, you have a portion size prescribed to you. You could be eating too much, or not enough. By meal prepping, you can pre-portion your meals to what you KNOW is the right amount of food for you.
6. Use meal prepping time to have a couple hours to yourself, or include the family.
It can either be a relaxing few hours by yourself in the kitchen, or a great bonding experience to teach your kids about healthy food and cooking. Even the littlest of kiddos can help with washing or slicing veggies.
How do you get started with meal prepping, especially if you’re new to it and/or don’t have a lot of time? Here are ten ideas for how to meal prep!
How to Meal Prep (For Beginners & Busy People)
1. Choose buffet-style meal prepping
You can also refer to this as “batch cooking.” Rather than making a couple big meals and eating the same meal for several days in a row (which turns a lot of people off of meal prepping!), you just choose a few versatile ingredients that you can mix and match.
A good way to follow this style of meal prepping is to batch prep a couple of proteins, some veggies, and some healthy carbs. As an example of how versatile your clean eating meal prep can be, just consider this 4-day menu using 2-3 pounds of cooked ground beef.
Monday: as taco meat
Tuesday: on top of a salad
Wednesday: in breakfast skillet
Thursday: as Sloppy Joes
The options are only limited by your creativity!
Many people, including me, find that this buffet style of meal prepping lends enough freedom and variety to keep them from getting bored and giving up. I use a small white board in my kitchen to plan my clean eating meal prep for up to 2-4 days at a time.
Here’s a good post with more about buffet-style meal prepping.
2. Go the leftovers route
If you have the time to cook even one meal a day, this can shave some extra time off your meal prepping routine. With leftovers meal prepping, you meal prep one or two meals, and then commit to cooking once every other day. For instance: you have breakfast and lunch meal prepped, but have time to cook dinner. Simply double your recipe and eat the leftovers the next day.
Tip: For extra variety, mix up your meals! Eat breakfast for dinner and vice versa. I see some of my blogger friends having breakfast for dinner all the time.
3. Re-think breakfast
The Standard American Diet has us believing that there are “breakfast foods.” This is not true. Anything is a breakfast food, even last night’s leftovers. Once you rearrange your perception of what’s appropriate or not appropriate to eat at any given time, you open yourself up to an entirely new world of meal possibilities!
That’s another aspect of meal prep that is so cool – you can adapt it to your own individual tastes and preferences. There are literally no rules to hold you back.
4. Divide your prep
Another meal prep idea is rather than prepping everything all at once, try prepping just one thing a day. For instance: your main dish on Sunday, veggies on Monday, snacks on Tuesday, etc. Besides buffet-style prepping, this is my favorite way to meal prep and not get overwhelmed.
5. Use a pressure cooker or slow-cooker
The Instant Pot can cut cook time by as much as half! A slow cooker can cook your meals overnight or while you’re at work. It’s pretty amazing how handy these appliances can be. I use both my Instant Pot and slow-cooker almost at least several times a week.
Here are some Instant Pot recipes to get you started (see my slow cooker recipes here):
- Instant Pot Butternut Squash
- Instant Pot Chicken & Sweet Potato dinner
- Instant Pot Coconut Chicken
- Instant Pot Cooked Cabbage
- Instant Pot Hard-Boiled Eggs
- Instant Pot Sweet Potato Mash
- Instant Pot Vegetable Beef Stew
- Instant Pot Whole Red Potatoes
6. Multi-task several items at once
Organize your prep by cook time. For example: baked sweet potatoes may take an hour at 400 degrees. While those are cooking, you can also roast other veggies on a sheet pan and get twice the cooking out of turning your oven on just once.
While that’s all on auto-pilot in the oven, use your stovetop to pan-fry protein and let grains simmer. By the time your most time-intensive item is done, you have everything else done as well.
7. Stock up on pantry items
The worst feeling is having everything ready to go for meal prepping–until you realize you’re out of something. During your weekly shopping trips, stock up on essential pantry items like broth, grains, spices, and baking items.
Ready to get started with clean eating? Join my e-mail list and I’ll send you my free Clean Eating 101 e-book and recipe guide!
8. Buy pre-chopped and pre-washed produce
Just because you want roasted squash for the week doesn’t mean you have to block out an extra ten minutes of time to go through the hassle of chopping! Take advantage of pre-packaged, pre-chopped, and pre-washed produce.
Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and most nicer grocery stores have extensive sections with pre-chopped veggies.
9. Spice it up for some variety
Clean eating meal prep doesn’t mean your dishes have to be boring! Don’t underestimate the value of spices. For example: use cinnamon and rosemary to bring out the sweetness of roasted veggies, or use salt and garlic to make them savory. In this way, you can use different spice profiles to mix up the flavor of the same item.
10. Make freezer-friendly meals
If meal prepping every week isn’t realistic, try meal prepping for two-week stretches instead. You can freeze almost anything without losing flavor, texture, or nutrients. Freeze components separately or mix together for pre-frozen meals. Store in Stasher reusable silicone bags or air-tight glass containers.
Bonus Meal Prep Ideas When You Don’t Have A Lot of Time
Go with one-pot or sheet pan recipes
This cuts down your cooking time and your clean-up. Meals like kitchari, roasted veggies with salmon, and soup pack everything you need in one nutrient-dense dish. Here’s some great recipes to get you started:
Cook what you love
Meal prepping and eating healthy does not mean you can’t eat delicious foods that make you happy. You can make this a sustainable part of your life by prepping the meals and foods that you already love. You can also challenge yourself each week to cook something new!
Invest in quality storage containers
High-quality glass or stainless steel containers make your food taste better, last longer, and remove the risk of chemical leaching–especially if you’re heating your food in the containers. To celebrate the kick-off of your new meal prep habit, invest in a matching set of high-quality containers! These are a great bargain.
Questions Related to How to Meal Prep
What food is good to meal prep?
Most real foods and healthy foods can be meal prepped, especially if they are recipes that can be re-heated without losing their quality.
Is meal prepping good for weight loss?
Meal prepping can be good for weight loss because it helps control portion size and quality of food. Meal prepping also means you’re less likely to have to eat fast food because you already have your food prepared.
How long can you keep meal prep in the fridge?
I recommend keeping meal prepped foods no longer than 4 days in the fridge.
How does meal prep stay fresh?
It’s important to keep prepared foods in tightly sealed containers in the refrigerator. This will help your meal prep stay fresh.
How much does it cost to meal prep for a week?
It depends, but you definitely will save money if you meal prep compared to the amount you’d spend eating out or buying prepared foods.
How do you successfully meal prep?
Plan ahead and make recipes that you know and trust. Meal prep foods and flavors you like so you’ll be more motivated and enjoy your food more. Remember, the point of meal prep is to have healthy and delicious food at your disposal. It’s not about just making diet food or bland basics. Have fun and enjoy your food.
Check out these additional resources for more meal prep ideas and tips:
- Interview with Everything Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook author Tina Chow
- Meal Prepping To Save Money & Time with Marek Strojvus
- Meal Prepping 101 for Beginners
I hope you feel inspired with this post on why and how to meal prep. Meal prepping is the best way to save time, money, food waste, and your diet. By setting aside a few hours one day, you set yourself up for success for the entire week. You can control the ingredients and portions and save yourself a lot of stress.
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