You’ve heard about it online, in magazines, from your health conscious neighbor, but what exactly is “meal prep” and how do you do it? Meal prepping is typically when you carve out some time on one day of the week to make multiple servings of a few different meals to eat throughout the week. How often do you wish dinner was magically ready when you get home from work tired and hungry? Let me guess, a lot! Not only can meal prep save you hours each night, but it makes it easier to make healthy choices at the end of a long day. Here’s how it’s done:
Step 1: Pick a time.
Set some time aside to plan your meals/select recipes (if needed), create your grocery list, and execute the shopping AND the cooking/assembly. These steps don’t all have to be done at once, so really take a look at your weekly calendar and schedule time for planning and prep. Write it on your calendar just like you would an appointment or an important work meeting. This helps to avoid scheduling another event or deprioritizing meal planning – if it’s not on your calendar it’s much easier to push aside or worse: forget!
Step 2: Figure out how many meals you need to prep.
Have your work/social calendar nearby! Are there nights where you’re going to dinner with friends or days where work is providing lunch? Enjoy those and figure out how many meals you need to make. It can help to print out a weekly calendar or create your own on a whiteboard or chalkboard and write out your meals for the week – breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks.
Step 3: Decide what you’d like to prep.
If you are new to meal prepping stick with simple recipes with fewer ingredients. Think of a protein, starch, and veggies that you can make in bulk for lunches and dinners throughout the week. You can find some great, simple, meal prep ideas here. Once you’ve mastered that, feel free to try more complex recipes! Pro tip: if you have foods that tend to go bad quickly, try to use those earlier in the week and save the studerier options for later in the week! (Salad greens or any leftovers from the weekend are great options for early in the week!)
Step 4: Take inventory of what you already have.
Did you decide on chicken as your protein for dinners? Check your freezer to see if you have any on hand before buying more at the store. Look in the pantry to see what starch you have, maybe you have a large bag of quinoa that’s already open – hooray! You won’t need to buy a starch for your lunches! Taking time to complete this step will make your grocery list and trip less expensive and shorter!
Step 5: Make your grocery list.
Once you have your recipes/choices for the week and you’ve taken inventory of what you already have, it’s time to make your grocery list! Group foods by what section of the store they will be in to avoid taking multiple laps around the store. On second thought, if you leave your list unorganized you will get in more steps – win!
Step 6: Grocery shop.
You have your list, now it’s time to shop! It can be helpful to try to shop on the same day you’re going to prep, or close to it. Maybe you choose Sunday afternoons, so around 1pm you hit the store and you plan to prep from 2-4pm. If you don’t enjoy the typical Sunday afternoon crowds at the store, you could totally do your shopping earlier in the morning or on another day of the week!
Step 7: Cook and prepare the food.
Here’s the most important part! Enjoy the opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen cooking up your proteins, starches and veggies! It can be so tempting to “do it later,” but who really does? It’ll be much harder to make your meal at 7pm on a weeknight, when you’re starving and exhausted. That is the beauty of meal prep! Keeping meals quick and easy when things get hectic!
These steps and tips are just a guide and tips to help you get started – there is no “right” or “wrong” way to meal prep! Meal prep can take so many shapes, so it’s important to pick a routine that is doable and realistic for you! That could mean prepping once a week like the steps above, two times per week, or each night for the next day! Give yourself some time to explore different strategies and find what type of meal prep schedule will work best for you and most importantly, have fun with it!