If you’re tired of fast-food oily hamburgers and trips to your nearest drive-through every time you want to grab a bite, then it’s time for you to embrace the meal prep life.
Once you start, you will swear by meal prepping; you have our word. Cooking a week’s worth of food in one afternoon will not only save you time, but also save your wallet. And it helps tremendously if you’re trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle!
Although, you may need a few try-outs before you get it all right … unless you know the shortcuts.
Any meal prep pro will tell you this: it’s all in the process. Whether you’re cooking for yourself or for your family, meal prepping is about planning in advance.
To start your meal prep journey like a seasoned prepper, make sure you follow these 5 rules to the letter, for they are your gateway to a new world of possibilities!
5.) The Right Tools and Food Containers
You could meal prep with only one pan if you wanted to, really. However, if you can equip your kitchen with additional utensils and tools, it makes it easier to cook more effectively and quickly.
- Kitchen equipment: a reliable oven, stove and mixer can get you a long way.
- Kitchen tools: a frying pan, a baking pan and casseroles are musts! If you could also add to them high-quality knives, measuring cups and spoons, a muffin tray and mixing bowls, you would be all set!
After you cook your weekly food (and do your Happy Dance!) comes the time to store your food. For a more durable option, be careful to choose food storage containers that can support freezing and microwaving and that are light enough for you to carry in your bag.
Bonus tip: choose different size food containers for different kinds of meals: small sauce containers, soup containers, compartment lunch boxes, etc.
Clear glass and plastic containers are our first choices: they make it easy to see their content so you won’t waste time opening them to check.
If you want to carry your boxes in your bag or backpack, be careful to wrap them tightly so that they don’t leak. However, if you prefer a more secure option, we recommend to you a separate lunch bag.
P.S: For food that must stay cold, then an insulated lunch bag is necessary. You only need to throw in an ice pack to ensure that it stays at that temperature.
4.) Plan In Advance
Starting to cook chicken parmesan only to remember that you forgot to buy tomatoes will suck big time! To avoid this kind of situation, you need to follow one rule: plan in advance.
Your meal prep plan should thoroughly answer these questions:
- What is my goal (a weight-loss diet, a diabetes-friendly diet, a simple balanced diet, etc.)?
- What are the nutrition elements that need to be included in my diet to achieve my goal (focus on proteins, calories, vitamins, etc.)?
- Which dishes will contain all these nutrition elements?
- What ingredients do I need to make these dishes? In what quantities?
Once you finish answering the last question, you will find yourself with a comprehensive grocery list! For an extra tip, try to organize your grocery list elements by categories or aisles (produce, bakery, dry goods, etc.). It will help you shop much faster and avoid running back and forth every time you need to find something.
To help you plan, there are many meal prep templates out there. Our favorite is from Fit Men Cooking. You can download their food list and meal plan templates and fill it in every time you’re prepping.
And for those who browse Pinterest endlessly for their meal prep recipes, we have a more distraction-free alternative — download the Yummly app. Their drool-worthy database will be the inspiration you were looking for! They have filter search options to look by prep time, nutrition or type of cuisine, and you can save your favorite recipes within the app. The feature we love the most though is that the app can turn the ingredients of the recipe into a curated grocery list!
3.) Mix It and Spice It Up
If you’re cooking chicken for the whole week, you don’t want to bore your taste-buds.
You can go with the same meal base but have a different cooking method and spicing every time. For example, you can dip your fresh carrots in seasoned greek yogurt on Monday and then eat them fried with some olive oil on Tuesday. You can also marinate your meat with a Teriyaki marinade on Wednesday and serve a classic steak marinade on Thursday.
To make sure you can spice things up every once in a while, you should always have the following ingredients on hand:
- Salt and pepper
- Garlic and garlic powder
- Olive oil
- Lemon or lemon juice
Believe us, these littles babies make all the difference!
2.) Three Words: Safety and Storage
The refrigerator and freezer are life-savers, if you know how to use them correctly.
You need to pay close attention to which foods you refrigerate and which ones you should freeze, and for how long you can keep each dish before it spoils.
Keep track of the storage times. For your cooked meal, we recommend you follow this food safety chart. From salads to leftover pizza, follow this chart religiously. You can also print this chart and pin it to your refrigerator.
For information on freezing uncooked food, we recommend the Huffingpost’s Frozen Food chart.
Other than that, here are our tried and tested tips that made our lives so much easier:
- Label all your food containers with the cooking date. It will spare you the mental math every time you open the fridge to get something to eat.
- Even with a meticulous meal prep plan, life still happens. This is why it’s important to have some spare frozen cooked meals. Split them into single servings and keep track of their freshness using the chart linked above.
- Keep your meal ingredients separated. For example, there are some meals that will get soggy if they sit in the fridge all week, like wraps, sandwiches and leafy salads. It’s better to assemble them the night before you actually eat them. Same thing goes for creams that contain acids, like lemon juice, or dairy, like greek yogurt. It’s advised not to prepare them too much in advance.
1.) Consistency Is Key
As we said in the beginning, it’s all in the process. And the key element here is consistency.
You may not get it the first time but you need to persevere and keep the end goal in mind. As you hone your meal prepping skills, slicing and dicing will eventually come to you like second nature. Always remember that it saves your health and your wallet in the long run. Also, you won’t need to clean the kitchen every day and argue with your family about what to make for every meal.
If you notice that you’re losing interest, keep an eye on meal prep Pinterest boards; they’re a great source of inspiration. Or join the subreddit r/mealprepsunday where people like you and me share their meal prep pictures, tips and hacks, and celebrate the little successes of the meal prepping life!
How about you? Do you currently meal prep? If so, how is it going for you? Do you have any secret to make it easier? Or have you never tried it before? If yes, let us know in the comments what you need to get started, we would more than happy to help you!