Meal prepping has become increasingly popular over the last few years, providing an alternative way of cooking for people with little time. Meal prepping is linked to several health benefits, including lower levels of stress and decreased risk of obesity.
Yet, few people know where to start when it’s time for their first meal prep session. The number of recipes and techniques available online may be overwhelming — especially if you’re new to cooking. Here’s what you need to know.
7 meal meal prepping tips
Meal prepping refers to preparing meals and dishes beforehand to avoid having to cook on tight schedules. Ideal for students or workers who spend most of their day away from home, meal prepping can be a lifesaver if done correctly.
Yet, it’s clear that planning a week’s worth of meals is no easy task, even less so when it comes to cooking and storing them. If you’re a beginner at meal prepping, don’t worry — here’s a list that breaks down each step of the process:
Check Your Supplies
The first step you should take after deciding to start meal prepping is checking your kitchen to see which ingredients you already own. Meal prepping is about saving money and time, meaning that the less you spend at the grocery store, the better.
Ideally, you should look to make a list of all the wholesome ingredients you own to make your meal prepping as healthy as possible. Avoiding processed foods and ingredients will go a long way in preventing high caloric intake and constant hunger throughout the day (1, 2).
Instead, focus on nutrient-dense ingredients, such as legumes, eggs, nuts, and leafy greens. These foods are easy to prepare and make your meals worth their caloric intake thanks to their fantastic health benefits (3, 4, 5, 6).
Plan Out Your Meals
After listing all of the ingredients you already own and want to use during your first meal prep, it’s time to start looking for recipes. From snacks to desserts, the internet is filled with thousands of exciting recipes to try out — so make sure to get creative with your eating plan.
Most beginners find that planning for two to four meals when starting is the ideal number. However, this will depend on your cooking skill, storing space, and how much time you have to cook during the week.
Another thing to keep in mind is variety, considering both nutritional values and general taste. This will avoid making you feel bored of eating the same things all the time while also reaping the benefits of a healthy and varied diet (7, 8).
Make a Grocery List
Once you have all your ingredients and soon-to-be–prepped meals in mind, you’ll have to make a trip to the grocery store. Yet, a common mistake that beginners make is not having a detailed grocery list to help them take the right things home.
A precise list will help you save both time and money and allow you to plan ahead for diet diversity. Furthermore, it avoids the tedious task of going to the grocery store repeatedly due to forgotten items.
Make sure to aim your list in a healthy direction to make your meal prepping as wholesome as possible right from the start. For example, dividing your list into grains, fruits, meats, vegetables, and dairy will allow you to easily see which products you’re missing (9).
Pick a Day for Each Task
Like most other things, it’s best to avoid trying to do every step of meal prepping in a single day. It’s usually more effective to pick a day for each task — allowing you to focus exclusively on getting that step right.
For example, one could decide that Monday is for checking your ingredients, Wednesday is for grocery shopping, and Friday is for cooking and storing. Naturally, this routine will depend on your personal needs and obligations, but keep in mind that most people choose to leave the actual cooking for the weekend.
Meal prepping requires a decent amount of multitasking and focus. As such, you should avoid placing your cooking day on dates when you’ll be busy with work, studies, and other obligations.
Once you have all the necessary ingredients for the different recipes, you’re ready to start the most important step of meal prepping — cooking. Hopefully, you’ll be able to pick a relaxed day to do this, as it will take a couple more hours than your usual cooking routine.
Before starting, try to separate your food by cooking times and start with the ones that take longer. For example, quinoa, legumes, and whole grains are ingredients that usually take longer to cook, so make sure to start with those and add the rest later.
At the end of the cooking session, you’ll be multitasking your way through many different foods at once. But don’t worry — juggling the cooking times will only become easier with practice. Once you’re done with everything, consider making a few quick snacks such as chopped fruits to keep in your fridge at all times.
When people talk about meal prepping, they often forget one of the most important aspects: storing the meals safely. Keeping your fridge in check is crucial in avoiding food poisoning and wasting uneaten meals.
This is especially true with highly-perishable foods such as chopped vegetables and fruits, so make sure to prioritize them. For example, a good idea is to keep them at the front of your fridge so you don’t forget to eat them at the right time (10).
You may also choose to freeze some meals, but keep in mind that certain foods may get an ugly taste and texture after thawing. A general rule you can use when freezing is that high-moisture foods such as tomatoes or cucumbers won’t hold up well in the freezer (10).
You may have noticed that meal prep veterans pay a lot of attention to labeling all of their meals. This goes a long way in helping you determine if a particular food is safe to eat, its nutritional values, and how much longer it’ll last.
The most important thing to write down on your labels is the date you cooked that food. If possible, try to determine how long the ingredients will last in the fridge and write down an estimated expiration date. While this will always be an approximated date, it’ll be of great help in the future.
Similarly, you could also include the approximate nutritional values of that meal. Keeping track of its calories and its micronutrients may be helpful if you’re trying to eat healthier. Plus, it’s an excellent skill to develop if you ever want to lose or gain weight on purpose.
4 simple meal prep recipes
Whether you’re a beginner at meal prep or not, everyone runs out of ideas every once in a while. Luckily, the Internet is filled with different recipes that can be prepped beforehand, allowing you to eat something different every once in a while. Here are some things you can try out when meal prepping:
While it may seem obvious, pasta is one of the ideal choices for everyone starting to get into meal prepping. Spaghetti, macaroni, and gnocchi are easy-to-cook meals that can be prepared in bulk, allowing you to solve a couple of dinners in a matter of minutes.
Plus, pasta is a fantastic source of starchy carbohydrates — a special kind of carbs that play a crucial role in any healthy diet. These nutrients make you feel satiated long after eating, making you less prone to snacking and overeating (11).
Chicken and Rice
A classic among the meal-prepping community, chicken and rice is one of the most beginner-friendly recipes. Thanks to the great nutritional value of these ingredients, this meal is ideal for anyone keeping an eye on their weight (12, 13).
You can also add other ingredients to this recipe, such as broccoli and cheese. This allows you to add extra nutritional value and taste to your meals — an essential skill in meal prepping.
Bean and Spinach Quesadillas
When thinking about easy foods, it’s almost impossible not to imagine some delicious wraps or quesadillas. This delicious recipe is enough to delight both kids and adults while also providing the fantastic health benefits of spinach and beans (6, 14).
Most people choose to use white beans for this recipe, although you can also use other varieties. To make these quesadillas, mash some beans and put them in a tortilla along with the spinach and some cheese. Then, simply heat the quesadilla in a pan until the desired point or until it’s lightly golden brown.
Despite what many people think, meal prepping is not only about making your lunches and dinners easier. You can simplify breakfast through meal prepping as well — for example, these egg muffins are perfect for keeping you satiated during the day (15).
To make them, simply mix some eggs and milk with some seasoning and pour the mixture into a muffin tin. Then, cook it in an oven until golden. Keep in mind that this recipe is very versatile — so you can get creative with adding different ingredients to the mixture.
Why should I meal prep?
Although meal prep has become popular throughout the last few years, many people still don’t know its advantages. If you’re still in doubt about giving meal prepping a shot, make sure to consider these key factors:
Meal prepping requires much planning before even going to the grocery store. However, research has shown that thinking so far ahead regarding food brings considerable health benefits.
For example, a recent study indicates that planning your weekly meals is associated with lower odds of being overweight and obese. On top of that, meal planning was also linked with more diverse and nutritional diets (16).
Diet diversity is a critical factor in eating well, as it’s very closely tied to obesity risk. Diets composed of only a few foods raise your odds of being obese. Furthermore, such poorly-varied eating plans may lead to a deficiency in specific micronutrients (8).
The modern lifestyle pushes us to a rushed state of mind, where spending time outside work is always tied to a certain amount of stress. Even while cooking, it’s common to feel pressured by the clock to return to a productive state of mind.
Naturally, this tremendously impacts your mental and physical health by exacerbating existing conditions or making you vulnerable to new ones. However, meal prepping could help you reduce some of that stress (17).
In a recent study, researchers found that people who meal prepped showed improved mental health due to reduced stress. However, the participants also reported feeling like they had less free time — so it’s essential to pick the right time for the cooking sessions (18).
One of the most attractive aspects of meal prepping is the potential money one could save by planning ahead. Although it’s impossible to give an exact number, it’s usually accepted that meal prepping at home is significantly less expensive than eating out (19)
Plus, eating at home is healthier due to reduced sugar and calorie intake. For example, a recent study shows that people who spend more time cooking at home consumed, on average, 100 fewer calories per day (20).
Another critical factor to remember when considering the price of meal prepping is bulk ordering. Once you are familiar with your favorite meal-prep recipes, you’ll be able to buy those ingredients in bulk, saving you a lot of money and time in a single purchase.
Key Takeaways: Meal Prepping
Meal prepping provides several benefits to people who plan some foods ahead of time. From decreasing stress to reducing the risk of obesity, meal prepping is a fantastic way to start eating healthy while also saving some extra money.
Yet, if you need to follow a special diet due to medical conditions, it might be best to check with a doctor before starting to meal prep. A trained professional will be able to give you precise directions to keep you on your eating plan while allowing for the necessary meal prepping.