Meal prepping is a trend that’s taking over kitchens and social media. Search for it once, and your Instagram Explore page turns into bulk-buying Tupperware heaven.
You, too, can learn how to meal prep. Although there is a learning curve, the time and money it promises to save you during the week make eating the same dinner several nights in a row so very worth it.
Are you ready to join the masses eating bulk batches? Read our meal prep for beginners guide to getting started.
Why Should You Start Meal Prepping?
Why is meal prepping the craze beloved by busy moms, working professionals, and college athletes?
Meal prepping promises to solve all kinds of problems.
First, it makes it easier to stick to a diet or food budget. When you meal prep, you plan a schedule, shop for it, cook it, and have no reason to deviate from it. You get all this while still getting home-cooked meals every day.
Think about it. If you have a snack waiting, there’s no need to hit the Healthy You vending machine. If your breakfast is ready, you don’t need to stop at the drive-thru.
Meal prepping also reduces waste. We all know that hitting the grocery store without a plan is a recipe for disaster. But the amount of food wasted thanks impulse buys and duplicates is outrageous. Americans waste 30 to 40 percent of our food supply. By buying only what you have a plan to eat, you cut down on your contribution to food waste (and save money).
Finally, it saves time. Not everyone has the time or energy to spend an hour cooking every night. If we did, PostMates would be a struggling business. When all you need to do is re-heat a delicious meal, you can spend time on other stuff that also matters.
Meal Prep for Beginners: Are You Ready for a Meal Prep Schedule?
Meal prepping isn’t for everyone.
To be successful, you need to embrace eating the same things multiple days in a row. If you are more likely to dump out your leftovers and order Chinese food, then meal prepping may cause you more waste and money than cooking each day.
Having a bias against leftovers doesn’t disqualify you from meal prepping. Instead, you need to start by thinking small: make a big batch of chili and eat the leftovers for lunch the next day. Then, work your way up.
Meal prepping is also best for one or two people. While you could do it for an entire family, you’re going to need many more containers and a chest freezer.
Getting Started: Start with a Meal Plan
You can’t prep without a plan.
Start each plan by nominating the meals you want to eat and write them down on a calendar. Be sure to outline breakfast, lunch, and dinner because you’ll need the outline to shop properly.
If you’re new to meal planning, start with recipes that you know and love. Ideally, pick things out with 10-ingredients or less and that don’t require five different pots to finish.
Simple recipes tend to keep better anyway, so there’s an added benefit to keeping it basic.
What Foods Work Best for Meal Prepping?
Meal prepping works best with staple foods that either freeze or refrigerate well.
Think of it this way: what leftovers taste even better the next day, and what meals would you never re-heat?
In most cases, your foods should use bases like:
- Cooked grains and pulses
- Cooked pasta
- Cooked beans
- Cooked meat
- Fresh vegetables
- Roasted vegetables
- Apples and oranges
- Salad dressings and sauces
- Nuts and seeds
Soft foods and anything that can get stale or mushy don’t belong in your food prep containers.
You want food that not only tastes good but is good for you. The quality of your food starts to decline as soon as it hits the fridge. However, having a good refrigerator also improves the amount of time you can store it. If your fridge is on its last legs, you need to either rely on your freezer or meal prep more than twice a week.
Once you settle on your recipes, you need to determine what you need to buy. Go through your cupboards and freezer and tick off any ingredients already hanging about in your kitchen to avoid re-buying them unnecessarily.
Make sure you check your spices and oils, too.
The remaining items on your list just became your shopping list.
If you do all your shopping at one store, it helps to organize your shopping list according to the aisles at your favorite grocery haunt. Doing so will get you in and out faster without forgetting anything and keep you away from impulse buys.
Don’t Forget to Buy Your Meal Prep Containers
Are you new to meal prepping? Choosing the right storage containers will transform your experience.
Your storage solution should at a minimum:
- Fit your preferred portion size inside comfortably
- Keep your food fresh until you eat it
- Be easy to wash at the end of the week
Other factors depend on your lifestyle. For example, some people want oven-proof containers to help them avoid the microwave. If you have limited kitchen space, you might need to sacrifice them for collapsible containers that pack away easily.
The funny thing about meal prepping is that cooking is the easy part. Once you have your plan, ingredients, and containers, all you need to do is set aside an afternoon, turn up the tunes, and get ready to cook.
A few notes about cooking:
Be sure to separate what needs to be done now and what you need to prepare just before eating.
For example, cut soft fruits, like avocado, for salads and other dishes before serving rather than during your preparation day. Avocado turns brown within the same afternoon, so don’t prep it in advance.
Blending your smoothies is another thing to do later. You can prep them now, but stick your portions in the freezer. Otherwise, your smoothie will separate in the fridge, and the taste won’t be the same delicious goodness you hoped for.
Are You Ready to Simplify Meal Times?
Our guide to meal prep for beginners shows you how easy meal prep can be once you commit.
Batch cooking saves you time and money and helps you do your part in preventing food waste.
Are you looking for more ways to make it easier to get through the workweek? Check out the rest of our fabulous lifestyle content.