It’s Meal Prep Week Hump Day already!! We thought this week would be the perfect time to take it back to basics and break down just what exactly meal prep is. As people to whom meal prep has become second-nature, we recognize that that may not be the case for everyone reading, so here’s an overview of what the heck we’re talking about this week, our meal prep process, and a few “pro tips” from yours truly.
What is meal prep?
Simply put, meal prep is when you set aside time, typically in one day, to prepare a large quantity of [nutritious] food to be eaten throughout the week. Many people go about meal prep differently, but the end goal is the same: meals for days. The purpose of meal prepping is to spend time all at once, so you don’t have to cook every single night during the workweek in order to have healthy meals on hand. Meal prep is a good strategy to ensure that you’re eating healthy and not grabbing less healthy, more expensive food out in a pinch.
Personally, we’re both guilty of meal prep that may take a little longer than most, because we like to make delicious, full recipes, instead of buffet-style meal prep, which might look like roasting lots of veggies, grilling lots of chicken breast, etc. to throw together on a plate later in the week. Sometimes we prep for the whole week on a Sunday, and sometimes we do it over a couple of days. As long as you have a plan, you will succeed!
Why should I meal prep?
In the beginning, meal prepping might seem daunting, but once you’re in the swing of things, you’ll be glad you took the plunge! The “why” here, for us, is a no-brainer. We both thoroughly enjoy the act of cooking, but there’s no denying that during a busy work week, time is sparse. Cooking every night is not always practical and/or desirable, especially when you factor in time for exercising and socializing. Having meals prepped for the week saves time (and money!) each day, in addition to ensuring you’re eating healthy. This equates to less impulsive food purchases/decisions, since you have your meals all planned out and prepped for the week!
How do I meal prep?
As I mentioned before, no two meal preps are the same. There are many ways to prep, and there’s no right or wrong. I will admit that there are definitely faster ways to prep than my approach, but you have to find what works for you and your food/meal preferences! Below, I’m going to walk you through a typical meal prep that I do each week, which sets me up for a week of delicious and nutritious meals.
Step 1: Develop your meal plan
To think that when I was in college, I used to stroll into a grocery store without a plan or a list makes me cringe and laugh all at the same time. Compared to those days, one might say I’m over-planned these days.
The first step to my meal prep is coming up with a plan. I typically prep just for the workweek. I always end up with extra ingredients in the fridge/freezer to whip up healthy meals on the fly over the weekend, such as avocado toast or a salmon dinner. And I usually account for eating out 1-2 meals as I’m making my initial plan.
I usually start my plan on Friday after work (sometimes earlier if I’m really excited… #nerdalert) or Saturday morning while enjoying some coffee on the couch. I start by searching different food blogs, Pinterest and/or consult with Taylor and other friends for new, beloved (lol… but really) recipes. I prep full meals by the serving. So, I decide how many servings I need for the week, and then find various recipes I want to make with servings that add up to my desired total. For example, this week, for my fiancé and I, I knew I wanted to make 10 workweek lunches, and 8 workweek dinners. Three (okay, four… we like variety!) yummy and intriguing recipes later, I was ready to make my list. PRO TIP: When making your meal plan, consider variety in both meals and cooking methods. If you plan to eat chicken for lunch and dinner for five days in a row, there’s a good chance that by Day 5, you’ll be sick of your meals and craving something else. Variety in your cooking methods (stovetop, crockpot, instant pot, sheet pan, etc.) helps make your meal prep more efficient.
Step 2: Make your grocery list
In addition to prepping differently, people also make their shopping lists differently. What I like to do—which doesn’t keep things organized by part of the grocery store, which arguably might be the most logical organization of a list—is make my list by recipe, and then include a section labeled “Other”. I write each recipe by name, and then under each recipe name, I write only the ingredients I need, as I’ll usually have some required ingredients in my kitchen already. In my “Other” section, you might find anything from apples, bananas, treats for my students, ground turkey, to cat litter!
Step 3: Shop ’til you drop
Once your grocery list is organized to your liking, you’re ready to shop! This part is pretty self-explanatory. Head to your grocery store, and get the goods! PRO TIP: Pay attention to prices, as there are always sales to take advantage of. Also, read labels for ingredients to make sure your “healthy” meal prep truly is healthy! Generally, the fewer ingredients (and/or the more you can pronounce), the better.
Step 4: PREP
When I get home from the store, I organize everything in the fridge/pantry. Generally, I set aside a couple of hours on Sundays to cook my recipes for the week. Those Sundays, I can usually get most of it done, but I might have a couple things to finish up throughout the first couple nights of the week. As you become a prep master, you’ll learn that even if your prep is spread out over a couple of “mini-preps”, it’s still better than cooking intricate meals, start to finish, every single night! (#TBT to Blue Apron… delicious, but let’s be real… HUGE time-suck.) PRO TIP: As you go about your meal prep, clean as you go. When you finish one recipe, or while another recipe is in the oven/crockpot/etc., tackle the dirty dishes you’ve accumulated, so that when you get to the end of your prep, you won’t have a mound of dishes to deal with.
Step 5: Store your meals
After I finish making a recipe, I portion it into containers based on how many servings it makes. That way, as I’m packing lunches throughout the week or reheating meals for dinner, it truly is as easy as grab-n-go! PRO TIP: During weeks when you have some extra time, throw an extra, freezer-friendly recipe into your plan. Some weeks when you’re short on time, lazy, sick, just not feelin’ it… whatever! you’ll thank yourself!
Step 6: Enjoy all week!
Are you even still reading this? Or are you out planning your next meal prep!? But really, this step’s title says it all. Reap the benefits of your hard work all week long, and wonder how you ever existed pre-meal prep routine!
This post is part of our WTF series—where we’ll break down some of the latest food, fitness, and health + wellness trends blowing up your Instagram feed.