WHAT IS MEAL PREPPING?
Meal prepping is the act of preparing a meal, then dividing it out to create grab-and-go meals for later. Think of it like making and packing your lunches for the week all at once instead of making and packing your lunch each morning. This technique can be used for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks.
If you’ve ever packed up your leftovers from dinner to take with you for lunch the next day, then you’ve already had mini-meal prepped!
But generally, meal prepping refers to preparing 3-7 days’ worth of food at a time.
WHY MEAL PREP?
Meal Prep is convenient, efficient, reduces waste and reduces the temptation to eat out of your plan. When cooking, every day is out of the question, the meal prep can allow you to continue eating homemade meals without having to spend time each day preparing them.
WHAT FOODS CAN I PREPARE?
You can prepare any food that stays well stored and tastes good after a few days in the refrigerator. Cooked meats, roasted vegetables, soups, sauces, nuts, and raw uncooked vegetables are a good base for meal prep.
But you cannot prepare everything. Soft greens, chopped fruits, and crispy foods such as cookies will only soften in your refrigerator, which will make them less ideal choices for meal preps.
If you are new to meal prep, think about how to reheat food. Will you only have access to a microwave oven at lunchtime or can you use a stove or oven?
Consider recipes that you can enjoy cold or gently reheat so you do not risk damaging the fats and proteins in your food.
The most important thing is to choose recipes that you already liked the leftovers and that you can cook with ease. Then you can diversify with new recipes and food combinations.
HOW TO START
It is important to remember that you do not feel overwhelmed when you are a beginner. Too often, people get stuck in the details but when they stick to the basics, will do more good.
Do not try to incorporate too many new things at once. For example, do not try to meal prep with all the new healthy recipes. Start preparing recipes you already know. When you feel comfortable, add more.
Do you see that people do “health kicks” all the time and what happens? They lose their enthusiasm quite quickly because they add too many new things at once. They start a diet just for salads, going to the gym, running, doing yoga, etc., all in the first week.
It does not work like that. You have to start little by little. The same goes for the meal prep.
CHOOSE A DAY
The first thing you should do is choose a day to prepare all your meals. For most, Sunday is the best day because it is a day when they are not at work.
Apparently, more experienced food preparers prefer Sunday and Wednesday as their chosen days to cook and prepare meals for the week. The use of these two days allows them to divide the preparation of the week into two days.
However, in the beginning, you should not prepare meals for the whole week. You want to start with no more than three meals.
If you need a calendar to help you plan your meals visually, use one. You can use a physical calendar or one on your phone. Only find what works best for you.
DETERMINE THE BEST PREPARATION METHOD FOR YOU
Depending on your schedule, the foods you prefer to prepare in advance, and your cooking style, one of these meal prep methods may work best for you:
For those who have little time to prepare meals during the week, cooking complete meals in advance to reheat them at mealtime (like a soup or a casserole) to make dinners very fast.
Batch cooking consists of preparing several batches of a recipe to be distributed and frozen for meals in the coming weeks. For example, fold a recipe for chili or cook extra rice to freeze and use in the next three to six months.
Meals in individual portions:
Those with specific health goals or who are looking for the convenience of take-out meals may choose to prepare the meals and distribute them in individual portions. Think of oatmeal overnight in individual servings and in salads of mason jars.
If you prefer to cook meals just before serving them, preparing ingredients (eg, cutting onions and peppers in advance for chili) reduces cooking time, which can be especially useful in one night very busy week.
MAKE A PLAN
Once you have decided on the types of food preparation that you would benefit the most from, take a few minutes to create a simple plan to stay organized. Consider the following when writing a menu and preparation plan:
Choose the food (s) to prepare: You must decide what food you will prepare first: breakfast, lunch or dinner.
If you are preparing for a family, then preparing your dinners seems to be the best place to take advantage of their efforts. However, if you are single or cooking for one or two people, then you can try to prepare breakfast or lunch first.
In short, the choice is yours. You just want to think about it a bit before you start.
After that, you must decide the recipes you are going to prepare.
You may not want to cook the same recipe for all three meals, although you can do it. But if you choose to prepare three dinners for your family, and they are all the same recipe, you may have a little fight on your hands.
When choosing recipes, think about how you want to balance meals.
Write your menu:
When you plan your menu and get ready, try some recipes you have prepared before, with one or two new recipes. Keeping things simple will help you save time. Prepare meals with seasonal products to get the best taste and value: think of pumpkin in the fall and mature summer tomatoes.
If you’re not sure where to start, a batch of brown rice, chicken breasts and a tray of grilled vegetables are easily assembled in everything from rice bowls to fried rice and salads.
Schedule your preparation:
It is important to set aside time to really prepare! Consider preparing the food the same day you buy them and write a realistic preparation plan. It may not be reasonable to cook five meals in an hour, but you may have time to prepare certain ingredients for the recipes. And if you like a challenge, set a timer to stay on task.
IN THE KITCHEN
Start, as I said, with just a few meals. Do not try to cook a full week of meals in a single session. You may want to do this later, as you feel more comfortable, but for now, just try to find your pace of meal prep.
Focus on simple meals. Chicken is a favorite among many meal preps because it can be cooked in a seemingly endless number of ways. It is also easy to store and freeze.
With just a little chicken and some vegetables, you can easily prepare three totally different meals.
Learn to multitask:
Remember that you can cook many different things at the same time. Use the space of your oven to its fullest potential. There is no need to place one thing at a time. Use several baking trays if it helps, or use aluminum foil to split into a baking tray and multiply your efforts. Start with recipes that lend themselves to this type of cuisine.
When planning your first shopping trip as a food preparer, ask yourself if you have enough baking trays, aluminum foil and other utensils you may need.
Fruit is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the meal prep. You can cut different types of fruits and store them as any food you can prepare. You can easily make fruit salads or smoothies to accompany your meal preps. Or you can simply start with fruit preparations only.
The Crockpot: Well, this is obvious, however, many new meal preps overlook it. The Crockpot has been a favorite among mothers for decades. Use it to prepare simple, great-tasting meals, then save them.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT STORAGE CONTAINERS
Your meal storage containers can make the difference between a marvelous or mediocre meal.
Here are some container recommendations:
- Airtight containers for ready-to-cook ingredients: reusable and washable silicone bags and stainless steel containers are excellent for keeping ingredients crisp and food fresh.
- BPA-free microwave containers: these are convenient and better for your health. Collapsible silicone containers are some good options.
- Safe freezer containers: will limit freezer burns and nutrient losses. Wide-mouth mason jars are ideal, as long as you leave at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) of headspace for the food to expand while freezing.
- Leak-proof compartments: ideal for lunches or meals that require ingredients to be mixed at the last minute. A good example is the bento lunch boxes.
Stackable or similarly shaped containers will help optimize space in your refrigerator, freezer or work bag.
AVOIDING COMMON MISTAKES IN MEAL PREPS
Keep preparing simple food
For beginners, start simple. Prepare recipes from a single pot or concentrate on the main course, and avoid the temptation to spend an entire day cooking elaborate meals.
Too many recipes can complicate your meal preparation quickly, and you may not want to do it again if it was too difficult the first time. Try preparing a recipe in advance, then prepare additional dishes when you feel comfortable.
Prepare balanced meals
Depending on your diet and health goals, meal preps that will keep you satisfied. It’s easy to make a big bowl of chili for lunch, but it will not serve as a complete meal for most people. Make sure you get enough food groups to complete your macros.
Cooking recipes that you will really eat
While the preparation plates of your meals are balanced, you do not need to leave your comfort zone. For beginners, prepare recipes that you know you’ll love: anything less could result in wasted food (and wasted time).
Make Enough Food
Be sure to prepare enough food to fit your plan. Also, keep in mind your schedule: events ranging from work lunches to happy hours can interfere with meal times, so you can anticipate if you really need to prepare meals every day.
The meal prep is ideal for people who want to spend less time in the kitchen. You can also promote healthy, nutrient-rich meals and discourage less nutritious fast-food options.
Depending on your goals, schedules and meal preferences, meal prep may involve making large quantities to freeze, complete meals to refrigerate or ingredients prepared to combine as needed.
Find a method that works for you and choose one day per week to plan meals, buy and cook.
Do not forget to tell us your favorite tips and recipes in the comments below.