If you’d like to learn how to meal prep like a pro, you’ve got to start with the basics. Meal prep can save you quite a bit of time when done properly, but there is a bit of a learning curve. Start with these fundamental rules, and you’ll learn how to meal prep at an expert level in no time!
1. Start With a Plan
Yes, you could theoretically just chop up a bunch of vegetables, plop them in some containers and hope for the best, but that’s not an efficient meal prep strategy. To get the most out of your meal preparation, you’ll need to start with a meal plan.
Using a meal planning program (like Meal Plan Magic) allows you to find out your specific nutritional needs, and customize your week’s meal choices accordingly. Once you know your ideal macros and have a plan to follow, you can determine what to prepare. If your stuck on what to eat and strategies to hit your goals more quickly, templates are a great addition.
2. Use Quality Tools
To effectively prep your meals and keep in line with your meal plan, you’ll want to invest in a kitchen scale, as well as measuring cups, sharp knives, a good cutting board and a quality set (or two!) of meal prep containers. Having the proper tools will not only save you time, but can make meal prep a far more pleasant experience.
The second half of this rule is remembering to actually use all these great tools. Before you even pull the veggies out of the fridge to start chopping, make sure all of your tools are out and ready, and that you’ve got sufficient containers for all of the meals you’re prepping. You don’t want to have made a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, only to realize you’re short containers!
3. Set Aside Time
While learning how to meal prep effectively will save you time throughout the week, there is definitely a time investment up front. Chopping up vegetables and cooking all of those dishes will occupy a good portion of the day at the beginning of the week. You should probably plan for a minimum of two to three hours each Sunday (or whatever day works best for you) to evaluate your meal plan for the upcoming week, and get going on that prep.
But this isn’t the only time you’ll spend prepping your meals. While washing, chopping and cooking some dishes at the beginning of the week will certainly save you time overall, this doesn’t mean that every night will be a breeze. Unless you’re fully prepping all meals on Sunday, and then freezing some of them for later in the week, you’ll run into shelf life issues at some point. Expect to spend at least another hour sometime mid-week, to roll out a second batch. Remember, this time is an investment in your health, and is far better spent preparing meals at home than driving out to a restaurant!
4. Stretch Out Those Meals
While it’s exciting to eat something different every night, this might not be the most practical solution, especially while you’re still learning the fundamentals of how to food prep efficiently. Choosing one dish to carry you through the week can save an enormous amount of time overall, and can ease the burden of figuring out too diverse a meal plan.
Each week, you’ll want to pick one “workhorse” meal. This dish will likely serve as dinner at least three nights, and maybe lunch a few times, too. Casseroles and slow cooker meals work the best for this, as they tend to be easy to prepare in bulk.
5. Work in Stages
Meal prepping can be a fairly large undertaking, especially when you’re prepping for two people! Make things easier on yourself by systematically working in stages. You need chopped onions for that chili? See what other dishes need some chopped onion and do it all at once. Then continue with the rest of your vegetable prep before moving to the next stage. Breaking up meal prep into more digestible tasks can turn an overwhelming project into a series of small victories.
Another way to manage these stages is by cooking method. Take a look at your meal plan—how many things need to be cooked on the stove? How about in the oven? Once everything’s prepped, you can maximize your oven and stove time by cooking as many things at the same time as possible.
Putting It All Together
By now, you’ve likely got a clear idea of how to meal prep for the week; all that’s left is to put things into practice! Your first try at meal prepping might not go perfectly, but you’ll soon learn what works best for you.
Written by: Elizabeth Withkowski, N.C. - Certified Nutrition Consultant