If you’re looking for a way to adopt healthy habits and reach your nutrition goals, meal prepping is a great place to start. It may seem daunting to prepare all of your meals in advance, but we have some good news for you: it doesn’t have to be difficult!
We’ve gathered some tips to help you focus on the basics so you can celebrate even the small wins. Whether you’re aiming to hit your health goals, eat out less, or simply be a little more organized, these meal prep tips and ideas will get you on the right track.
Why You Should be Meal Prepping
You already know that your eating habits impact your physical health, but what if we told you that food impacts mental health too? Harvard’s Health Blog compares our brains to expensive cars—they need premium fuel to run at their best. Feeding our bodies unhealthy foods, or ‘bad fuel’, can lead to inflammation and oxidative stress. Studies mentioned in Harvard Medical School’s blog have correlated these indicators with impaired brain function and mood changes. Long story short, eating those healthy, ‘premium’ foods will positively affect your physical and mental health.
So what does all of this have to do with meal prepping?
By planning out your meals for the week, you can visualize your body’s food intake over a period of time and limit foods that make you feel less than perfect.
Often, the negative effects of certain foods such as processed sugars can extend into the next day. That’s why some of us wake up feeling groggy and moody after a night of binge eating candy and carbs—the food we choose to eat can make a huge impact. But don’t worry, the same thing goes for foods that have a positive effect on you.
Having pre-planned meals makes it convenient to eat healthy, so you can avoid frozen pizzas and drive-thru windows. Meal prepping also saves you time, stress, and a whole lot of dishes throughout the week!
You know yourself best, so take the opportunity to prepare meals in advance that will make you feel good and ensure you have a happy, productive week.
Let’s take a look at some easy, actionable tips everyone can implement in their lives. Whether you’re a pro who’s been at it for years or are just exploring the possibilities of meal prepping, these ideas and insights are sure to help you.
How to Start Meal Prepping
1. Start Simple
Meal prepping can be overwhelming at first. If you’re new to this, try picking one meal a day you’d like to prep in advance (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) and use recipes you’re familiar with. If you struggle with cooking dinner when you get home from a busy workday, having your evening meals ready to go in the freezer is a great start. Once you’ve established a routine, you can start getting more creative with your recipes and preparing more meals and snacks for the week.
Meal prepping is about making life easier, not harder. Don’t stress yourself out by taking on too much at once—starting simple allows you to ease into it and ensures you’ll be a veteran food prepper in no time!
2. Invest in Good Containers
Owning a solid set of containers is a must for anyone interested in food prepping. Make sure you choose a freezer-safe option (look for the little snowflake on Tupperware products) and buy a variety of sizes. Dishwasher safe is a must to avoid spending hours hand-washing your containers. We recommend sticking to one brand—that way, the search for a lid that fits will be sooo much easier.
Organization is key. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a week’s worth of meals ready and having no containers to store them—or worse, no matching lids.
3. Set a Couple of Hours Aside Every Weekend
Everyone’s schedule is different, but we recommend doing your meal prep on the weekends if you can. Set aside a dedicated time slot to get your preparation done, no excuses!
Mondays are tough enough as it is. Set yourself up for success by starting your week off with your meals planned and prepared to avoid any extra stress.
Strategies to Stay Organized
4. Have a Mobile Grocery List
Obviously, grocery shopping is an important part of meal preparation. Use a handy mobile list to keep track of items you’re running low on, items you’ll need for those recipes you favorited on Pinterest, and more (we love the Flipp app for this).
Keeping a grocery list in a convenient place like your phone allows you to add to it quickly and on-the-go. Jotting down a few items the day of your grocery shop works for some, but we find that a continuous list leads to fewer forgotten items and less time spent wandering around the grocery store. You also don’t have to worry about carrying around that piece of paper you found on the counter—we know you carry your phone everywhere!
5. Organize Your Grocery List to Match Your favorite Store’s Layout
Typically, this means produce first, meat second, and dry/frozen foods last. Having your list in the right order before you get to the store will help you save time and prevent you from forgetting that quinoa that always slips your mind.
This one is pretty simple—the less time in the grocery store, the better.
6. Invest in an Instant Pot or Slow Cooker
One of our favorite meal prep tips for beginners (and experienced preppers who are looking to up their game): get yourself an Instant Pot. These are one of the best meal prepping tools for busy people! Throw your ingredients in, let the slow cooker do its thing, and check off the rest of your to-do list for the day. You can find thousands of amazing recipes online and it’s super easy to make large batches to freeze.
Preparing a week’s worth of meals in one day can be stressful, challenging, and sometimes downright impossible. The advantage of a slow cooker is that you can vacuum, do the laundry, or even take that much needed nap you’ve been dreaming of—all while your food cooks itself.
Meal Prepping to Hit Your Health Goals
7. Replace Your Unhealthy Snacks With Prepared Alternatives
That’s right, you can meal prep more than just meals! If you’re looking to replace those unhealthy snacks without completely depriving yourself, try some nutritious alternatives. Do you often crave ice cream? Try preparing some chia seed pudding to have on hand instead. Potato chip lover? Try making your own using kale, avocado, sweet potato, or even apples!
Some of us just love to snack—it’s in our DNA. Instead of eliminating snacks from your diet altogether, take some time to prepare guilt-free snacks that will satisfy your craving without messing with your health goals.
8. Know Yourself and Do Your Research
It’s great to follow recipes but don’t forget to consider your body’s unique needs. If you’re iron deficient, consider prepping meals with items like spinach, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, and red meat. Gluten makes you bloated and tired? Substitute bread and wheat for rice, quinoa, and corn tortillas.
Your body is your own, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. Knowing what makes you feel good, both mentally and physically, is an important part of preparing meals. Remember that the effects of food can occur over multiple days, so it’s essential that you listen to your body every single day. If you struggle with intolerances or allergies, consider keeping a food diary to identify and address pain points in your diet.
9. Customize Recipes
Online recipes are a great place to start, especially for meal prep beginners, but don’t be afraid to experiment! Try different spices and seasonings, add in your favorite ingredients, and make it your own. If you’re working with intolerances, allergies, or specific preferences, check out online blogs dedicated to your diet. There are tons of gluten-free, vegan, and paleo blogs out there!
Everyone has their favorite recipes, but who wants to be eating the exact same thing week after week? Customizing recipes allows you to mix it up, personalize them to your taste and dietary requirements, and just have some fun!
Remember, Nobody’s Perfect!
While it’s great to have a plan, we know that you’re busy and life can throw curve balls at you. Being organized and prepping your food for the whole week is great, but it’s not always possible. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day, or decide to grab take-out on the way home instead of eating that impeccably-prepared dinner from the freezer. All progress is good progress, and a little cheat day never hurt anybody!