Most of us are busy with work, school, or family (or all of the above!) and don’t allow enough time to plan and prep meals. This makes eating in restaurants or ordering take-out food a habit that’s too easy to fall back on. Having good meal prep tips and strategies can help you enjoy healthy, balanced meals.
Fortunately, you can eat healthy without spending much time cooking. You just need to prep your meals ahead of time. In fact, if done right, meal prepping can save you money. Whether your goal is to maintain weight, lose weight, save money, or have more energy, here are 16 tips that will help you prep meals with ease.
#1 Have a meal plan
Creating a meal plan is the first thing you should do before you buy food. It’ll help you know what to cook and when to cook it. Your meal plan should guide you when making a grocery shopping list. Going shopping without a shopping list can lead to impulse buys of unhealthy foods.
You don’t have to come up with a new meal plan every other week. You can use the same meal plan for several weeks—or even months!
If you need some help getting started, be sure to check out our Veggie Kickstart Kit!
#2 Buy good quality meal prep containers
Having containers makes it easy to store food. Containers keep the food fresh and make it simple to remain organized. Buy containers that are BPA-free to make sure they don't melt in the oven—use glass or Tupperware containers. To avoid confusion and overeating, get containers of the same sizes and shapes.
I'm a fan of these bento style containers with compartments for a few different types of food.
#3 Start slow
Meal prepping is supposed to make life easier. But that doesn’t mean you should prep weekly meals. Things will backfire if you try to prep food once a week without prior experience.
Start slow by prepping meals for 2–3 days. By doing this, you’ll be able to learn what works and what doesn’t. And if you make mistakes, they won’t be too costly. Some folks prep dinner meals only, while others prep all meals of the day. Choose to prep the meals you always lack time to cook in advance. Once you have had some practice prepping meals for a few days at a time, you can try cooking weekly meals.
#4 Purchase a food scale
This tip is for people who are trying to lose weight. It’s not always necessary to count calories in order to lose weight. But if you’re not good at estimating calories or you have a tendency to overeat, a food scale will be a great tool for you.
A perk of meal prepping it that weighing your food will be less hectic, since you only have to weigh portions once or twice a week. Studies show that most dieters underestimate the number of calories they consume. So get a scale if you don’t have an estimate of the number of calories you consume.
#5 Don’t try new recipes all the time
It’s not a good idea to try new recipes when cooking several meals in advance. It’ll be a time killer and the whole meal may backfire.
Stick to the recipes you already know how to prepare. Frankly, you don’t need to eat dozens of different recipes to stay healthy, as long as your standbys offer good nutrition.
#6 Chop vegetables ahead of time
Meal prepping doesn’t only involve cooking—chopping vegetables and fruits in advance can save you time.
If you usually forget to eat your veggies, this approach will be helpful. To prep, chop them and store them in containers. When it’s time to cook, just throw them in the pan!
#7 Prepare the complicated recipes first
The order in which you prepare foods will make a huge difference. Cook the complicated recipes at the start of the week (preferably Sunday afternoon), then prep the simple recipes in the middle of the week.
You may get caught up or be too busy to prep complicated recipes in the middle of the week. That's why I advise you use the same strategy for exercise. Do the most challenging exercises first then finish your workout with simpler exercises.
#8 Store healthy snacks in the house
Eating snacks helps control cravings and hunger when dieting. But most folks store unhealthy snacks in the house which encourage binging.
To reverse this, keep only healthy snacks in the house. This could be foods like eggs, fruits, nuts, veggies, and so on. Store your healthy snacks in containers in individual portion sizes—research shows that people overeat snacks when they eat them straight from the bag.
Here are some ideas for healthy homemade vegan snacks.
#9 Don’t have the ‘all or nothing' mentality
It may not be possible to prep meals all the time or every week, but prep them when you can. Don’t assume that there's no point in doing it at all if you can’t do it all the time.
Prepping meals occasionally is better than not prepping at all. And as you continue prepping meals, you’ll discover new easy and quick ways to do it.
#10 Buy healthy condiments
Eating healthy doesn’t mean eating boring and tasteless food. You can make healthy and delicious food without over-salting it.
Use healthy condiments like fresh ginger, olive oil, and lemon to prepare meals. Your food will be delicious and you’ll be encouraged to prep meals regularly.
#11 Put lunch salads in a glass jar
Most people think carrying salad to work is a bad idea because it’ll get mushy. But if you use a glass jar, the veggies can stay fresh for long.
Put the dressings at the bottom of the jar, then layer vegetables like peppers and beets, and then put the leafy greens for the top. Place a paper towel on top of the glass jar to absorb moisture if you’re storing the salad for a couple of days.
I've found that these wide mouth mason jars work best!
#12 Roast different veggies together
Some vegetables have the same cooking time. Instead of roasting each vegetable individually, you can roast them together to save time.
Some hardier veggies that you can cook together include: potatoes, cauliflower, parsnips, carrots, and onions. As for fast-cooking veggies, you can prepare mushrooms, tomatoes, and asparagus together.
Need a recipe? Check out these roasted veggies with vegan cheese sauce.
#13 Prep freezer-friendly foods
You can freeze any foods, but some meals become mushy when frozen. When prepping meals for several days, cook foods which freeze and reheat easily. Soups, stews, and bean chilis freeze well, as do some casseroles like lasagne. Dishes that feature potatoes or tofu tend to get watery, so avoid freezing those.
You’ll just need to heat the dish for a few minutes after it has thawed out, and you’ll have yourself a healthy meal.
#14 Keep leftovers in the fridge
Some people find leftovers unappealing, but they can help you to eat healthier and save time. Just put your leftovers in a container and store them in the fridge. Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator up to 4 days without going bad.
#15 Make lunch the night before
Some folks may not feel the need to prep dinner for several days. If that’s you, taking time to make lunch the night before is a good idea, if you'll be at school or work the next day. Leftovers (see #14 above) are good for thermos or container lunches for school or the office.
#16 Organize food in the refrigerator
Refrigerators have different compartments which have different temperatures and serve different purposes.
The door is the warmest part of the fridge, so place foods in it that don’t spoil quickly, like condiments. Place cooked foods on the top shelves of the fridge. The lower shelves are the coldest, so place foods there which need to be cooked. You can store a wide variety of foods in the freezer—just make sure to pack the foods tightly in containers and keep them well organized.
It’s hard to eat healthy if you never cook your own meals. So use these meal-prepping tips to make the process easier!
Realize that all meal prepping ideas won’t work for you. You'll have to experiment to find what works for you, and then stick to it. Once you put these ideas in action, you’ll have more time to exercise—another main aspect of a healthy life. Do you have any meal prepping ideas that have worked for you?
Brian Syuki writes at Focusfitness.net, where he teaches men and women how to stay lean and strong using bodyweight exercises and proper nutrition.