There are two things that I love very much in this world: organization and cooking (sorry family, Phoenix and friends, but none of you are shocked). Naturally, I like to combine these two wonderful things into meal prepping and meal planning. Organization and cooking both come particularly natural to me, but I also realize that I’m not the norm. A lot of people don’t know where to start meal prepping or how to continue to do it. Other people can plan it and prep but get sick of their meals after day three. I’m here to help with these problems!
I’m a religious meal prepper especially for lunch. I DO NOT like to be hungry, especially at work. Hanger is a real thing. To avoid this, I always make sure I have something ready to go for lunch the next day. Vending machines and take out just don’t cut it for me.
In the coming weeks, I’m going to be breaking down different aspects of meal prepping and explaining the core concepts. I figured this would be better and easier to digest than one really long post. My experience is mostly related to meal prepping for lunch but you can easily use a lot of these tips and resources to meal prep for other meal/snacks as well, whatever works for you and your family.
What is Meal Prepping?
Meal prepping may be something you’ve heard about however, it isn’t just a popular thing with internet foodies. Meal prepping is the concept of preparing whole meals ahead of schedule. This can be as simple as making dinner plus an extra portion for lunch. Or as complex as prepping an entire weeks worth of food for lunch each day.
Why You Should Be Meal Prepping
There are many reasons why meal prepping is something I put a lot of time and effort into. The first reason is that it saves a lot of time. I prep my meals at night one or two days a week. This makes it easier in the morning, I have one less thing to worry about. I’ve already packed up my lunch in containers. Personally, I can be a bit of a zombie in the morning, so this saves me a significant amount of time.
Another reason that I meal prep is that it saves money. I’m not tempted to spend money on overpriced vending machine or take out. It will always be cheaper to buy and make your food rather than order take out or fast food.
Meal prepping is also a considerably healthier option for any meal. Now I’m not saying you need to follow a specific diet plan or go vegan (unless you want to, you do you) but if you’re preparing your own food, you have control over what you’re eating. For example, you’re more aware of how much sugar or salt are in sauces, spice mixes and marinades. Also if you’re sensitive to certain food, you can ensure that what you’re eating is safe for your body. Finally, you can control portion size. It can be hard to eat one or two pieces of pizza if you order a whole pizza for lunch.
Lastly, the final reason you should meal prep is that you’ll be less stressed. Any time you can plan a meal ahead, you have one less thing to think about later. With that time you can take a few extra minutes to do something else in the morning like making yourself a coffee at home or going for a short walk before work.
How To Start Meal Prepping
I am going to break this down into really basic steps so I don’t miss anything and to make it as straightforward as possible. If some of this stuff is obvious to you, that’s great! Move onto the next part.
To start meal prepping, you need to answer a few questions about yourself.
- How many total meals do you need in a week? For example, I work five days a week whereas I have friends who work four days week.
- How many people are prepping for? If you’re prepping for a significant other, roommate or someone else, make sure you’re aware you need to make “10 meals” for five days etc.
- Do you have a fridge at work? Do you have a microwave? If you don’t have a fridge at work, you don’t want things that HAVE to be refrigerated or you may have to look into a small cooler to keep meats and other things safe for consumption. On the other hand, if you have this great soup meal prepped, but no way to warm it up, it might not be so helpful. In this case I’d look into food that you can eat cold/room temperature and/or a thermos. A thermos can keep broth hot and you can pour it over noodles to make a great to-go ramen bowl.
- Can you eat the same thing five days in a row? I know I can’t. I can eat the same thing two days max, unless it’s lasagna. However, I have friends that can eat the same thing two WEEKS in a row and never get sick of it. The answer to this question is hugely important as personally, I know I need to prep at least two separate types of meals for the week. If you can eat the same meal for two weeks in a row, I’d suggest only prepping stuff for one week at a time. Most meats (according to the FDA) can be kept for 3-4 days in the fridge. To get around this, you CAN prep more than four days worth of protein and immediately freeze the extra portions. Just remember to take those portions out the night before to thaw.
- Will you eat leftovers? Do you often have a lot of leftovers from dinners? I always have a leftovers from dinner at least once a week. So I don't waste food, I use the leftovers as my fifth day of work lunch. For example, I usually make one meal on Sunday and eat that on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday's lunch is usually leftovers from Monday or Tuesday night. I then cook again on Wednesday for Thursday and Friday. It gives me variety in my lunches, makes sure I’m eating safe proteins (they are never more than three days old) and helps to ensure I’m not wasting any food. If you won’t eat leftovers, then you maybe you make three portions of one meal prep and two portions of another meal prep.
Once you’ve answered all of these questions about yourself, you should at least have an idea of where to start. You will know how many meal portions you need and if you need to make different meals to last you the week. There is nothing worse than getting to Thursday and just being sick of the food you’ve made.
The hardest part about meal prepping is making it a habit. I know for myself, I have set days that I go shopping and set days that I meal prep. I build those tasks into my schedule and make them a priority. If you get into a habit, it becomes much easier. I always go shopping on Saturday morning and I always meal prep Sundays and Wednesdays. If you know you’re always tired on Sunday night, try to set aside an hour or two on Sunday morning to get everything done so you can relax the rest of the day. Or if you’re a night owl, start it after dinner. The more consistent you can be, the easier it gets.
I am fortunate enough to have a set work schedule but if you don’t, maybe you only meal prep two or three days at a time. Maybe you can’t do ALL of your shopping on one day, so plan when you can go shopping another day three or four days later. Do whatever works best for your schedule and try to break the process down into manageable chunks of time.
The next step is planning what types of meals you want to make. I’ve included resources below so you can start looking at recipes and getting ideas. I’ll go into more detail in the coming weeks, but this should give you some things to think about.
There are many resources on the internet for meal prepping. The following are the ones that I use the most and yield the best results.
Now if you’re not familiar with Reddit, it can be a little overwhelming. But, it’s a great website with a lot of helpful people. On this subreddit, people post their different meal preps which provide great recipes or even just inspiration. There is a lot of good information here and it’s usually pretty honest and real because it isn’t a published website.
Another resource is obviously Pinterest. Now, a lot of these recipes are extremely repetitive and I find a lot of the top result ones kinda boring if you just search “meal prep ideas.” Nonetheless, they can serve as a source of inspiration.
The bigger reason I like Pinterest is that when you DO find a recipe you like or want to try, you can organize it into a “Meal Prep” board or something similar. I’ve found this keeps me organized and I've found it useful to check my own board when I’m stuck deciding what to meal prep. You can check out my board here. Some of these recipes are recipes I make and some are a source of inspiration.
Some of my favorite sites for meal prep ideas are
Finally, if you’re still not finding what you want, Google can always be helpful. However, I warn that a lot of the top searches will be similar to the top searches on Pinterest.
Let's Get Started!
This may sound like a lot of work, and to be honest, at the start meal prepping IS a lot of work. Although it is a great deal of work to start, it is fairly simple to maintain. Once you’ve decided how many meals you need each week, that won’t change very much week to week. Eventually, you’ll figure out what day works best for you to go shopping (maybe it’s Tuesday because you work Wednesday-Saturday). You may learn that you like to meal prep on Monday instead of Sunday. Try not to get discouraged if meal prepping doesn’t work out perfectly the first week or two. If you stick with it, I promise it will get easier.
Meal Prep Series
Was this helpful? You can check out the rest of the series below!
Part 2: Meal Prep: The Tools, The Plan and The Execution.
Part 3: Slow Cooker Tips for Meal Prepping
Part 4: How to Meal Prep Without Getting Bored
Part 5: How to Solve Common Meal Prep Problems
Part 6: How to Meal Prep Like a Pro