Meal Prep for Beginners
Rebecca Cawood, RD, Take Control Health Coach
February 20, 2020
“Meal prep” is the process of planning and preparing meals in advance. It is an excellent way to save time, money, and effort while accomplishing your healthy eating goals by preparing nutritious meals ahead of time.
To start doing meal prep, it is important to find a realistic method that works for you, in terms of your goals and schedule. There is no one size fits-all approach! Some people prefer to set aside a chunk of time on one day to prep for the week, while others prefer to prep a small amount each night for the next day.
1. Identify Your Goals: Ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Maybe you want to eat more homemade lunches rather than eating out; or maybe you want to make a plan for consistently eating more vegetables. Start by focusing on just 1-2 meals. For example, if it is hard to find time to make breakfast in the morning then focus on prepping breakfasts for the week. Are you tired after work and don’t feel like cooking? Set aside time to batch-cook dinners, or prepare some frozen meals that are easy to pop into the oven after a long day. Once you know what problem you’d like to solve, continue with the next steps.
2. Identify Your Time Limit: Be realistic about the amount of time you can commit. Whether you have a few hours on the weekend, an hour a day, or even less time to spare, there are ways to prepare that will help with your goals.
If you have a few hours on a weekend to devote to meal prep, batch cooking large recipes may be the best use of your time. In general, good recipes for meal prep are uncomplicated and time efficient. They should also keep well in the fridge or freezer for a few days, reheat well, and be able to be adapted for a big batch recipe. Batch cooking recipe ideas include soup, chili, crockpot recipes, roasted chicken, granola bars, pasta salad, egg casseroles or frittatas.
If you want to spend about an hour in the kitchen, or if you don’t like eating the same meals on repeat, you may prefer a “buffet style” prep that involves preparing individual meal components that can be mixed and matched in various ways. For example, chopped and roasted vegetables, hard boiled eggs, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, cooked brown rice or quinoa, shredded chicken, baked tofu.
If you have less than an hour to spare, focus your time assembling meal ingredients to make cooking easier in the moment. Some examples of this type of prep would be making marinades for meat or filling freezer bags with portioned ingredients for soup and smoothies.
3. Making your plan
- Set aside time on your calendar for meal prep. Decide what you will make, saving and printing recipes if needed.
- Take inventory of the ingredients you already have on hand and make a shopping list for the ingredients your will need.
- Write a second list with the tasks you plan to accomplish. Having a plan will help keep you organized and on task!
4. Additional tips
- Keep it simple – don’t take on too much. Your goal is to minimize stress, not add to it!
- Use a slow cooker or Instant Pot for stress-free help. If you only have 15 minutes, you have time to cook chicken breasts or a simple chili in your Instant Pot.
- Start your prep while putting groceries away. Try chopping vegetables before putting them in the fridge, or dividing fruit into plastic baggies for smoothies.
- Cook once, eat multiple times! While cooking dinner, reserve some tossed salad without dressing or cook an extra portion of meat that you can then use at future meals.
- Start with the task that requires the most time. Begin your meal prep with the items that will take the longest to cook (like meat or roasted vegetables). While those foods are cooking, you can accomplish the smaller, less time-intensive tasks (chopping salad ingredients, mixing sauces and dressings, etc).
- Invest in food storage containers to prep individually portioned meals.
If you'd like help with an individualized meal-prep plan, talk to your health coach and/or one of Take Control’s registered dietitians. And for more meal prep resources and recipes, visit these websites: