Many food trends come and go, but meal prepping is more than a trend. With meal prepping and meal delivery kits growing in popularity over the last two decades, meal prepping is now a way of life for many people.
This smart meal-planning method is particularly popular among busy people. You can save time and money by prepping your meals ahead of time.
So if you’re ready to level up your meal prep and eliminate the daily stress of “What should I make for dinner?” then meal prepping is for you!
Here are some meal prep ideas to get you started.
What Is Meal Prep?
Meal prepping is just what it sounds like – prepping a meal. But instead of prepping the entire meal right before eating, you prep at least portions of the meal in advance so there’s less work when it’s time to eat.
There are several different kinds of meal prepping – each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Your meal prep mantra should always be: “Do what’s right for ME.” So whether you’re hoping to free up time on your weeknights, reduce food waste, or better manage your diet, find which version of meal prep works best for YOU and YOUR goals.
Different Ways to Meal Prep
Meal prepping can fit any recipe or schedule.
These different types of weekly meal prep options give you the flexibility you need for your diet and lifestyle:
Individually Portioned Meals
Fully-cooked meals, typically including lean protein, complex carbs, and fruits and veggies. Portion these meals into a single-serving meal prep container. You simply reheat food at a meal time and you’re ready to eat. This is a great method for people who use meal prep to manage a healthy diet. By portioning your meals in advance, you reduce the risk of overeating or grabbing unhealthy food options when you’re hungry. Consider individually portioned meals for weight loss goals.
Buffet Style Prep
Some cooks prefer to have ingredients ready to go for a variety of meals. Buffet-style prep does just that by bulk-cooking several ingredients that you can mix and match for easy meals. If you don’t mind some repeat ingredients throughout the week, this is a great option to reduce weeknight meal prep without committing yourself to a specific menu. An example of buffet-style prep is cooking a bunch of chicken breasts, rice, and veggies at the beginning of the week. You can combine these ingredients into many different quick and easy meals.
Ingredient Batch Prep
Similar to buffet-style prep, ingredient batch prep is making a large batch of a single ingredient. You may choose to use this prep straight from the fridge throughout the week. But often batch cooking goes to the freezer for long-term use. Making a sheet pan full of healthy meatballs and throwing them into a storage container for the freezer gives you healthy, homemade meatballs for months. It’s great to load up your freezer with a variety of items like this to reduce cooking time later.
Uncooked Freezer Meals
If you like to use your slow cooker or have a family to feed, this method is for you. Typically, freezer meals use recipes that are simple and allow you to put all (or most) ingredients straight into a crock pot or instant pot. So when you make these recipes in advance, they are easy to prep by putting all of the ingredients in a food storage container (like a freezer bag) and popping it into the freezer to cook later. These one-pot recipes go straight from the freezer to the cooker. Some families load up their freezers with a variety of these meals to have on hand. Although you do need to remember to get the meal cooking early in the day, pulling these bags from the freezer takes less than five minutes and you have a hearty meal ready for your family on a busy weekday.
Uncooked Ingredient Prep
If you’re working with a lot of fresh produce, sometimes washing and cutting the produce can take twice as long as cooking. If you like your sweet potato fries right out of the oven, you may not want to cook them days in advance. But taking a minute over the weekend to wash and cut your produce can really speed up your weeknight cooking.
Whether you prep a single ingredient or an entire meal, the benefits of meal prepping are undeniable!
What Are the Benefits of Meal Prepping?
The convenience of ready-to-go meals during the week is clear, but did you know there are many other benefits of meal prepping?
A meal plan can improve both your physical and mental health. Prepping meals in advance helps you save time and money, reduces stress, reduces food waste, and can help you in your weight loss or weight gain journey.
Check out more details on the benefits of meal prepping here.
Beginners’ Guide to Meal Prep
Ready to start? Here’s an easy step-by-step guide to meal prepping for beginners.
1. Know your goals.
Meal prepping is a tool to help you achieve a variety of goals. Knowing your goals for meal prep will help guide you in picking recipes and cooking methods that make meal prepping really work for you.
Some goals to consider are:
- Convenient weekday meals
- Improve nutrition
- Lose weight
- Build muscle
- Reduce body fat
- Save money
Write down your goals and keep them in mind for the next steps.
2. Make a plan.
Make a plan of which days, meals, and meal prep recipes you’re prepping. You’ll also want to decide which meal prep method you’ll use for each meal. Keep in mind any events on your schedule that impact mealtime. If you plan to eat out with friends or need to work late several nights, make sure your plan accounts for these needs.
This step can be the hardest part for some people, especially for those who don’t typically make a weekly menu. But the great thing about these plans is you can reuse them in the future. So once you have a few menus in place, rotating through them makes this step easy.
3. Go grocery shopping.
After you have a plan in place, take a look at your fridge, freezer, and pantry to see what you need to buy. Make a list and head to the store for what you need. If you’re used to several small grocery runs throughout the week, a single large trip can save you lots of time. It can also give you a bit of a shock at the checkout line since those smaller grocery runs are combined into a single bill. Don’t worry. Many of the freezer and pantry staples you purchase will last several weeks. So a larger upfront investment will pay off over the weeks ahead. Shopping in bulk and looking for sales helps take the edge off of large grocery runs. Even if the initial bill seems higher than usual, you can save money on your overall monthly food costs.
4. Make the food.
Prep or cook the food according to the recipes you’ve selected. Look for ways to save time by batch-cooking ingredients for multiple meals. If you’re making freezer meals, consider making several meals worth to maximize your prepping time. Freezer meals can last in the freezer for months, so doubling or tripling a recipe is a quick way to prep more meals for the future.
5. Store the food.
After you’ve allowed the food to cool down, store the food in airtight containers. You can portion out individual meals into a bento box or fill freezer bags with uncooked ingredients. Then pop them in the fridge or freezer.
Meal prepping doesn’t have to be a big process or require an entire day in the kitchen each week. The key is to find what works for YOU. Again, think of your goals. Decide what will help you reach those goals easier. Then try it out. Make adjustments each week until you find your groove. Meal prepping is supposed to make healthy eating EASIER to do. So if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and simplify.
Start small, start simple, start with recipes you’re comfortable cooking.
What Foods Can I Use When Meal Planning?
You can meal prep any foods that store in the fridge or freezer without tasting nasty later. Meats, veggies, and starches are great foods to prep. Soups and sauces hold up really well during reheating too.
If you’re planning to prep and store fully-cooked meals, make sure your foods can hold up to a reheat. If you’re prepping produce, consider how far in advance you’re prepping and whether the produce will spoil more quickly after it’s prepped.
Here are some foods to consider in your meal prep:
- Lean proteins: Chicken, beef, pork, turkey, seafood, eggs, Greek yogurt, tofu, and cottage cheese.
- Whole grains: Brown rice, oats, buckwheat, quinoa, and barley.
- Pulses: Beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas.
- Starchy veggies: Potatoes and other root vegetables.
- Veggies: Carrots, bell peppers, celery, radishes, broccoli, and frozen veggies that can be steamed or roasted.
- Greens: Spinach and Kale (remember to hold the dressing until just before eating).
- Fruits: Apples, berries, peaches, plums, and oranges.
- Nuts and seeds: Peanuts, almonds, cashews, chia seeds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
Consider meals that you can eat cold. Or make sure all foods stored in the same container can withstand a high-heat zap in the microwave. If you’re eating at home, you’ll have more flexibility to reheat items individually using the stove and oven.
Picking the Right Storage Containers
The quality of your food storage container is important. Make sure your container is airtight to keep food fresh longer.
Pick the right container for your reheating needs. Don’t use a stainless steel container if you plan on going straight from the fridge to the microwave. 😉
It’s a good idea to have a variety of sizes and container types to meet all of your needs.
Here are some tips to keep in mind as you select a container.
- Microwavable: BPA-free containers are the best option in this category. These are safer than the standard plastic container. Look for glassware or silicone.
- Freezer friendly: If you plan to store in the freezer, make sure the container is labeled as freezer safe. Wide-mouth mason jars freeze well but make sure you leave some space at the top for the food to expand when it freezes.
- Compartmentalized: Individual compartments for different foods are a great way to store multiple items in one box.
Purchasing containers that stack well in your fridge and lunch bag will help you maximize your space.
Best Meal Prep Recipes for Breakfast
If you’re struggling to eat a quality breakfast each day thanks to the rush of the morning, having grab-and-go breakfasts ready for you is the way to go! Here are a few breakfast recipes that will get your day started right without adding any stress to your weekday schedule.
Apple Crumble Breakfast Meal Prep – Starting your morning with a healthy breakfast that tastes like a dessert is a great way to put a smile on your face. This delicious apple crumbles oatmeal includes protein and healthy fats so you can feel full longer.
Turkey Wrapped Potato & Egg Breakfast Muffins – These low-carb, protein-packed muffins are great to pull from the fridge or freezer. Making a triple batch of these tasty poppers and storing them in the freezer will give you breakfast for weeks. After they cool down, line them on a plate or baking sheet and freeze for an hour or two. Then transfer them to a larger container for long-term storage. This initial freeze will keep them from sticking together, so you can easily pull one or two out for a quick morning breakfast.
Protein & Superfood Breakfast Casserole – If you’re looking to try something new, this Peruvian dish will get your tastebuds hopping in the morning. With minimal carbs and high protein and fat, this is a keto-friendly recipe that will keep you full all morning.
For more breakfast inspo, check out these 16 Healthy Breakfast Meal Prep Ideas For Busy Mornings.
Best Meal Prep Recipes for Lunch
Make your friends in the office jealous with these lunch box meals. You don’t need to hurt your budget by eating out every day to have a great mid-day meal.
Lunchbox: Mandarin Ginger Cashew Barley Grain Bowl – If reheating isn’t an option for you, this is a great cold lunch to meal prep. Using a stainless steel lunchbox will help keep this meal chilled longer. Remember to store the cashews separately and add them just before eating.
Indian-Inspired Lamb & Cauliflower Rice Recipe – This low-carb Indian dish packs a flavorful punch without all of the rich creams you see in many Indian dishes. If you haven’t experimented with Cauliflower rice, this is the recipe to give it a try!
Sweet Potato Risotto – We all love warm, homemade comfort food. This fits the bill without any of the guilt. This risotto is great as meal prep from the fridge or the freezer.
For more lunch inspo, check out Plant, Chicken & Seafood Meal Prep.
Best Meal Prep Recipes for Dinner
Meal Prep Quickie: Turkey & Squash Mix – You can eat this meal cold or reheat, making it the perfect meal prep to have on hand for busy nights. With great lean protein and veggies mixed in, this meal is simple and satisfying for anyone new to meal prepping.
Teriyaki Brussels Sprouts & Grains Meal Prep With Salmon – After a long day away from home, pulling this meal out of the fridge will remind you why you love meal prepping so much. This flavorful, healthy dish should go on every meal prepper’s menu.
White Chicken Chili Meal Prep – If you’re a fan of soup, give this one a try. This is a simple, one-pot meal that even beginner cooks can feel comfortable making. Grabbing a rotisserie chicken from the store cuts down on cooking time and adds flavor.
For more dinner inspo, check out How To Meal Prep Chicken 2 Ways.
Time to Cook!
You now have everything you need to get started with meal prepping. It’s easy, fun, healthy, and saves you time and money. What more do you need? Follow the simple step-by-step process above and find some delicious recipes to try. You’ll be a master meal prepper before you know it!