Meal prep- love it or hate it, you’ve likely heard about it from family, friends, or you’ve seen it on the inter-webs. Have you tried it yet? If not, never fear because this post is all about baby steps for helping you get your meal prep on. I promise it will be easier than you think. Better yet, you don’t even have to cook AT ALL to meal prep! It’s all about learning how to plan ahead and set aside 30 minutes to a few hours (depending on which level you choose) on the weekend to prep healthy food for your week.
If you follow food preppers on social media, this is likely what you envision when you hear the phrase ‘meal prep’:
Then, you look into your fridge and see this:
Self judgment and bad feelings often ensue. First of all, stop comparing yourself to someone whose career is to meal prep and post it on social media. Seriously, stop. Second, meal prep doesn’t have to be this extensive when you first start out! In fact, you never have to get to that level if you just don’t want to. Let’s look at the levels of meal prep and talk about how you can get started:
Meal Prep Level: Don’t even try to talk me into cooking, lady.
Time Requirement: 0-15 minutes in the kitchen each weekend (basically enough time to write down your plan and maybe put a few things in your fridge or freezer).
Maybe you can’t say that you’ve really spent much time in the kitchen well, ever, but that doesn’t mean that you have to start now. Meal prepping at this level is really more about meal planning. Write down what you’d like to eat over the next week and pick up any pre-cooked items that you can so that they’re readily available. Here are some ideas to get you started:
-Pre-cooked items from the grocery store (read ingredient labels and choose the options with ingredients that you recognize!)
-Snap Kitchen meals- They have a registered dietician behind the menu and all you have to do is reheat it…does it get much easier?!
-Locate local restaurants that have healthy options and write them down so that you have a go-to list to refer to if you are ever in a pinch
Meal Prep Level: Beginner.
Time Requirement: 30-45 minutes.
You have minimal experience in the kitchen, but you’re willing to try a few things. At this level, it’s best to start by preparing one meal for the week and then choosing pre-cooked options (see the list in the previous level) or even ready-to-cook meals (like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh) for the rest. For example, you might take 30 minutes on Sunday to make a breakfast casserole that will last you through the work week, pick up Snap kitchen for lunches, and write out where you’ll pick up a healthy dinner during the week so that you have a plan ahead of time (pro tip: DO THIS! Actually write down where you’ll stop for dinner and what you’ll order. It may seem silly to choose dinner choices ahead of time, but at the end of a long work day you won’t have the will power to make the healthy choice. Do yourself a favor and choose ahead of time to save yourself the calories and the trouble. You can thank me later.)
Meal Prep Level: Intermediate.
Time Requirement: 1-2 hours depending on the recipes you choose.
You’re comfortable in the kitchen and you probably already prep one meal for the week. Here are a couple of ways to progress from beginner to intermediate:
-Continue to prep one meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) for the week, and prep the ingredients for any other meals you’ll be cooking during the week. For example, if you’ve selected a recipe to make for dinners, chop up all of the veggies and measure out all of the spices, etc. so that they’re ready to grab and throw together when you’re ready to cook. It’s like living on a TV cooking set!! Dreams do come true.
-If you’re up for it, prep 2 meals for the entire week during your Sunday (or whatever day) meal prep and choose a pre-cooked or ready-to-cook option for the 3rd
Meal Prep Level: Expert.
Time Requirement: 2-4 hours (depending on the recipes selected)
You have Sunday free and you love the idea of taking a few hours to cook everything so that you have the freedom to simply reheat and eat during the week. If this is the case, there are several ways that you can achieve this level depending on your preferences:
-The first way is to choose one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner dish that you can make a big batch of to last you through the week. You might find that it’s best to freeze half of the batch and reheat it mid-week so that it’s kept fresh.
-If you like variety, you can cook a couple of options for each meal, but that obviously takes more time and effort. Some people do it this way and love it!
-A third option is to choose several protein, vegetable, carbohydrate, and healthy fat sources to mix and match as the week goes on. This gives you variety during the week without a whole lot of extra cooking. Plus, you have the ability to change up the seasoning profile as you throw items together. For example: let’s say you choose to have some ground turkey, spinach, tomato, and avocado ready to make. One day you can have a spinach, tomato, avocado, and turkey salad. The next day, you can sauté the veggies together with a Mexican seasoning and top it with a fried egg and avocado to have a fiesta breakfast bowl. See what I mean? It’s such a fun game! The possibilities are endless.
-Another option is to do a combo of the above options. Maybe you have one breakfast casserole, a big stew for lunches, and want to do a protein/vegetable/healthy fat mix-up for dinners to keep it fun. The possibilities are endless.
It’s your turn: Apply what you’ve learned!
- Now that you’ve read the meal prep level descriptions, think about where you’re starting out
- Think about which level you’d like to achieve
- If you’d like to advance to another level, take a look at some of the options within the level to decide where to start
- Choose a day of the week that will be the least stressful to do your meal prepping and planning. Most people choose Sundays because they don’t have much going on that day other than getting ready for the week ahead. I make my list one day, grocery shop another, and do my actual prep on a third day to minimize my time spent each day minimal. That’s what works best for me and keeps it less stressful. Find what works for you!
- Give it a try! If it doesn’t work out the way you thought it would, think about what went wrong and trouble shoot for the next time you meal prep or plan.
- No matter which level you’re aiming for ALWAYS have a plan! Will power is a limited resource. Maintaining healthy nutrition is much easier when you plan ahead and set yourself up for success.
It’s totally possible that one week you’re at Beginner level, while the next you’re at Expert level. How is this possible? It’s not that you lose your ability to meal prep at some point, it’s that sometimes life gets in the way. Give yourself grace when it’s a busy week and do what you can to be as prepared for the week ahead as possible. You know what they say: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Corny, but true in this case! Give it a try and let us know how it goes!
Follow Health Coach Kinsey on Instagram for her meal prep ideas/tips at @kinsey.mahaffey or our nutritionist Kendra at @kmsauceda.