Beginning a meal prep routine can be extremely overwhelming, which is pretty ironic considering it’s meant to make your life easier. Whether you’re planning and prepping meals for yourself or your entire family, use these tips and ideas to create simple, delicious and diverse dishes and snacks for the busy week ahead.
1. Make a complete grocery list. Nothing is worse than aimlessly wandering the grocery aisles, trying to remember each item you came for. And with a week’s worth of food prepping ahead, it’s nearly impossible to get everything you need (and the right amount of each item) without following a list. Plan for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks, and maybe the occasional sweet treat.
>> Read more: Conquering the Grocery Store: Navigate Your Way to Healthier Nutrition
2. On prep day, make a plan and multitask. If you’re using a slow cooker, start with it first. While it's cooking, you can begin any baking or stovetop heating, then begin cutting fruits and veggies or building salads. With a plan, you should spend about 2-3 hours preparing the bulk of your meals.
3. Don’t try to make it all. Especially for dinners, meal prepping may only consist of doing what you can to get ready to make a recipe later in the week. Some foods don’t store well together, so it may be wise to cook your meat and prepare other ingredients without cooking a full recipe ahead. And this isn’t cheating! This process is simply meant to make mealtime easier, and prepping ingredients does just that.
4. Use muffin tins to create single servings. To allow for smaller storage and to create individual servings, use muffin tins to bake casseroles or frittatas. Try this recipe for Mini Frittatas or tweak our recipe for Skinny Crustless Quiche by pouring ingredients into individual liners.
5. Mason jar salads and oatmeals: Glass jars can be a meal prepper's most valued possession. Perfect for storing pre-made salads (dressing included!) or topped steel-cut oats, full meals can be prepped and ready to eat in about five minutes when placed in these jars and store extremely well. To make a week of different oatmeals, check out these tips from The Kitchn. And to learn how to make the perfect mason jar salad, click here.
6. Prepare fruits and veggies. When you’ve got ready-to-eat healthy fruits and vegetables in the fridge, you’re much more likely to eat them than if they required on-the-spot cutting. And if you’re roasting your veggies, don’t waste time cooking them individually. Put fast-cooking foods like tomatoes, asparagus and mushrooms on the same pan and cook them simultaneously. Do the same for slow-cooking vegetables like carrots, potatoes, onions and cauliflower. (via Picky Palate)
>> Beware of these 10 ways you're making vegetables less nutritious.
7. Season meat three ways in a single pan. If you’re hesitant to commit to weekly meal preps because you don’t want to eat the same boring food every day, switch it up with this tip by Fit Men Cook. Seasoning your chicken in different ways produces completely different flavors, so even if you plan to pack chicken for every lunch, no meal will taste the same.
8. Invest in a spiralizer. Your vegetables can double as noodles by using an easy (and seriously cool) spiralizer. Zoodles are all the rage right now and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days after being chopped. Creating vegetable noodle dishes is yet another way to eat healthier foods and they can be served raw or cooked for even more meal options. Prep them for this tasty Zucchini Spaghetti with Beef Bolognese recipe!
9. Put your slow cooker to work. To stress this again, your slow cooker can help you prep full dinners or cook the base of your recipes — use it! Cook your meat in large portions and store it in the fridge or freezer to be used later. Try making some of our favorite slow cooker recipes like Healthified Crock Pot Cheeseburger Sliders, Black Bean and Sausage Soup, or Slow Cooker Brown Sugar Spiral Ham.
10. Don’t forget snacks! After preparing all these healthy foods for your family, don't ruin your hard work by buying pre-made, high-fat snacks. Many snacks can be completely prepped in advance and stored in single serving bags or containers. Some of our favorites include PB and Fruit Protein Balls, Autumn Apple Oat Bars and Frozen Blueberry Yogurt Bites.
11. Buy in bulk, then portion yourself. For popular snacks like almonds or nuts, pretzels, dips or veggies, tossing handfuls into a plastic bag tempts you to eat the entire bag in one sitting. Instead of participating in this unconscious eating, buy large portions of these snacks and measure them ahead of time. Smart snacking would be placing a quarter cup of almonds in a plastic bag or container; then you’re free to eat them all and still feel satisfied. They’re also great for grab and go!
12. Buy smart containers. Prepping a week's worth of meals in advance is great, but how will you store it all safely? The majority of your prepped items will need to be refrigerated, so make sure it's cleaned out and organized with ample space available. But the key to puzzling in all your dishes is storing them in good quality containers. These MealPrep Stackable Containers fit easily on top of each other, taking up less space in your fridge and this Pyrex Storage Plus set is made of durable glass for heavy-duty use.
>> Ditch plastic baggies and check out more cool snack containers here!
13. Know your 'best by' dates. Don't let your prep work be for not by letting your food ruin! Check out Food Safety's guidelines for safely storing both cooked and uncooked meat, dairy and produce. This allows you to make the most of your meals by allowing less waste. It may take a few weeks to figure out how much to buy and prepare for your family, but once you master it you should use nearly all of your prepped food. Click here to learn more about sell-by, use-by, and best-by dates.