Meal prep has recently become the biggest cuisine trend, and I couldn’t be happier!
I’ve been meal preparing for years since it’s a terrific way to save time, money, and waste in the kitchen, and I’m glad to see that so many people are catching on.
But because there are still so many people who haven’t had their meal prep “Aha!” moment, I thought I’d make a little Meal Prep 101 to assist folks to grasp the concept or overcome their fear of trying it.
WHAT EXACTLY IS MEAL PREP?
Preparing a meal or recipe, then portioning it out to create grab-and-go meals for later is what meal planning is all about.
You’ve already mini-meal prepped if you’ve ever packed up your dinner leftovers to take with you for lunch the next day! Meal planning, on the other hand, usually refers to preparing three to seven days’ worth of food at a time.
Consider it like packing all of your lunches for the week at once rather than each morning. This method can be used for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
WHY SHOULD I PREPARE MY MEALS?
Meal planning is time-saving, effective, and decreases the temptation to stray from your meal plan (whether the plan is a diet or a budget).
When cooking every day isn’t an option, meal preparing allows you to enjoy home-cooked meals without having to devote time to preparing each day.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF MEAL PREP?
Not everyone is a fan of meal planning. It’s ideal for those who place a premium on convenience and efficiency above variety.
Meal prepping requires you to eat the same dish for several days in a row, so if you don’t enjoy leftovers or easily grow bored with food, meal prepping is not for you.
Meal preparing is your ticket if having control over what you eat, as well as maximizing your time and budget, is more important to you than eating something different every day.
I’ve only seen folks meal plan for themselves or perhaps one other person, rather than a large family.
Meal preparation for an entire family would be challenging due to the increased number of people to please and would necessitate a million containers.
WHAT CAN I MAKE IN THE WAY OF MEAL PREP?
This is the most important question. The palatability of prepared meals varies from person to person, as it does with any leftovers.
Foods that are good for meal prep include:
- cooked grains & pasta, beans, and meat
- roasted vegetables
- hearty fresh vegetables (think celery, carrots, peas, bell peppers, kale, cabbage, radishes, etc.)
- whole fruit (apples, oranges, stone fruit)
- nuts & seeds
- sauces and dips (like salad dressings, hummus, salsa, sour cream, etc.)
Foods that aren’t usually good for meal prep:
- softer fruits and vegetables (lettuce, berries, and cut fruit)
- crunchy items like fried food, crackers, or chips
However, there are sometimes workarounds, such as storing ingredients separately. For the purpose of ease, I avoid goods that demand special attention, but if you’re willing to put in the extra effort, you can prepare these items.
HOW LONG DOES MY MEAL PREP CONTINUE TO BE “OK”?
This is a question I get almost every time I write a meal prep piece, and there is no hard and fast rule here. The quality of food tends to deteriorate as it is stored in the refrigerator.
Furthermore, the way food is packaged or the specific characteristics of your refrigerator environment can have an impact on the quality of your refrigerated meals.
The eater will often determine the lifespan of the food or what changes in texture and flavor are acceptable.
Always start with the FDA’s refrigeration requirements and then compare them to your own preferences.
In general, I don’t like to prepare more than four days’ worth of food at a time because the food becomes limp and lifeless by the fifth day.
I can prep four days in a row and be covered for two weeks, or I may prep once a week and rely on my freezer leftovers for the other days (plus the option for eating out one day).
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Begin SMALL. This is something I can’t stress enough. Start by bringing leftovers from one night’s meal to work for lunch the next day.
You can choose one recipe to prep for the week ahead once you’re comfortable with it and know what types of food you like as leftovers (pay attention to texture changes that might bother you).
Instead of starting with a dinner that takes two or three dishes, I recommend starting with a recipe meal prep. Single-recipe meal preps combine protein, grain, and veggies into a single dish, eliminating the need for a side dish.
After you’ve mastered one recipe or meal, try two (such as lunches and dinners), or try planning your breakfast ahead of time. The most important thing is to prepare for the level that is most appropriate for you.
If you try to prepare three meals for five days at once and find that you can’t eat the same thing after day three, don’t waste the food. Only three days to prepare.
Personally, I prefer to do only lunches, or maybe breakfast and lunch, leaving my dinner as a day’s variety.
MY FORMULAS ARE AS FOLLOWS:
Making a formula out of meal preparation is a simple way to think about it. I attempt to choose one of the following formulas when determining which foods to meal prep:
Protein, Grain, and Vegetables are the fundamentals.
Protein + Vegetable + Vegetable = Low Carb
Legume + Grain + Vegetables = Vegetarian
Sauces, nuts, seeds, croutons, and other toppings can be added to any of the above formulae to make them more interesting. Alternatively, keep it simple to make life easier!
WHAT DO I REQUIRE?
Containers. Containers of various sizes and forms. Don’t worry, you can begin tiny here as well.
I began by purchasing one blue-top reusable plastic Ziploc container per week.
They’re BPA-free and can be used in the freezer, dishwasher, and microwave, making them quite versatile. They’re also incredibly affordable and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
I upgraded to glass containers once my money allowed it. So far, my favorite glass containers are Pyrex single compartment containers (I like the 3-cup rectangle and 4-cup bowl).
I also have several divided glass containers with different compartments, but their utility is limited because not all foods fit in the smaller compartments, and the compartment dividers aren’t leak-resistant.
If you’re carrying a cold dinner that won’t need to be reheated in the microwave, metal bento box-style containers are also perfect.
When you need to separate ingredients, fold-top sandwich bags or zip-top bags can be useful. Look for 1-2 oz. resealable containers (I’ve seen many in grocery shops and on Amazon) if you want to keep your dressing and dips separate.
WINNERS OF MEAL PREP SHARE
We can all benefit from each other’s experiences, so please share your meal prep ideas, tactics, and successes in the comments section below! I’d love to hear about what you do, what you’ve found works and your inventive meal prep ideas!