If you follow me on Instagram, then you’ve probably seen my meal prep photos pop up in my story, for which I only kind of apologize.
I absolutely love meal prepping. It saves me time during the week, it saves money, and I’m much more likely to eat healthy meals if I already have a bunch made. I also think it’s a lot of fun – I enjoy planning out my meals, I like grocery shopping, and then I just put on a good playlist or podcast and get to work!
Since I know that meal prep, or really cooking in general, are not everyone’s favorite things to do I figured I would share some of my tips and tricks to maybe make it a little bit easier to get into it. They say it’s easier to form new habits than it is to break them, so why not start to get into a habit that will help you save money and time, and keep you healthy?
Preparing for Prep
- To start, it helps to have good resources that you know you can go to to find exactly what you want to cook. My brother and sister-in-law got me an InstantPot for Christmas last year (which I HIGHLY recommend investing in if it’s within your budget) so lately, most of my recipes for dinner have been coming from this book: Ultimate Instant Pot Healthy Cookbook
For lunches, my dietitian recommended this book and I’ve been loving it so far: Whole Bowls
Of course, you can also use Pinterest or Google if that’s more your speed. I find a lot of recipes from Chocolate Covered Katie, SkinnyMs, and random Pinterest boards.
- Choose simple recipes to start, this way it won’t seem so overwhelming and you can work your way up to the bigger things. Don’t try and tackle something that will take 50 steps and 4 hours your first time – it’ll just discourage you. I love to cook, yet no matter how hard I try, I cannot make a good meatloaf (ask my brother) so I’ve just learned that it’s not something I should have on rotation.
- Mix it up. If you’re having chicken for lunch, don’t have it for dinner. If you made Mexican last week, make Chinese this week. You’ll get bored too soon if you do too much of the same thing and it’ll be harder to stick with it as you go on. Trust me, I’ve been there.
- I also recommend having a meal prep planner to help you organize what you’re planning on eating throughout the week, especially if you aren’t going to have the same thing every day. I also just feel like it looks very “adult” to have it hanging on the refrigerator, and it makes it easier for me when it’s time to go grocery shopping. Right now, I have this one: Knock Knock What to Eat Pad. but I’m almost out of paper so I have this one coming from Amazon soon: Bloom Weekly Meal Plan Pad.
- Make sure that you have enough Tupperware and containers to store everything. There are lots of meal prep containers on Amazon, but I actually got some really good glass ones from TJMaxx that are a great size, good quality, microwave and dishwasher safe, and affordable. Just find what works best for you and the types of meals you’re planning on making. I typically make salads for lunches, so just one compartment is good for me, but if you’re more into other types of meals, it would be helpful to have at least some containers with more than one compartment. I also like having little glass bowls for breakfasts. Now that I’ve been home more, I just have a bunch of big containers and I put each part of the meal into that and serve it up on the day. Just do what works best for you.
- Be willing to go to more than one grocery store if possible. Sometimes I end up needing some super random item that I can only get at Whole Foods, but no way am I buying EVERYTHING there because I cannot afford that. I like doing the bulk of my shopping at Trader Joe’s and then getting the meat and most produce at the grocery store by my apartment building because I think it’s better quality. It’s a bit more time consuming, but worth it for me to spend money and make sure that the money I’m spending is buying quality food.
- Finally, pick a day to go grocery shopping and then another day to do the actual prep. I like to split it up, personally, but totally your call if you like to do it on the same day. Make sure you have everything you need on your grocery list before going – I’ve totally made that mistake before. I also find it really helpful to always have certain staples in my pantry (which I’ll list below) so that I don’t have to get them every time I need them.
- My number one tip for meal prep is to clean as you go!! It really does help SO much! I also like to take everything that I need out right away and then put things away as I use them. Have a scraps bowl nearby as you chop fruits and veggies, and while one thing is cooking, clean up the prep from it before you start on the next thing.
- Turn on a good playlist or podcast to keep you entertained. Meal prep can take a while, so music or some sort of audio helps me to pass the time. For me that’s usually Crime Junkie, but you do you.
- Read all the recipes first and pick the longest things to make first. This way, you can make your dressings or whatever while the veggies and meat are in the oven or on the stove, and everything gets finished around the same time.
- Whether you pre-portion into individual containers to pull out at meal time, or you like to put everything in one big container and serve it when the time is right, make sure that you let things cool to room temperature before storing them in the fridge. This is not only proper food safety protocol, but it keeps things from getting mushy or soggy.
- Organize your fridge so that things in the front are what you’ll be eating first. It’s a silly thing, but it makes it easier to remember to grab things in the morning.
- Take a picture of all your hard work! Meal prep can be tough, but it’s so worth it. Go ahead and brag about yourself.
- Canned chickpeas. I use these ALL the time so I always have a bunch on hand!
- Canned black beans.
- Grains – quinoa, whole wheat pasta, rice, and couscous are my favorites. I also recently discovered that I might be gluten-intolerant so I might be updating this list soon.
- Oils – avocado, sesame, olive, and flaxseed are my go-tos.
- Canned coconut milk and coconut cream. Great to make a recipe dairy-free/vegan if needed, and also much easier to constantly have than heavy cream.
- Balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, and apple cider vinegar.
- Nut butters. I am addicted to peanut butter and find a way to incorporate it into at least one meal per day, but whatever your favorite is is always good to have on hand! I do like to have some sort of natural nut butter as well to help make marinades or dressings.
- SPICES! Garlic, parsley, cumin, salt, pepper, paprika… whatever you like, just make sure you have spices!
- Canned tomato sauce, tomato paste, and/or diced tomatoes.
My Favorite Recipes
If you feel like you’re ready to start, but need some inspiration, here are some of my favorite recipes to begin with. I should say that I tend to eat like a vegetarian most of the time just because it’s difficult to cook meat for one person, so feel free to substitute any of the plant-based proteins, or just add in some chicken or whatever it is you like.
- Chocolate Chip Breakfast Squares – I LOVE oats and could eat oatmeal every day and be happy, but these things are so fricking good. I’d make a big batch and then portion them out (and freeze the leftovers) and mix up my fruit and spread combos (strawberries and Nutella, banana and peanut butter, pear and almond butter) and have a perfect little breakfast to bring with me to work. These things kept me full until lunch time every time.
- Overnight Oats – There are a million ways to make them, but for me, my favorite recipe is: ½ cup rolled oats, ¾ unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 1 tbsp chia seeds, ½ mashed banana, and a dash of cinnamon mixed up in a mason jar. Then top with the other half of the banana (sliced), melt 2 tablespoons of peanut butter in the microwave and drizzle on top, and finish with a bit of honey. So, so good.
- Smoothies – I’m weirdly obsessed with smoothies, no matter the weather, and it’s so easy to just bag up some of your favorite frozen fruit and a handful of spinach and throw it in a blender with whatever liquid base you like when you’re ready to have it.
- Salad with arugula, roasted chickpeas, tomato, cucumber, red onion, feta cheese, and kalamata olives topped with Greek dressing.
- Honey sriracha glazed meatballs.
- Turkey & hummus pinwheels (just a wrap sliced into bite-sized pieces), with carrots & celery, grapes, and cheese slices.
- Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas – I’m also a huge fan of sheet pan meals – they’re so easy to make and very minimal clean up afterwards.
- Vegetarian Crockpot Lasagna Soup.
- Pasta e Fagioli – I added zucchini to mine to get some more veggies in, and also because I’ve been on a weird zucchini fix lately.
On weeks when I don’t feel like eating the same thing every day, but I do want to have some easy-to-make things on hand, there are a few things I do on my meal prep day just to get a headstart on being healthy and prepared for the week.
- If you have a slow cooker, one of my favorite things to do is get some chicken breasts (between 1.5-2 pounds, I just buy them wherever they’re on sale that week) and place them in the crockpot, season, and cover with chicken broth or water (just enough to cover completely), and then cook on low for about 6-7 hours. Once they’re done cooking, I take them out, use two forks to shred, and then after it’s cooled, portion out the chicken into freezer Ziploc bags and store them until I’m ready to use them. They defrost in less than an hour, and I’ve made quesadillas, burrito bowls, chicken salad, and more with this.
- Chop up a bunch of fruits and veggies (again, I usually buy what’s in season and on sale) so that you can easily grab them for snacks or to add into your lunches and dinners. There’s also nothing wrong with frozen vegetables!
- Cook up a big batch of quinoa or rice, and make a homemade salad dressing or marinade (like one of these) so that if nothing else, you can mix some with some arugula or kale, whatever veggies you chopped up, some defrosted chicken or shrimp (I also always have cooked frozen shrimp on hand for a quick defrost), and toss some cheese and dressing on top to make a good lunch or dinner.
I hope that this helps! Enjoy!