Meal prep is the best thing I’ve found to keep myself fueled for a busy week without sacrificing hours of my weeknights when I’d rather be doing other things.. For the most part, I work a nine to five type schedule now (more like seven to four but hey who’s counting). I started meal prepping back in 2013 when I was a shift worker in Miami and if I thought meal prep was important then, it’s about 5x more important now. It’s so easy as a Monday through Friday-er to get off track or not feel like making something healthy because I’m tired after working all day and hitting the gym after work. Take-out may be an easy option for a lot of us, but it’s also the expensive and unhealthy option about 99% of the time.
Save yourself the dilemma and prepare to have a healthy week ahead of time! The key to getting started with meal prep is having a plan before you get to the grocery store. Which is generally a good rule of thumb for grocery shopping, I know. It would probably behoove me to listen to that advice regarding Target trips. I have literally gone there for laundry detergent before…$250 later and I’ve got a whole cart full of crap I probably didn’t need to buy. Standard ops for me. Moral of the story – HAVE A PLAN BEFORE YOU SHOP OR PREP!
Meal Prep Tips
Meal prep doesn’t have to be all or nothing! Washing and cutting veggies, measuring ingredients, and making the sauces ahead of time can save you a ton of time when you’re ready to cook up a meal. Most of the time, this stuff can be knocked out at least a few days in advance so that all you have to do is cook your meal(s) and then clean up after. And yep, that stuff still counts as meal prep. Don’t let Instagram tell you otherwise.
- If you’re just starting out, don’t overdo it. You don’t have to go from zero to 100 with meal prep – just start out slow. Try making intentional leftovers (cough *meal prep* cough) with dinner one night – when you’re cleaning up, package up any extras in single serve portions. Since they’re in easy grab-and-go sizes, it’ll be more inviting (and easier) to take them to work for lunch the next day! Or maybe you can give prepped breakfast a try in order to get out the door faster in the morning. It’s really all about what fits into your life the easiest and helps you the most. Which brings me to my 2nd point…
- Do what works for you. If prepping breakfast ahead of time is all you can manage, go for it! Or maybe you’re tired of spending extra money on lunches at the office and would rather take your own. If so, focus on prepping lunches instead. For those of you who hate the idea of eating leftovers, start with just a few days of meals instead of a whole week. You’ll be amazed by how much time and mental bandwidth you can free up during weeknights when you don’t have to worry about any combo of breakfast/lunch/dinner for that night or the following day(s).
- Keeping food fresh is easier than you think. You just have to be thoughtful about how you store meals (or components of meals). If you love salads for lunch, get a dedicated salad container like this one. I love it because it keeps the protein separate from the lettuce and other toppings, plus it has a dedicated dressing container. All of this (plus a little piece of paper towel under your greens to absorb any excess water) ensures a bright, fresh salad all week! You also want to think ahead and store your meals intentionally for optimal reheating. So for something like a burrito bowl where you may have one ingredient (like lettuce) that doesn’t need to be heated in the microwave, but everything else does, stick that one item in a silicone cup so you can easily remove it before the rest goes in the microwave.
- BRINE. YOUR. CHICKEN. Seriously. This is an absolute game changer for meal prepping chicken. Chicken breast is low in fat and easy to overcook, which means that it’s especially easy for it to dry out when meal prepped. But with brine, you actually change the structure of the cells in the chicken so that they hold onto more liquid. That means that the chicken stays flavorful and juicy all week! Get my homemade brine mix recipe and read all about about how to do it here.
How to Get Started
Just like going from zero to 100 with meal prep is likely to overwhelm you as you’re just getting started, trying to do all things related to meal prep will get exhausting quickly. I’ve followed a pretty similar game plan for several years now, and it’s what works for me. Here’s how I do it…
- Find recipe inspiration. Usually on Wednesdays or Thursdays, I’ll start thinking about what I’d like to include on my menu for the following week. Inspiration might strike while I’m scrolling Instagram or Pinterest, or maybe I’ll even come up with a new recipe idea after eating at a restaurant or seeing something yummy on Food Network. For me, this process is probably more time consuming than it is for most since I’m always brainstorming new recipe ideas to share here. That said, if things ever get too complicated or tiring, I always have easy, reliable recipes in the back of my head that I know I love. You can find most of them in my latest meal prep book, which is all about my meal prep essentials!
- Make a plan. Now that you’ve got some inspiration about what you want to eat for the week, it’s time to build that meal plan so you know what and how much to buy at the store. For me, this part of meal planning is pretty much done once I have my recipe inspiration. Each week I generally make the same breakfasts for each day, plus 4 servings of 3 different lunch/dinner recipes. That equals 12 meals, which means that I still allow myself some flexibility to grab takeout or eat something other than prepped food. Check out a sample meal plan in one of my weekly meal prep posts. From here, you can build your grocery list. I try to get this done on Thursday nights, but of course it doesn’t always happen.
- Get groceries. I love getting groceries on Friday afternoons on my way home from work. For me, this helps maximize my free time on weekends and helps me avoid the weekend crowds at the grocery store. Sometimes I’ll do this on a Saturday morning instead, but I love just getting it out of the way so that I don’t have to think about it the rest of the weekend.
- Prep and cook! Put on some good music, supportive shoes, and get to cooking. Sometimes I’ll cut up veggies on Saturday morning to make cooking faster on Sunday, but it’s really not necessary. Just do what fits into your schedule!
For even more meal prep tips, sample meal plans, grocery lists, and prep day guides, click on the image below to check out my books!
My Favorite Kitchen and Meal Prep Gear
You certainly don’t need to go out and buy all of these goodies to be a successful meal prepper! These are some of my favorite items for meal prepping – pick what works for you and don’t be afraid to invest in quality products that will last you for years. Get the full run down of favorite meal prep tools and kitchen gadgets on my Amazon Storefront. Note: These are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that I may earn a small commission if you click on the link or make a purchase using the link. When you make a purchase, the price you pay will be the same whether you use the affiliate link or go directly to the vendor’s website using a non-affiliate link.
Other Goodies I Love