Meal Prep For Beginners
I am sure you have all heard this saying before: failing to prepare is preparing to fail. I know this may sound a bit harsh but it is SO true, especially when it comes to meal prep!
- What is meal prep?
- How to meal prep
- 1. Meal prep containers
- 2. Meal prep recipes
- 3. Allocate yourself meal prep time
- 4. Start your meal prep!
- Free meal prep ideas
- Breakfast meal prep
- Snack prep
- Lunch prep
- Snack 2 prep
- Dinner prep
- Meal prep tips
Most of us are pretty busy in our day-to-day lives. Whether you are a mum, student or working full-time, it can sometimes be hard to cook all of your meals at home each day. This is where meal prepping can quickly become your best friend! Without meal prep, you increase your chances of eating junk or convenience foods, especially when you’re busy or caught feeling hungry without food.
What is meal prep?
Meal prep can mean something different to each person, so it is important to find a routine that works for you. Essentially, it should save you time in the kitchen and make it easier for you to eat healthier during the week.
You might choose to prepare only one type of meal (like breakfasts or dinners), or even all of your meals, including snacks. Starting out, I would suggest that you test it out a bit to get settled into a meal prepping routine that suits your lifestyle and preferences.
For example, if you always find yourself in a hurry to get out of the door in the morning and your breakfast consists of a takeaway croissant, then preparing breakfast is probably a good place to start!
Likewise, if you struggle to get dinner together because you work late, you should start by focusing on preparing dinners.
How to meal prep
Getting organised and planning your meals can be so positive for your health efforts — so start meal prepping now with these 4 simple steps!
Step 1. Buy meal prep containers
Make sure you invest in some good quality containers — these can be Tupperware containers or the glass variety. Keep in mind that if you are going to be reheating your food in these you want to choose ones that are BPA-free and won’t fall apart in the microwave/oven. If you are going to be meal prepping for a few days in a row, it can be a good idea to buy containers in the same size so they can be easily stacked.
There are other kitchen tools to improve your preparation but good quality containers are by far the most important and should be your priority to begin with!
Step 2. Decide on your meal prep recipes
Next, you need to PLAN your meal recipes. Having a meal plan is super important — there is no use going to the grocery store, chucking random things in your cart and hoping for the best when you come out. In order for your meal prep to work you need to know what you are cooking and when.
As mentioned, if you are just starting out with meal prep, don’t overwhelm yourself! Cooking up a whole week of meals is a big task and even the best of us can struggle with that. My biggest tip is to make it manageable! I recommend sticking to a few days’ worth of food at a time to help you get used to the process.
Research a few recipes, find some easy meal prep food combinations to try and take it from there. Write down each meal that you plan to be eating, then break that down into a list of ingredients, and how much of each you need over that 3-4 day period that you are cooking for.
Make sure that you use recipes that can be prepared in advance and won’t spoil (for the most part). For example, overnight oats are a great breakfast recipe that can sit in your fridge for a few days.
A big thing for me when choosing recipes is taste. Like all of you, I love eating healthy foods that taste amazing! Unless you are a hardcore clean eater, constantly cooking up 2 kilos of plain chicken breast and steamed broccoli probably won’t have you looking forward to eating that meal. Try experimenting with flavours, in particular spices and homemade marinades and dressings. I like to accompany my lean proteins with some sort of sauce or spice coating, or a lemon and olive oil dressing to add more variety to my veggies.
Try to incorporate as much variety as you can so that you don’t get bored of eating the same thing each day. This can be as simple as switching up your spices or protein (for example, swapping your chicken for fish) every few days.
Step 3. Allocate yourself meal prep time
As I mentioned before, if you are new to the meal prep concept I would recommend preparing a few days’ meals at a time. How much time you dedicate to this is completely up to you!
You can choose to spend a whole day meal prepping for the next few days or spread it out nightly. Personally, I prefer to take a few hours out of my Sunday night just so it is done and out of the way. How much prep I actually do will also depend on what it is I am actually preparing.
For example, if there are meals/snacks that I like to eat fresh, such as a salad or veggie sticks, then I just group them in the same containers in the fridge and chop them up in the morning or just before I eat it. For more complex dishes, like stir-frys, I will often chop all the veggies up so that they are ready to go when it’s time to cook.
Step 4. Start your meal prep!
Even if you’re preparing meals for your whole week, it doesn’t mean that you need to completely prepare every single part of every single meal!
For example, you can marinate chicken breasts, place them in the freezer, and then just defrost them when you’re ready to use them. The same thing applies to meals such as homemade turkey burgers. Even though you’re not necessarily cooking these ahead of time, you are still saving yourself considerable prep time, which will make a big difference on those nights when you get home and are too tired to cook!
Another example is to make one large batch of your favourite sauces and refrigerate it, rather than making several smaller batches. I do this with my homemade tzatziki, which I use as a snack or as a topping for chicken and fish.
If you like your vegetables freshly cooked, then you can portion them out for each meal and put them in containers ready to be steamed or cooked later on. If you know you will be making a meal that requires a lot of chopping, this can be done in advance as well. You can wash all fruit and portion the nuts that you will be using as snacks so that you can easily eat them on the run.
However, when it comes to cooking carbohydrates such as quinoa, brown rice, and wholemeal pasta, I recommend cooking these upfront as they can take a little longer to prepare.
Free meal prep ideas
Here is a page from my HELP Guide — I’m going to explain how I would prep each of these meals below, just so you can get an idea of how I like to go about planning my meals:
If I was home and in no particular rush, I would poach my eggs and toast my bread fresh. If you want to be super organised you can put each of the ingredients in a container to pull out each morning, ready to go. I would chop the mushrooms and portion out my spinach earlier and then cook fresh on the day.
If I knew I was going to be super busy that morning I would pre-cook my eggs (i.e. boil instead of poach) and pre-cook my mushrooms and spinach so I would only have to reheat them and toast my bread.
For this snack, I would portion out my berries and nut and seed mix and place in one separate container. I would also portion out my yoghurt in a separate container and have this ready to go in the fridge.
If I was making this particular meal a few days in advance, I would put all of the ingredients near each other in the fridge or together in a container but not prepare it until that morning as the veggies, tuna and cheese all taste better fresh. This meal is an excellent example of how flexible meal prep can be.
Remember that it is not always possible to prepare all of your meals, so it is important to adapt them to your needs and to suit how busy you are.
For foods that you wish to eat fresh, it is a good idea to just prepare them the morning of. Three-day-old chopped cucumber isn’t most people’s ideal meal! In saying that, just having all of the food in one spot saves you the time searching through your fridge and cupboards.
Snack 2 prep
For this snack, I would put my two carrots and apple in a bag and portion out my hummus in a small container. If I was in a massive hurry that morning, I would skip cutting the carrots and eat them whole with the hummus.
For this dinner recipe, I would definitely cook my chicken ahead of time when I am doing all my meal prep then reheat it as I need it. I would portion out all the veggies and legumes but not put them together until that night so they don’t go soggy.
3 Meal Prep Tips
If you're ready to add meal prep into your routine, or you want a little help in making the habit stick, these three meal prep tips will help.
1. Prepare your own spice mixes
One of the most common foods people tend to prep is their protein, as this often is the most time consuming to cook. Sometimes the standard salt and pepper can only go so far though! After a few days of eating grilled chicken, you might be in the mood for something different.
The trick to eating healthy is to add FLAVOUR and this can be easily done with just a few spices! Don’t wait until you sit down to eat to add flavour, make your own spice mixes to use during preparation.
Think of putting things like garlic powder, oregano, rosemary and salt and pepper together for a delicious chicken spice, or smoked paprika, cumin, and garlic powder for a fish spice. Get creative in the kitchen when you DO have the time, so that when it comes to meal prepping and cooking your food you have all the tools you need to make it delicious.
2. Make use of your freezer
This tip won’t work for all foods but it can be really useful in instances where you are time poor. For example, blending a smoothie takes no time at all. Chopping the fruit or veggies is what takes the most time. Try portioning out the ingredients to make a smoothie freezer pack that has everything you need in a freezer-friendly bag. Then, all you have to do is tip the ingredients into the blender, add the liquid and blend. Breakfast prep is great if you struggle to get out the door on time each morning.
This method also works great for stir-fry. Simply chop up any veggies you like and portion them out in freezer-friendly bags so they are always on hand when you need to whip something up quickly. I like to have these in my freezer even if they aren’t in my weekly meal plan. You never know when you are going to be running late or feeling super tired after a long day.
3. Don’t Do It All On One Night
I have found a lot of people (especially those with little ones) it can be hard to find a few hours in a row to prep all your food. This is totally understandable, especially if you’re aiming to prep an entire week’s worth of meals. My tip would be to take the pressure off and set aside 2-3 nights a week to prep. This way you don’t need as much time and you are still being organised. I also like to prep a few times a week for things like fruit and veggies because they tend to spoil quickly if left in the fridge all week.
So many people are daunted by the idea of meal prep. They think that it has to be a set routine every week and it has to look a certain way, so they are put off by it. If you’re just starting out or you’re struggling to keep up with meal prep then my tip would be to start slowly. Remember girls, even a little effort goes a long way!
Start meal prepping now!
I hope you girls have a bit of a better understanding of what meal prep means and, more importantly, how to do it!
Remember to only do what feels comfortable for you and make sure it suits your lifestyle. A little bit of meal prep is better than none at all. Even if that is just chopping up a few veggies or grouping things in containers, you will feel so much better about preparing your food if you have at least some parts of it organised and ready to go!
Once you’ve nailed the basics of meal prep, you can then take it to the next level and step up your meal prep game.
What are some of your favourite meals to prep? I would love to hear what they are in the comments below!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.