How To Meal Prep: 32 Meal Prepping Tips & Strategies
By: Julie Mancuso, owner of JM Nutrition, registered dietitians and nutritionists at JM Nutrition, Sarah Jabeen, MD
Prepping meals is no easy feat, at least at first. For this reason our team of dietitians and nutritionists compiled a comprehensive list of ‘how to meal prep’ tips and strategies aimed at making meal preparation much easier.
How To Meal Prep:
Meal Prepping Tips & Strategies: The Planning Stage
Small, Incremental Changes
Tackling too many things at once and trying to make too many simultaneous changes can prove overwhelming. For this reason, it is important to start small. Make two or three small changes.
Simply put, two or three is doable. These changes can be a strategy, snack or meal. No matter what changes to prepping meals you decide to make, make sure you stick to them, if they work. Consistency breeds habit.
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Surrounding yourself with some form of inspiration as you adopt new meal prepping habits can prove to be important.
Follow social media accounts on Instagram or Facebook that share quick, simple and delicious recipes that are to your liking. Doing so can not only equip you with a batch of delicious recipes, it can be incredibly motivating to start meal prepping yourself.
One of the first essential meal prepping tasks is to come up with a list of recipes that you intend to make for you or your family.
This could take some time. It may even have to be done in more than one sitting. And this is just fine. Work at your own pace.
It is also important to zero in on a handful of recipes, rather than selecting a dozen or two. We revert to the first point: start small and work your way up.
A good place to start is allrecipes.com.
Meal Planning App
For the tech savvy or those who simply prefer the convenience of a meal prepping app, there are a myriad of them.
Take a look at this overview of the best meal-planning apps.
Focus On Simple Recipes
Implement easy, simple recipes, ones with only a handful of ingredients that do not take a long time to prep and cook.
Take a look at this great resource: 68 Amazingly Quick Dinners For Busy Weeknights
Once you master these, start adding more recipes to your repertoire, perhaps ones with more ingredients.
Of course, many of us aspire to be master chefs capable of duplicating the best restaurant meals in our own kitchens.
In reality, however, this takes practice. You have to start small. It’s like practising to run a marathon. You begin training with shorter runs and increase the distance with time. The same principle applies here.
Ensure that the recipes you find are stored in an easy-to-access place. This could be a cookbook, a notebook, an app, .pdf documents on the laptop, bookmarked websites and so on.
Whatever works for you and makes your job of consistently referring to these recipes easier. We all work differently, so finding a method that works for you is crucial.
And, do not lose your favourite recipes.
If you make a recipe you love, save it for next time.
Meal prep can be daunting if week after week you’re having to search for new recipes.
Instead, it’s best to save recipes that you thoroughly enjoyed and use it again at a later time. You can either make the exact same thing again or tweak a few things. For example, modify the spices you use or select a new protein source to keep things new and exciting.
Contributing writer to JM Nutrition and Medical Doctor, Sarah Jabeen, saves all her recipes under a “Tried and Tested” note on her phone. Whenever she finds herself in a recipe rut, this list becomes her go-to.
Employing such strategies can go a long way in helping instil good meal prepping habits.
Refer to a friend or family member who seems to have meal planning and prepping down to a science. The ‘how to meal prep strategies and tips’ they share can pave the way for your own success.
Enlist the help of a nutrition coach, counsellor or registered dietitian to help you sort out meal and recipe planning, ensuring you have a nutritionally-balanced plan in order.
These nutrition experts possess a great deal of experience helping others instil meal-prepping habits. As such, they can help you navigate your way around the various tasks.
At JM Nutrition, for example, we have practitioners who assist with meal planning for new and expectant mothers, help gym-goers and athletes with meal prep, those who require assistance with prepping meals on account of dietary conditions or because they follow specialty diets, and many other meal plans.
Select Versatile Ingredients
One of the more important ‘how to meal prep’ strategies is to organize your meals around versatile ingredients. Such ingredients can be incorporated in various meals throughout the day, added to a wide range of dishes or have the ability to stand on their own.
Examples of such foods are eggs, quinoa, avocado, amongst others.
Prepping meals involves a good deal of preparation and organization.
It is important to organize your cupboards, pantry and fridge. Make sure you stock up on food staples that are readily available.
These include but are not limited to:
- nut butters,
- olive oils,
- balsamic vinegars,
- baking essentials,
- whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat or spelt pasta),
- canned items (watch the high sodium content though) or jars (tuna, tomato paste, tomatoes or tomato sauce, beans),
These goods also come in handy when you’re having an extremely busy week with long working hours. The last thing you want to do is to prepare an elaborate meal when you feel run down.
It’s equally important to organize your schedule for cooking, baking, prepping, looking for recipes and so on.
A Complete Checklist Of Pantry, Freezer and Refrigerator Essentials
Schedule Things In
We schedule in, and reserve time for, our haircuts and spa appointments, kids’ sporting events, dinners or movies out, fitness classes and workout sessions. Why not schedule meal planning and prepping?
You have to prioritize it and schedule it in. Otherwise you run the risk of not carrying out the task, especially when life gets busy.
Avoid meal planning on a whim, on the fly, if doing so is not an already firmly embedded habit.
Use A Food Log
When you implement a 7-day food log or journal, for example, you are able to effectively visualize all the meals for the week. Doing so can provide a good overview, ensuring that you have variety.
It can also ensure you’re not repeating certain meals (unless you want to) or that you’re not omitting certain foods or food groups that you want to include.
Invest In Food Storage Containers
This is certainly one of the more effective strategies for prepping meals.
Having many food containers of varying sizes on hand allows you to store meal staples or fully cooked meals in the fridge or freezer. Doing so is a great convenience, especially when making meals on a busy day.
Having pre-prepped or pre-cooked meals can save you a great deal of time. This way you will be more likely to cook at home rather than ordering take-out.
The Best Food Storage Containers
Portion Things Out
Some of the previously mentioned food containers on the market come with dividers. This allows portion control, if desired.
For example, you can portion out the macronutrients or simply keep your vegetables, carbs and protein source separated.
For some, food containers with compartments of varying sizes allow them to adhere to the balanced plate model.
Meal Prepping Tips & Strategies: The Grocery Shopping Stage
Make A Grocery List
An important part of prepping meals is being able to plan them effectively.
To do this, make a comprehensive list of groceries, including all the staples mentioned above. You can make the list using pen and paper, or use a simple grocery list app. The latter allows you to reuse the list as well as organize items in different ways.
There are many apps from which to choose. Here are the most popular grocery list apps today.
While at the grocery store, focus on the items on your list. Avoid making impulsive purchases and food products you don’t need.
And whatever you do, do not enter the grocery store when you’re hungry. Doing so can result in your grocery cart being overflowing with unnecessary items.
Do Much Of The Shopping At The Periphery Of The Grocery Store
The outside perimeter of the grocery store carries fresh fruits, vegetables, protein sources, grains and often nuts and seeds. These are the most important, and generally the most nutritious, food items.
The inside aisles, on the other hand, contain many packaged, processed and refined foods–the ones which we should purchase sparingly, if at all.
Of course, there are exceptions. You will find items such as spices, coffee, tea and other such food products on the inside, but much of the shopping should be conducted on the perimeter.
Buy In Bulk, But Beware
Buying food in bulk has its advantages.
It is usually the more cost effective method. Doing so also ensures that you have many foods, particularly the meal staples, always on hand.
That said, however, buying food in bulk can be a double-edged sword. Some studies show that the less of a product we have, the less likely we are to indulge in it because we don’t want to run out of it.
Conversely, we tend to throw caution to the wind and can indulge, if we are very well-stocked with the given food product.
For this reason it’s important to be mindful, gauge your own behaviour and act accordingly.
To make grocery shopping more efficient during busy times you can take advantage of online grocery shopping.
Once you make your online selections, you can pick up the groceries at the supermarket or have it delivered to your home.
Understandably, this service is not offered everywhere, but it is becoming increasingly widespread.
Related: How To Save Money On Groceries: A Comprehensive Guide
Meal Prepping Tips & Strategies: The Meal-Making Stage
Make One-Pot Dishes
Typically, one-pot dishes allow you to cook your protein source, vegetables and carbohydrates in the same pot. One-pot dishes can be an efficient way of cooking since you don’t have to attend to a few pots and pans while cooking.
The drawback, however, is that some one-pot dishes may take longer to cook.
Related: 50 Lazy One-Pot Dinners Ready In 30 Minutes
If you find the task of batch-cooking time consuming, select meals that do not take long to cook.
Many JM Nutrition clients report that when they batch cook, they have main meals that last them a few days. This could be quite an efficient way of operating, but it takes getting used to.
The challenge is finding a few hours during the week that can be devoted to cooking. But then again, it’s all about prioritizing.
If you happen to find batch cooking boring, then introduce the element of distraction or engagement. Listen to your favourite podcast, watch your favourite show or put on your favourite music. Any of these will make cooking more enjoyable.
When cooking, make extra servings that can be placed in containers. The leftovers can then be reheated and eaten the next day, perhaps even the day after.
Doing so on a Sunday, when most people tend to have more time, can be of great help on a busy Monday around dinner time.
Freeze Cooked Food
Another closely-related meal prepping tip is to store some cooked foods in the freezer. You can swiftly toss these frozen foods into a pot or on a skillet for a few minutes, and voila, you have a made meal on a day when you’re scrambling.
Keep Frozen Fruits And Vegetables On Hand
This is another effective ‘how to meal prep’ tip.
Having frozen fruits and vegetables can come in handy at any time. It can, however, be especially practical at breakfast time, when you’re rushing to get yourself or your kids out the door on time.
Blending a fruit smoothie consisting of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries with spinach, almond milk, a scoop or two of protein and some chia or flax seeds creates a quick and perfectly fulfilling breakfast.
Prepare Fruits And Vegetables In Advance
To eat healthy we need to make healthy food available at all times, in sight and within easy reach.
For this reason it’s good practice to wash, dice up and store fruits and vegetables for quick access. This is particularly important during times when you’re looking for a snack, perhaps a nutritious one, but you can’t find one without having to prepare it.
You can easily avoid this pitfall if you prepare fruits and vegetables well in advance.
Related: Eat More Vegetables: How To Introduce More Vegetables Into Your Diet
Adapt To Your Situation
If you don’t like cutting up or dicing up food, or don’t have the time to do so, buy fruits and vegetables that come already pre-cut and ready to be eaten. Do whatever works for you. Just be cognizant of the fact that anything pre-prepped is usually more expensive.
It’s easy to get bogged down by an elaborate list of food products and recipes. Before you know it, your grocery list is exhaustive, while your pantry is brimming with countless options. The agony of choice.
It’s best to keep things simple which, in turn, makes meal prepping that much easier.
For example, prep a few servings of one protein of your choice. This can be chicken, salmon or even chickpeas. By keeping a protein source readily available, you can serve it in numerous ways. You can toss it in a salad, bowl or sandwich.
This versatility allows you to be more efficient with your time, shaving off minute by minute from cooking and prepping every day. In the end, the stress is gone and you’re left with more time for other things.
Learn more about how to reduce stress with food and supplements.
Prep 1-2 Healthy Carbohydrates
This strategy parallels the protein prep one.
Having one or two nutrient-filled carbs on hand at all times can prevent from in indulgences in nutrient-devoid or highly refined carbohydrates.
This is a critical component for those aiming to adopt healthier habits, particularly those looking for weight loss.
Meal Prepping Tips & Strategies: Other How To Meal Prep Tips
Keep A Record
Prepping meals should also include some form of record-keeping, whether written or mental.
In a nutshell, keep track of what you eat, making notes of the meals you and family enjoy.
You can also make notes on how you can tweak the meals to make them better. Perhaps add an ingredient or two to the grocery list that you can pick up on your next trip to the supermarket.
Involve The Family
You can prepare and cook meals as a couple, with your kids or as a whole family.
Divvy up the various duties. This not only saves time, but it also allows everyone to take ownership of the meals that they are eating.
Plus, this can be an enjoyable experience, bringing the family members closer together. This is especially true in a world where the family structure has been eroded somewhat and we often lead separate lives.
Learn To Multitask
Multitasking is no doubt one of the most practical, time-saving ‘how to meal prep’ tips and strategies.
When you’re preheating the skillet, don’t sit around. Chop up some vegetables.
While food is being cooked, lay out plates, cutlery and/or food containers.
Timing and efficiency can shave many minutes off cooking or baking time. Add those up and you’re potentially saving hours of your time in a month.
Of course, being efficient takes practice, but it can be accomplished.
Meal prep definitely isn’t necessarily about planning every single one of your meals. Rather, it is about being clever and methodical about how you approach the process to make it work for you and your family. Because we lead busy lives, it is especially important to have efficient systems that help reach our health and wellness goals.
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