How to Meal Prep and Where to Start
When you know how to meal prep, your life becomes SO much easier! No more scrambling to put together breakfast in the morning or buying lunch out – stick to this weekly meal prep routine to save time and money!
How long does meal prep take?
When life gets hectic, staying organized with meal prep can really help.
It can seem overwhelming at first but when you learn how to prep ahead, you really cut down on the amount of time you spend cooking each week – I'm talking just one or two hours total including shopping time. You just need to learn how to make simple recipes that you're familiar with and are super easy, and if you've done some planning ahead then you can work much more efficiently.
Meal prep really doesn't have to be all that time consuming! With these tips and tricks, you'll know how to meal prep for the week without having to spend hours in the kitchen or at the grocery store.
Keep reading below to see my process – I have over ten years experience with this stuff! Read more about me on my About Page and learn how to use my website HERE.
Weekly Meal Prep Plan
If you're new to meal prep and need a plan to get started, you'll want to download my FREE 4-Week Meal Prep Plan below. It's going to give you 4 weeks of meals, 4 weeks of recipes, full meal prep plans to help you prep ahead for the week, all nutritional info, filled out grocery lists and more! Once you have your meal prep containers in hand, get the plan for what to cook!
How to Meal Prep
I always recommend that you start small when you first get into it. Try making one set of meal prep bowls or batch cook one large recipe in the slow cooker, Instant Pot or on a sheet pan to get your feet wet.
When I first started meal prepping, I often cooked one big recipe and packed it all up into meal prep containers to enjoy throughout the work week, and then I would get ingredients to make a simple, easy breakfast like steel cut oats or a smoothie in the morning.
As I got used to prepping ahead, I eventually started making a couple more recipes to add to the mix and I would eat those for lunches AND dinners. Nowadays I typically make 3-4 recipes a week total and try to repurpose leftovers to incorporate some more variety and ensure I don't get bored of what I'm eating.
I'm going to detail some more steps below to meal prepping with ease – it starts with the recipes you choose!
Make a “Master List” of recipes
When you're first starting out and are unsure of what to make, I like the concept of the “Master List” of recipes. I learned this informal process from my mom! Each week on Saturday morning, she would ask everyone in the house what their plans were for the week and take suggestions for dinner. From there, she'd go into her memory bank of favourite recipes, list out a couple we hadn't had in a while, then plug them into her meal plan, which was just a small piece of paper posted on the fridge each week.
What I suggest you do as a more formal process is start documenting the recipes you like and don't like, whether that's on paper in a notebook or through a blank Word doc on your computer. Odds are, you have at least 10 recipes you've made that you know are easy and you really enjoy.
Divide your list into “Recipes you like” and “Recipes you want to try”. That way you can try new things and actually put a plan in place to make them, and you can go with easy old favourites that will be sure to please and hopefully don't take too much time to make. That's what I call a “Master List” of recipes! Easy right?
Weekly Meal Prep Routine
There are 5 basic steps (plus one bonus step!) that I follow when I go to meal prep every week. Here they are listed below:
1) Choose 2-5 recipes from your Master List
I love to use Pinterest to organize my meal prep ideas (check out my boards) and then depending on my schedule that week, I'll go through and choose 2-5 recipes to make. These recipes usually double as lunches and dinners, then I just have easy breakfast items on hand because I personally often don't have time to prep breakfast – though it is a thing I have prepped in the past.
Start small, and then you can add on more recipes as you get comfortable batch cooking and meal planning. Even if you only make one recipe for your first week and take it for lunch, that's the start of a healthy habit!
2) Sit down and make your meal plan
Make the effort to sit down and plan at least once a week, even if you have to schedule that planning time into your calendar. Most people meal plan on a Saturday or Sunday morning, but all you really need is a quiet moment in your day. That could even be during your lunch break on a Thursday or Friday as you look ahead to see what's on your calendar for the following week. Just make sure to MAKE THE TIME.
From there, you'll add your recipes from your Master List into your meal plan. I have a free meal planner and shopping list for you to enjoy for free when you subscribe to my email list. You can subscribe here for a free Meal Prep Challenge where you can download your planner!
3) Go for groceries
Grocery shopping can seem like a huge chore but you just need to make your list efficiently, and shop during downtimes (think after work or during the evenings on weekends). I will often copy and paste ingredient lists for my recipes since I get most of my recipes online, and then I'll go through my kitchen striking items I already have off the list.
From there, you'll want to list your ingredients in order of the grocery store sections – group the meats, dairy, grains and produce together so you can whip in and out of the store efficiently.
4) Prep ingredients or batch cook
I usually batch cook breakfasts and lunches on Sundays and then leave dinners during the work week until after work.
Alternatively, you can have your dinner cooking all day in the slow cooker or speed things up by using your Instant Pot.
Freezer meals where you assemble all raw ingredients ahead of time and pull out to cook the day of can also be a great way of meal prepping ahead of time without having to do a bunch of cooking.
In either case, you'll either prep ingredients on the same day you do your groceries (cook meat, cook and shred chicken, cook rice/quinoa, chop veggies, etc.) so that it's faster to cook your weeknight dinners, or you'll want to batch cook entire meals ahead of time so all you have to do is reheat the day of.
You can also do a buffet style meal prep with prepped ingredients, and use those ingredients to make quick meals such as salads and pita pizzas. The way you choose to do your prep depends on how much time you have to cook that week, as well as personal preference. I often do a mix of both!
5) Store your food in the right containers
After you have cooked or prepped any ingredients for meals that you're going to cook later in the week, you'll want to store your food in the right containers. I have a list of my go-to meal prep containers below. HINT: you don't need a million different gadgets. Just some glass meal prep containers, freezer bags and round bowls will often do the trick!
6) BONUS: Repurpose leftovers
If you have time, I recommend that you try to get creative with your leftovers! I will usually do things like load up frozen fries with extra toppings, or make pita pizzas, salads, grilled cheeses, stews, curries and more with leftovers. There are so many options to turn your old food into something new!
What foods are best for meal prep?
Most foods are good for meal prep – pretty much anything can be made ahead of time and enjoyed at a later date.
The most important question to ask yourself before you meal prep food is if you will enjoy it 2-3 days from now. If you're making something that you believe will be unappetizing to you after a couple days, it's a good indicator that it's not good for your personal meal prep.
How long will your meal preps last?
You can typically expect most meal prep recipes to last for 3-5 days. It does depend on the ingredients used though. Here's a general guide:
- Meats and chicken have about a 5 day shelf life
- Spinach and lettuce starts to brown after 3-4 days unless you add them separately
- Any sauces or salad dressings (see my 5 homemade salad dressing recipes here) will last for a couple weeks up to a couple months
- Any food you freeze (soups, stews, pastas and certain curries freeze best) will typically last up to 3 months – check out my dump dinners here, which are perfect for the freezer
- Homemade snacks such as protein balls will last for 1-2 months in the fridge as well.
Meal Prep Containers & Tools
Now of course once you've mastered your own meal prep routine and figured out what you're going to do, you want to make sure you have the proper gear to store it all!
Here are my go-to meal prep containers:
- Glass square meal prep bowls are stackable and perfect for microwaving your food safely
- Mason jars are perfect for salad because the lettuce stays separated from sauces
- Salad containers are another awesome option for keeping your greens and proteins separated so nothing gets soggy
- The Instant Pot DUO Plus 60 is the pressure cooker I own
- Crock pots are so great for make-ahead meals
- Ziploc bag holder (in case you're making some freeze ahead recipes)
- Hello Fresh also has some AWESOME recipes if you're looking to also get your groceries delivered to your door..and they will give you $30 off your first purchase too!
- I love my Vitamix blender – it whips up giant batches of delicious sauces for my meal prep bowls in a hurry
- My Rice Cooker lets me cook all my rice, quinoa & other grains ahead of time
- These Bento box containers are perfect for packing snacks and lunches together!
- Restock your freezer with grass-fed beef and free-range poultry from Butcher Box – and for a limited time get two free ribeyes and bacon!
Meal Prep Recipes
I love freezer-friendly and make-ahead ideas for breakfast like some of these ideas below:
- Oatmeal cups
- Freezer-friendly breakfast taquitos
- Instant oatmeal with berries
- Make-ahead mini breakfast pizzas
- Granola and yogurt
- Mini egg bites
- Pumpkin protein pancakes
- Make ahead egg white frittata
I love batch cooking my lunches in the form of meal prep bowls and dinner leftovers also make good lunches. Here are some of my fave lunch recipes:
- Sheet pan buddha bowls
- Fiesta chicken and rice meal prep
- Meatball meal prep
- Buffalo chicken wrap
- Sheet pan Greek chicken meal prep bowls
- Chickpea salad mason jars
Dinner can be tough to prepare ahead of time but sometimes you can make freezer-friendly recipes or have food ready to dump into the crockpot. Here are some great ideas below:
- Sheet pan dinners
- Instant Pot dinners
- Freezer meals, like this chicken pasta bake I store in the freezer in individual serving sizes
- Crock Pot freezer meals
- Easy flatbreads with store-bought pizza shells
And that's it!
Meal prep can be pretty simple right?!
More meal prep resources
Looking for more meal prep recipes and resources? You'll love these articles – they're filled with recipes to help you get started with your meal planning!
- 20 EASY HEALTHY MEAL PREP LUNCH IDEAS FOR WORK
- 15 BREAKFAST MEAL PREP IDEAS FOR BUSY MORNINGS!
- 15 HEALTHY SLOW COOKER RECIPES FOR MEAL PREP
- 17 ONE PAN SKILLET RECIPES FOR EASY WEEKNIGHT DINNERS