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January 16, 2023

Meal Prepping 101: Getting Started with Meal Prep

by Mindy McCullough, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES

It’s 6pm on a Tuesday, and you need dinner on the table fast.  You have no leftovers in the fridge or options in the freezer, so you find yourself contemplating a takeout order or a drive-thru run.  If you find yourself constantly in a similar situation and are frustrated with this never-ending cycle of “what’s for dinner?”, then meal prepping could be a great solution for you.

What is Meal prepping?

Meal prepping is the process of planning and preparing meals.  There are a wide variety of ways to meal prep, and it is about finding the right method for you.  Some examples are below.

Full Meals: Entire meals can be made ahead of time and then reheated for use later.  These meals can be pre-portioned for quick grab and go options as needed.

Batch-cooking: Involves cooking a batch of meal staples, such as grains, chicken, oatmeal, roasted vegetables, etc. These batch items can then be used throughout the week to make varied meals like a quick chicken salad, stir fry, or grain bowl with minimal effort.

Ready to eat or cook ingredients: Produce can be washed, chopped, and stored in the fridge.  Having prepped ingredients for a meal or snack can be a huge time saver.

How do I get started?

Step 1: Identify your needs

Before you start chopping, dicing, and cooking consider the needs of you or your household.

What meals are a struggle?

At dinner time are you always grabbing takeout? 

Do you skip breakfast because you don’t have time in the morning?

Are you often scrounging the breakroom for a snack because you forgot to pack one? 

Asking yourselves these questions before jumping in can help you identify your priorities.

Step 2: Plan

Choose your meals and snacks for the week.  Tried and true recipes are a great place to start.  To add variety, try finding a new recipe a few times a month to add to your meal prep rotation. Create a grocery list and pick your shopping day.

When creating a grocery list, you can use pen and paper, notes on your phone, or even an app.  Using your phone and app-based grocery lists can be convenient as your items are saved so you do not have to start the list from scratch every week.  See below for some suggested apps for organizing your shopping list.

Grocery Store Apps – allow you to create a list, view weekly sales flyers, clip virtual coupons, and locate items at your store.

Mealime – Find recipes that fit your personalized meal plan and include nutrition content of the meal. A grocery list will be populated based on the meals you choose.

AnyList – Collect and organize your recipes in one place.  Create and share your grocery list with other members of your household for free.

Out of Milk- Create shared grocery lists, to do lists, and more.

Step 3: Execute

Before jumping into the kitchen, make sure to create a game plan.  Organize your plan based on cooking time. For example, you want to roast an entire chicken in the oven to use for meals/lunches that week.  Start with the chicken, since it will need to cook for about 2 to 3 hours based on size.  Then while the chicken is roasting, you can prepare cooked grains and chop/dice raw vegetables that you plan on using for meals and snacks throughout the week.


Meal Planning sample menus:

Menu 1:

  • Breakfast for 5 days: Overnight oats with plain Greek yogurt + berries + ½ ounce of walnuts
  • Lunches for 5 days: Side salad with raw vegetables + oil/vinegar dressing + lentil chili with lean ground beef
  • Dinner for 2-3 days: Chicken stir-fry over brown rice with frozen stir-fry vegetables
  • Dinner for 2-3 days: Chicken parmesan over Barilla high protein pasta + zoodles + a side of steamed broccoli
  • 1 Snack per Day for 5 days:
    • 3 Days: 1 small apple + 14 almonds
    • 2 days: 2 cups plain popcorn + 1 cheese stick
  • Dessert for 2 days: Dark chocolate Ghirardelli square

Menu 2:

  • Breakfast: Egg + veggie muffin cups (prepared ahead of time and can be frozen if needed)
  • Lunch for 5 days: Tuna pasta salad served over greens (make ahead for the week)
  • Dinner:
    • Pre-cook 1 to 2 cups of brown rice/quinoa/barley
    • Roast 2 to 4 cups of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus
    • Make 1 to 2 servings of dried beans
  • Snacks:
    • Pre-cut carrots and celery.  Portioned hummus into containers for quick grab and go.
    • Purchase pre-portioned guacamole packs. Portion 4 to 6 Triscuits into containers for the week.


Tip – Ways to Avoid Food Waste

Now that you have prepped your food for the week let’s make sure none of it goes to waste.

1. Date your food, so you know what needs to be eaten first.

2. Make the most of your freezer!

*Most cooked proteins and grains can be frozen for later use

3. Extend the life of your raw vegetables:

*Cooking them can extend the shelf life another couple of days

*Celery can be stored in water to make it crisp again

*Many vegetables and greens can be blanched (quick boil) and frozen

4. Consider if someone else would appreciate the food.


Want help creating a meal prepping plan?  Avance Care Nutrition’s team of registered dietitians would be happy to help you start your journey.  Book online at

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