By Avance Care Dietetic Intern Megan Sieprawski, DTR
If you’re thinking about taking charge of your health in 2020, meal prepping may be the perfect place to start. At its core, meal prepping is making some, or all, of your meals ahead of time. This can be intimidating if you don’t know where to start, but this guide will give you the boost you need to become a “prepper!”
Benefits of Meal Prepping
Making larger batches of the same meal that you can eat throughout the week will save you from spending time cooking every day. You can also prep and freeze entire meals, preparing yourself for busy weeks in the future.
Having meals ready to eat from home will cut down on the amount of money spent eating out, can be cheaper than buying pre-made frozen meals, and allows you to select recipes based on weekly sales at the grocery store.
You get to be in control of using the ingredients you enjoy, but it also allows you to plan healthier options compared to what you might be faced with when eating out or purchasing pre-made items.
When we eat out, the meal we are served is often enough for 2 or 3 portions, but with meal prepping you can plan out a balanced, healthy option for one serving or you can select a recipe with a designated number of servings (e.g. 4 servings/recipe) and divide into portions ahead of time.
The Five Easy Steps to Start Meal Prepping
1. Plan your grocery trips
First write down what meals you want to make for the week, as well as the ingredients you will need for each recipe. If you usually use coupons, check the weekly ads for inspiration from the sales. It may also help to take inventory of what you have on hand in the fridge and pantry before you shop. Once you’ve selected recipes and listed ingredients that aren’t already available in your home, organize your grocery list by the sections of the store where the items are found (e.g. produce, meat, dry goods, etc.). Coming up with a structured plan before hitting the store will prevent you from buying items you don’t need and that may steer you away from your goals. This planning can also make trips to the store quicker and give you back some valuable time in your day.
2. Plan your prep
Some people have Sundays free and can do a week’s worth of meal prep in one day. Others have shorter blocks of time throughout the week to prep two or three days ahead. Maybe you lie somewhere in between. Do what works best with your schedule! Some people like the accountability of blocking off dedicated days and times each week for meal prep, while others prefer to work around their schedules as it changes. Meal prep will look different for everyone and that’s okay.
3. Don’t overthink it
Meals don’t have to be complicated or look like something from a Top Chef. One-pan or one-pot meals are a great way to cook in bulk. Focusing on recipes with 10 ingredients or less can also be a great way to simplify your meals. You can even choose recipes for the same week with overlapping ingredients to save time and money reduce food waste! For example, southwest grain bowls and a Mediterranean-inspired salad could both have bell peppers, onions, beans and chicken. Another idea to gradually ease into becoming a meal prepper, is to try doubling up on the size of the recipes you are already making to have leftovers this week or toss in the freezer for a future pre-prepped meal.
4. Freeze what you aren’t going to eat in the first few days
Meal prep can work in many ways, from making a big batch of a food you enjoy and then portioning it into Tupperware containers for individual meals to cooking all of your meat for the week ahead of time so that you only have to worried about side dishes after work. No matter how you meal prep, the freezer is a great way to save food that won’t be eaten right after you prepare it. If you are doing the bulk of your prepping on one day, keep the first half of the portioned-out meals for the following days in the fridge. Freeze the other half of those meals for the last half of the week. Pull out the next day or two worth of meals the night before. Most foods freeze much better than you might think! Exceptions to freezing might include salad greens, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers, all of which have a high-water content.
5. Invest in some packaging you are excited to show off
Buying some new food storage containers can be the extra push you need to get started. There are lots of choices out there, but they do not have to break the bank. There are very affordable plastic containers, even at a dollar store. If you are using a less microwave-friendly plastic version for storage, simply transfer food from the container and reheat on a plate when it comes time. Some people prefer glass options or BPA-free plastic that will hold up longer and prevent the risk of transferring trace chemicals. These containers tend to be slightly more expensive. DON’T let your food storage container budget hold you back from beginning though. DO choose containers that are: 1) clear, in order to see its contents, 2) airtight for safe freezer storage, 3) stackable for utilizing your fridge and freezer space.
Remember that everyone starts somewhere! You don’t have to prep a whole week, a whole day, or a whole meal at once. Start small by making a double portion of something you’re already cooking to save in the freezer, or by cooking one extra protein, starch, or vegetable on the weekend.