THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO MEAL PREP
With the New Year just beginning many of us are looking to improve our nutrition and try to eat healthier. I wanted to write a guide to assist individuals looking to begin meal prepping who might be new to the idea. Consistency is key for any diet or lifestyle changes so it is imperative that you find strategies to make adherence as easy as possible. Bland and ineffective meal prepping is a good way to fall off the wagon. I want to make sure that you have a resource available to answer any questions you might encounter.
Why meal prep?
Meal prepping is one of the easiest ways to maintain a diet. Having already prepared meals in your refrigerator will do wonders for your nutrition. Humans are creatures of convenience. We are hardwired to take the easy route and our nutrition is no exception. Many of us struggle to eat healthy because many nutritious foods require some form of preparation to be edible. Many people resort to snack foods because they are ready to eat right from the bag. Increasing the availability of healthy food in your house will increase the ease of making the right choices. If you keep healthy meals in your fridge, you will eat them. Meal prepping makes calorie counting exponentially easier. Because you are making the same food for multiple meals you only need to calculate calories and macronutrients one time. Meal prepping is also a great way to save money. If you are someone who is prone to eating out instead of cooking then meal prepping might be a solution for you. Meal prepping makes it possible for you to have prepared meals on the ready while only cooking once or twice a week. The “I don’t feel like cooking” excuse holds less merit. Lunch time at work is also a common problem area. Going out for lunch on your work days can get expensive. Saving time can be another benefit stemming from meal prepping. Cooking only one or two times a week drastically cuts down on your time in the kitchen. That means you only have dishes to clean once or twice a week as well. Let’s face it, many of us don’t want to stand in front of a stove for 30 minutes when we get home from work or school.
Before you begin any meal prepping it is important that you have high quality containers for you to store your food in. You want your food to stay fresh as long as possible while it is being stored in the refrigerator. Your container of choice should follow these guidelines:
I would not recommend purchasing any container that does not follow these five guidelines at a minimum. It will make your life much easier. A quick search on Amazon for meal prep containers will return just under 2,000 results. I use a generic brand 28oz black plastic container and I have no problems with freshness for up to a week. If you can spend a bit more money then I would buy glass containers. They will last longer and will likely be more air-tight than their plastic counterparts. Whatever container you choose to purchase, buy at least 10 so you have one for lunch and dinner for each day of the work week.
Cooking multiple meals at once will take a bit of cookware if you want to use time and kitchen space as efficiently as possible. The absolute essentials for meal prep are the following:
1 large skillet
1 chef’s knife
1 cutting board
1 large pot
1 roasting pan or cookie sheet
Ideally you will have a collection of cookware of different sizes but you can make do with the list above. It is nice to have a separate cutting board for vegetables and meat or multiple skillets to cook more than one thing at once but it is not mandatory. Having a high quality, sharp knife will make your cutting easier and safer. If you are interested in cooking and will continue to prepare meals, I highly suggest making a small investment in a well crafted chef’s knife. Your knife is your best friend in the kitchen and a good one will stay with you for years. Again, search on Amazon for an 8-inch chef’s knife and you will get hundreds of results. Find one with great reviews and you’ll be set. I also recommend purchasing a small kitchen scale. It will run you about 10 dollars but it is the most precise way to get accurate calorie counts.
Shopping and Preparation
Now that you have everything you need to begin meal prepping, it is time to start your preparation. Getting in a routine will help you stick to your nutritional goals and make things run more smoothly. Pick a day of the week that you designate for meal prepping. Most people choose Sunday because it is the beginning of the work week and a day off of work or school for many. Come up with a plan of what recipes you are looking to prepare before anything else. Your recipes are the most important part of meal prepping. You have to find recipes for meals that taste great and will store well in the refrigerator for up to a week. Planning out your recipes will make sure you don’t forget anything during your grocery trip and won’t leave you wandering around the store searching for something to make. Have a plan and stick to it, it will save you time. If you want to be extremely efficient you can go as far as to planning out your stove space and cutting board assignments. You can strategically plan your recipes so that you utilize the oven and stove top in the most efficient way possible to save you even more time. I don’t go that far into it but if you are looking to save as much time as possible, take this into consideration. Another important note is to wash dishes as you go. When you have downtime and don’t have to babysit what is cooking, wash any dish that you can. Read over your recipes and start whatever takes the longest to cook first. Once you get that started you can begin washing and cutting vegetables and preparing other portions of your meals. If you are new to cooking, cutting vegetables will probably be the most time consuming step for you. Use YouTube as a resource to learn knife skills with different vegetables. Once you become more efficient with the knife, you will drastically cut down your kitchen time. Keep in mind that you are going to cook your meals in the microwave again before you eat them. You absolutely do not want to overcook your food before this point. You will kill the food and make it inedible upon reheating. You obviously don’t want to eat undercooked meat so there is a fine line you walk but with practice you will learn where that line is.
Once all of your meals are cooked, evenly portion them out into your containers so you know the calorie and macronutrient values of each. Let them cool before you put the lids on and refrigerate them because you don’t want to steam the food in the container. Keep your meals in a cold part of your fridge where they are unlikely to be disturbed. The meals should last up to a week without issue. I recommend eating meals within 5 days to preserve a bit more freshness. Freezing meals is also a possibility. When freezing meals it becomes even more important to make the seal on your container as airtight as possible. You do not want freezer burn on your meals. Wrapping each container in freezer plastic wrap will assist with this. Meals in the freezer can last a few months.
Sweet Potato Hash and Eggs
Sweet Potato and Zucchini Hash with Kielbasa Sausage and Hard Boiled Eggs
Almond Butter Waffles/Pancakes with Blueberries
Sausage and Spinach Quiche
Bacon and Egg Muffin Cups
- Chicken Burrito Bowls
- Coconut Chicken Curry
- Loaded Meatloaf and Green Beans
- Meatballs with Homemade Bolognese
- Stuffed Bell Peppers
- Chicken Enchiladas
- Sweet Potato Chili
Meal prepping can be the easiest way for you to move towards a healthier lifestyle. Having already prepared meals that are tasty and nutrient dense in your refrigerator will do wonders for your body. If you prepare healthy meals and focus on adherence, you will succeed. The hardest part about gaining health and losing weight is eating right. I can't stress enough the importance of creating high quality meals that you want to eat. Stop meal prepping bland chicken, rice, and broccoli. It will never work because it is not sustainable. Find recipes that are full of color, flavor, and nutrients and it is all downhill from there. If you have any questions about meal prepping at all, do not be afraid to ask! You can engage with us on social media or by clicking "Contact Us." All of these links are available just below!
Thank you and I wish you all the best in the New Year,
The Meal Prep Manual