Meal prepping is one of the hottest trends for home cooks. And rightfully so – it’s a total game-changer for managing your diet!
If you’re looking to improve your health, save time and money, reduce food waste, and have your meals for the week ready in one day, meal prepping is the way to go.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the simple step-by-step process to get you up and going with meal prep.
With this beginner’s guide to meal prep, you’ll have all the information you need to get started with making a full week of meals from meal prepping.
What Is Meal Prepping?
Meal prepping is simply cooking meals or parts of meals ahead of time. Typically those meals are portioned out into individual containers that make them convenient grab-and-go meals later in the week. In addition to making a meal convenient, the portioning process also allows you to decide how many calories or what nutritional value goes into each meal. Most meal preppers will batch cook 3-7 days of food at a time.
What Are the Benefits of Meal Prepping?
There are SO many benefits to meal prepping. Here are some of the top reasons to join the meal-prepping craze.
- You’ll improve the quality and variety of your diet.
- You’re more likely to reach your dietary goals.
- You’ll prevent overeating.
- You’ll become more informed about nutrition.
- You’ll lose weight and prevent obesity.
- You’ll save money.
- You’ll save time.
- You’ll reduce food waste.
- You’ll improve your emotional and mental health.
Whether you’re looking to lose weight, bulk up, or make life easier, meal prepping can help.
What Are the Best Foods for Meal Prep?
The best foods to meal prep:
- Store and reheat well
- Work in multiple recipes
- And it tastes good!
If you don’t like a particular food, cooking it in bulk is probably not the best idea. Focus on simple recipes that you feel comfortable cooking. In fact, a great way to start meal prepping is doubling your favorite recipe and freezing half for later!
For meal prep ideas, here are some great options for meal prepping ingredients:
- Whole grains: brown rice, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, sprouted bread
- Fruits: mangos, bananas, apples, oranges, peaches, berries
- Vegetables: peppers, cauliflower (and cauliflower rice), broccoli, butternut squash, carrots
- Leafy greens: spinach, lettuce, kale
- Starches: winter squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes
- Lean proteins: chicken, eggs, fish, ground turkey, Greek yogurt, tofu
- Pulses: black beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas
- Seeds and nuts: chia seeds, flax seeds, almonds, cashews
- Fats: salad dressing, avocados
When grocery shopping, buy fresh, frozen, and canned foods, so you have a variety. Buying in bulk will also help you save money.
As you develop a meal prep routine, you’ll find that your pantry and freezer stay stocked with many meal prepping staples. This makes planning and cooking easier from week to week. So, if you feel like you’re investing in new items to get started, hold onto them for next week! Meal prepping builds to save you more and more time and money as the weeks go by.
What Tools and Supplies Do You Need?
If you’re just starting meal prep, keep it simple. All you need to give meal prepping a try is your basic cooking equipment and some quality storage containers.
As meal prepping becomes part of your weekly routine, here are a few items that make meal prepping easy peasy.
- A sheet pan for all-in-one sheet-pan meals and for roasting vegetables
- Quality knives for cutting meat and veggies
- Silicone baking mats for roasting and baking
- Large pots and pans for batch cooking
- A cutting board for cutting meat and veggies
- Meat thermometer for easy meat cooking
- Plastic containers and glass meal prep containers in a variety of sizes to prep and store your food
If you feel really comfortable in the kitchen and want to invest in some helpful appliances, here are a few pricier items that are worth considering. Again, these are NOT required to get started. But if you’re looking to level up or if you have these appliances already, they can definitely make prepping easier.
- Air fryer
- Instant pot
- Second freezer
When it comes to meal prep for beginners, keep it simple and start with what you have. This hobby can certainly grow over time. But to get started, focus on establishing a meal prep routine with the items currently in your kitchen.
How to Cook Meals for a Week?
Start SMALL. This is so important. Meal prepping can be a lifestyle change, and if you take on too much too quickly, you’ll likely lose motivation.
Begin by doubling a recipe, making a large breakfast casserole to last throughout the week, or individually portioning a week of snacks.
After a successful week or two of prepping a few meals ahead of time, try tackling a full week of meals. Many meal preppers develop a routine of only cooking once or twice a week to cover all their meals!
Here’s a basic guide to get you started:
Step 1: Meal Plan
Make a menu. Write out which meals and days you’d like for meal prep. Choose meals that are easy to cook, taste good reheated, and you can cook in bulk. Most people meal prep over the weekend, but the goal is to find a day that’s convenient for your schedule. Plan on a few hours in the kitchen.
As a beginner, it’s a great idea to repeat the same meal several times throughout the week. This gives you more meals with less cooking time.
For a healthy meal, shoot for a balance of complex carbs, lean protein, fruits, veggies, and healthy fat.
If you’re wanting to count calories, you can map all of that detail out for each meal while you create your plan. Meal prepping can be very successful without focusing on calorie count, but the beauty of meal prepping is that you can completely customize it to your own goals and preferences!
So, whether you pull out a pencil and paper or you keep your plan in a spreadsheet, detailing the what and when is an important first step to getting you ready for cooking.
Step 2: Shop
Before you head out to the grocery store, check your fridge, freezer, and pantry for items you already have. Then make a shopping list to fill in the gaps.
One of the benefits of meal prepping is eliminating those mid-week grocery runs. If you plan well, you should be able to grab everything you need in one stop. For another benefit of meal prep, you’ll save money by buying items in bulk – especially when they’re on sale.
Step 3: Cook
Prepare meals according to the recipe. If you’re not king of the kitchen just yet, use simple recipes to get started. You’ll find your confidence grows from week to week as you try new recipes and techniques. The Fit Men Cook Youtube channel is a great way to have support in the kitchen as you get started!
Where possible, batch cook ingredients. You can also chop veggies and fruits for easy snacking throughout the week. As a beginner, stick to just a few recipes at a time so cooking doesn’t become complicated. If you’re spending more than 2-3 hours in the kitchen, then it’s time to simplify your menu.
Step 4: Store
Package up your food for the fridge and freezer. Remember to use microwave-safe containers if you plan on popping the meal straight into the microwave later in the week. Make sure your containers are airtight to keep your food fresh throughout the week. While some meal preppers store each food item or meal in its own container and then dish meals later, we’d recommend portioning out your meals into individual containers right away. The buffet style of meal prepping dirties more dishes and takes away some of the convenience of the grab-and-go meal. To maximize the benefit of portion control, measure out and store individual meals so you’re ready for the week.
That’s it! Four simple steps to get you started. Meal prepping isn’t complicated, it just takes a bit of planning ahead. If you’re ready to make meal prep work for you, get started with these popular recipes!
Meal Prep FAQ
Lingering questions? Here are answers to the frequently asked questions about meal prep to help you feel confident as you get started.
How Long Do Meal Prep Meals Last in the Fridge?
The general rule of thumb is 4 days, when stored properly. Some foods can last longer. But if you want to prep food far in advance, consider using the freezer to extend the storage of your meals.
How Do You Store Your Meal Prep?
Let the food cool down to room temperature and then portion meals out into airtight containers. Glass, plastic, and metal containers are all great for meal prep. But if you’re storing food that will need to be reheated later in the week, consider that when selecting your container.
Which Days are Best for Meal Prep?
The best days for meal prep are the days that work for you! Most preppers tend to cook on the weekend and then again midweek. So a Saturday-Wednesday combo would be a good fit to keep your fridge stocked with goodness. If you don’t want to cook multiple times, consider freezing portions of your meal prep for longer storage.
How Do You Figure Out Portion Size?
This may take a bit of trial and error. Your portions will depend on your body size, body type, and health goals. Once you figure out how much food you need, focus on the ratios: 1 part protein, 1 part carb, 4 parts fruits and veggies. You do NOT need to count calories to achieve your health goals with meal prep. Once you get into a rhythm, you should be able to eyeball portion sizes within your containers. Again, just experiment and find what works for you.
How Do You Reheat Meal Prep?
Away from home, feel free to pop your container in the microwave. Some foods reheat better than others, but a minute or two in the microwave should be all you need to bring your meal back to life. When you’re at home, you’ll find better results by reheating in the oven or on the stovetop. But if that’s too much work, the microwave is great at home as well.
What are Overnight Oats?
One of the most popular breakfast meal prep foods is overnight oats. If you’re an oatmeal fan, it’s like regular oatmeal. The main difference is that the oats soak up liquid overnight instead of cooking. We prefer bulk cooking our oats with this protein oats instant pot recipe, though. Give both methods a try and see what you prefer.
How Long Does it Take to Meal Prep?
This depends on how many meals you’re making and how many people you’re cooking for. A week of lunches and dinners for two adults can take about 2 hours. Add breakfast or a really diverse menu and you could make it to 3 hours.
Should I Meal Prep If I Don’t Want to Repeat the Same Meals?
Absolutely! Repeating meals is convenient, but if that bores you then don’t do it. You can make a few individual meals ahead of time and still experience the benefits of meal prepping. You may want to use the freezer more in your meal prep routine so you can still batch cook and eat it at a later date instead of on back-to-back days.
Meal Prep Recipes to Get Started
Here are some of our most popular meal prep recipes this year to get you started prepping.
High-Protein Breakfast Casserole
Need a low-carb, high-protein breakfast? You KNOW you’re starting the day off right with 34g of protein, 329 calories, and just 15g of carbs. With just one batch of this delicious casserole, you’ll have breakfast covered for the entire week.
World’s Tastiest Chicken, Brown Rice & Broccoli
Chicken, brown rice, and broccoli are main ingredients in many healthy meals. This recipe packs a flavorful punch that tastes great while keeping you full. If you’re looking to batch cook a meal that you can eat throughout the week without getting sick of it, this is your new go-to!
Crispy Pork & Rice
When you can’t make it to the store for a few more days, you probably have what you need for this meal on hand. If you don’t want to eat pork, use chicken! Not only does this recipe rely on pantry staples to make it convenient, it’s also so delicious that it hit our top 5 list for this year.
Easy Coconut Fish
If you haven’t tried cooking with fish before, this is a great recipe to get you started. Fish is an excellent source of protein. The creamy sauce keeps the fish from drying out and helps reduce the fishy smell.
Pr-Oat-Ein Breakfast Cookies
Eat these cookies for breakfast, snacks, or dessert – they’re that good! With extra protein and fiber, these guilt-free cookies can help you curb your sweet tooth. They also freeze great, so you can make large batches.
You now have everything you need to meal prep!
- Start small – experiment with prepping a single meal or two using recipes you’re already familiar with.
- Cook foods you’ll enjoy – you’re more likely to stick with any diet change if the food tastes great!
- Start with a plan – knowing what you want to eat and making sure you have the ingredients will save you multiple trips to the store.
- Batch meals – eat the same meal a few times a week to cut down on cooking.
- Have fun! – whether you’re new to cooking or you’re a home chef, developing new skills in the kitchen is a lot of fun.
For more meal prep tips and recipes, check out our food blog at fitmencook.com.