Meal Prepping or Meal Prep for the week ahead is the best strategy to help you eat healthy throughout the week, however busy your life may be (and as a mom, I’m sure you are pretty busy!). Meal Prep has so many benefits for your health, your time, and your budget that you should definitely try to make it a habit. I know there is so much information out there on meal prep, that it might be daunting, especially if you are a beginner. So, before I show you how to meal prep for the week, let’s address some common questions about meal prepping.
What is Meal Prep?
Meal Prep (or Meal Prepping) is the concept of preparing whole meals or ingredients for a meal (or snack) ahead of schedule. Usually, people meal prep on one day (e.g. on Sunday) to have pre-prepared meals for the next several days (e.g. Monday to Friday).
What are the ways of Meal Prepping?
There are various types of meal prep, therefore you can choose the method that works best for you and your family. The most popular ways to prep your meals are:
- Prepping the Ingredients that you need for your meals (e.g. chop, peel, slice, roast, shred, bake, cook your veggies, meat, fish, starch etc). This way you can combine these ingredients for healthy recipes in just minutes and minimize your cooking time in the kitchen.
- Cooking Full Meals in advance, that you can refrigerate and reheat in time for dinner or lunch.
- Cooking Big Batches of a specific recipe, that you can freeze and eat later on (e.g. in the next couple of months).
- Portioning Individual Meals into containers ahead of time so you can easily grab and go for work, school, etc.
Of course, you can mix and match the above meal prep methods for any meal, according to your eating goals and weekly routine.
What is the difference of Meal Prep vs. Meal Plan?
Meal planning is the process of planning out your meals for the forthcoming days. It’s basically deciding what to eat for breakfast, snacks, lunch, and dinner, selecting the recipes, creating the shopping list, shopping for the necessary ingredients, and finally prepping the food.
Meal Prep is the step that puts your meal plan into action by preparing the ingredients and/or meals for the week ahead.
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What are the Benefits of Meal Prepping?
Meal Prep is a process that can bring so many benefits to your life, once you develop it into a habit and practice it consistently. More specifically, meal prepping can:
- save you time in the kitchen, whatever meal prep method you choose to follow.
- save you money, since you can buy ingredients in bulk, freeze extra food for later, and eat out less often.
- help you manage your portion sizes and control the ingredients you put in your meals.
- reduce your stress on “what to cook for dinner” or “what to eat today”.
- bring variety to your meals, by mixing ingredients and trying new recipes.
- make grocery shopping much easier, by knowing exactly what you need to buy for your weekly meals.
- help you stop wasting food, by utilizing all of your ingredients for the week and repurposing leftovers.
Overall, Meal Prep can help you get in full control over your meals, free up your time for yourself and your family, and follow through (and stay consistent) with your health and weight-loss goals.
How can Meal Prep help you Lose Weight?
In order to lose weight and be in shape, you have to eat healthily and exercise. Meal Prep can help you meet your personal dietary needs, whether you are following a specific diet (e.g. Keto, Atkins, etc.) or just want to eat more wholesome and homemade foods.
With Meal Prep you prepare your meals or the necessary ingredients according to the meal plan that you have set out. This way you have all the healthy options on hand and don’t need to grab any last-minute unhealthy food. You get to spend less time in the kitchen, so this makes it easier to stay consistent with prepping your desired healthy foods. By portioning out the meals in containers, you can also control the calories and nutrition in your meals.
This way you are able to stick to your healthy eating goals and lose weight, whether you eat your meal at home or you need ready-to-go food for work, school, etc.
How to Meal Prep for the Week
Meal Prep is the action step of Meal Planning. In order to get started with meal prep, you must outline a meal plan for the week, for yourself or the whole family. In order to come up with a solid meal plan, you must take into account your healthy eating goals, your food preferences as well as your schedule and activities during the week.
If you want to start small, think of the meal that you struggle the most with during the week (e.g. dinner) and plan for this alone. As you get into the habit of meal prepping, you can expand your meal plan to cover all the meals of the week.
Make a big list of easy recipes (Master List) that you or your family really enjoy. This will help you when you are unsure of what to make or don’t have time to try new recipes. Visit your favorite food blogs, Pinterest, or download a meal prep app in order to get inspiration about healthy recipes. You can also look into a cookbook (the traditional option!).
If your family has specific eating traditions (e.g. pizza on Fridays, eating out on Sunday), incorporate them into your meal plan.
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Weekly Meal Prep Routine
With the above in mind, let’s get started with your weekly meal prep routine:
- Pick a Day (or Days) for Meal Prep. Sunday is a good day to meal prep for the whole week, but you can also meal prep mid-week, on Wednesday, if you want to include the weekend in your schedule. Make sure to reserve a couple of hours on your meal prep day, in order to prep the food and clean the kitchen!
- Make your Meal Plan. Meal Planning is the foundation of meal prep. Write down the meals you want to have during the week and specify which ones you are going to prep ahead or have the ingredients prepared upfront. You can plan the meals for the whole week, for half the week, for specific days, or even specific meals (e.g. dinners only). Use your master list of recipes for easy go-to meals and incorporate any new recipes you would like to try.
- Make a Shopping List. Once you have finished your meal plan, check your fridge, freezer, and pantry for any ingredients you may already have at home. Afterward, calculate the quantities of the products that you need to buy (depending on the servings you have planned) and write down your shopping list.
- Do your Grocery Shopping. When you decide on your meal prep day (or days), it’s important to have your meal plan ready a couple of days sooner, so that you have enough time to do your grocery shopping. You can do your grocery shopping yourself at the store, or order the products online and have them delivered to you.
- Meal Prep. Do the actual meal or ingredients preparation. Start with the foods that need the most time to prep/cook and organize yourself in the kitchen by using all available cooking appliances (oven, stovetop, instant pot, slow cooker, etc.). A Meal Prep Checklist will help you line out the steps you need to follow.
- Store your food. Once you have finished preparing your food (meals or ingredients), store it in the right containers and place it in your fridge or freezer. Choosing the right food storage containers will make your prepared ingredients or meals stay fresh longer and taste better.
- Clean the Kitchen. When you are all done, make sure to clean the kitchen and give yourself a treat! Well done!
How long will meal-prepped food last?
One basic concern of people who meal prep for the week is how long the foods they prepare are safe to consume and tasty. There is no specific answer to this question, as it depends on the ingredients in each meal. In general, though, most meals are good (safe and tasty) for three to four days, when you keep them in the fridge. So, if you want to meal prep for the whole week, you should consider adding a second day of meal prep into your schedule (e.g. on Wednesday). Furthermore, the way you store the foods plays an important role. For example, you would want to keep the salad and dressing separately or add extra sauce to your pasta. For other meals, you might want to freeze them in order to keep them safe and tasty.
How to reheat meal prepped food?
There are various methods of reheating meal-prepped foods, depending on the food itself, how it was stored (e.g. in the fridge or freezer), and which appliance you are going to use (e.g. microwave or stovetop). Reheating your food can be totally safe if you do it the right way. You can even get close to the original taste and texture of the food too! Many recipes include information on how to store and thaw / reheat the meal.
If you want to learn how to reheat food without a microwave, watch the video below:
Best Meal Prep Containers
When it comes to storing your meal prepped food, it all comes down to your needs and preferences. For example, you might want to use airtight and leakproof containers, reusable glass, plastic or stainless steel containers, containers that transfer from fridge to microwave, containers that are slim and stackable, containers that are transferable to work or school, lunch boxes, or bento boxes, portioned containers, containers for batch cooking, containers for the freezer, mason jars, etc.