Meal prep is becoming more common in the fitness community (have you seen #MealPrep on Insta lately?), and it’s starting to seem a lot more doable. Aside from the obvious money-saving benefits of preparing your own food on a weekly basis, it’s also a way to create incredibly healthy meals. Once you refine your process, meal prep is also a very convenient practice for busy people who need to just grab food and go.
Doesn’t it seem like such a lofty and ambitious idea, though? It’s really not! Below are the basics for getting started, followed by a few simple recipes to include on your first #MealPrep attempt.
Start with the right tools
You’re going to need some food containers to make this work. It’s helpful to buy a set that includes a few different sizes to accommodate main meals versus sides and snacks. If you invest a little in the meal prep process, you may feel more committed to keeping up with the practice. This can be quite cheap if you opt for the plastic boxes (think take-out or delivery containers) or it can be more of an investment by buying long-lasting glass Tupperware. Portion management and grocery shopping becomes a lot easier and more predictable when you are filling the same-sized containers for every meal.
Plan your groceries
Check sales ahead of time on grocery stores’ sites, and make a meal plan based off of the in-season and sale items. Start with a few vegetables that are both good alone and mix well with each other—this will help with creating some variety in prepared meals. A grain is a smart next move, and it helps to switch it up on a weekly basis. For example, incorporate quinoa into most meals during the first week, but then switch to brown rice the following week. The same weekly swap goes for meat or other protein as well, since the cooking requirements can vary. Be mindful of recommended cooked meat refrigeration times, as most cannot last safely more than three to four days.
Get familiar with seasoning
There are endless seasoning techniques that can make the same grains or meat taste different every day of the week. Eating the same meal everyday is a turn-off, but that’s a total misconception about meal prepping. Even with the same main ingredients, the many combinations and various seasoning possibilities keep the weekly lineup diverse.
Schedule a time
Then comes the hardest part: finding the time to prepare the meals. In reality, prepping can mostly be done one night in tandem with cooking dinner. Vegetables can be washed, peeled and cut, while meat is simmering and then steamed over grains that are in a pot. It’s an exercise in multitasking for the time-constrained, but it will come more naturally with time. Incorporating some raw foods will cut back on overall cook time and save stovetop space on meal prep day.
As a main: Mediterranean quinoa bowl
This dish brings a lot of flavor and ingredients without a lot of hassle. Quinoa seasoned with thyme, added to sauteed zucchini, kale, tomatoes and purple onions will create the base. Then add in a sprinkle of feta for saltiness. Option to add cubed chicken to this dish seasoned with olive oil and cumin. Weekly meal prep time: 30 minutes.
As a side: green vegetable salad
A side this healthy really couldn’t be easier. Take a frozen bag each of green beans, shelled edamame and green peas, and steam them together over boiling water. Once thoroughly cooked, add a teaspoon of hemp hearts for additional protein as well as a little sea salt. Allow to cool in individual containers before sealing. Weekly meal prep time: 10 minutes.
As a snack: lemon carrots
The combination of the slight sweetness of carrots with a touch of bitterness from the lemons creates a delicious side snack to any meal. It’s simple and quick to make in bulk, involving only the peeling of a bunch of carrots, slicing into a few strips, and squeezing lemon generously. Weekly meal prep time: 5 minutes.
As a treat: fruits
If a meal never truly feels over until a sweet treat has been had, then this step is a very important part of meal prepping. This can be as simple as a banana or apple, and can be made a little more interesting by adding honey or peanut butter as a condiment. Weekly meal prep time: under 5 minutes.