Prep Dish founder Allison Schaaf shares tips on how to make the healthy weekly meal prep habit stick. Learn from her decade-plus of experience!
Forming new habits is hard. Whether you want to start exercising, go to bed earlier or cut back on sugar, it's easy to go hard trying to adopt a new habit, only to fizzle out a few days or weeks later.
So what's the secret? How do you hardwire that new habit into your life so it's so automatic you don't even have to think about it?
Well, like everyone else, I too struggle sometimes when I want to pick up a new healthy habit, or shake a habit that no longer serves me. But when it comes to meal prep, I've got it down. I've dedicated the last decade of my life to building Prep Dish, providing meal prep meal plans to thousands of families. Even before that, I relied on meal prep in my own life.
After all of that experience, I've got some good news for you. It does not all come down to willpower and motivation. There are actual, tangible steps you can take to solidify your new meal prep habit so you can keep it up for the long term. Today I'm sharing 7 of the best ways to make a healthy weekly meal prep habit stick. If they don't all resonate with you though, that's okay! Even if you pick one or two strategies, that can go a long way for making meal prep a part of your life.
7 Tips for Making a Healthy Weekly Meal Prep Habit Stick
1. Make a Plan
My #1 tip for sticking to your meal prep goals is to have a plan each week. First, determine what meals you need to prep ahead.
Do you need a quick grab & go breakfast you can reach for on your way out the door? Do you need prepped lunches to take to work or do you work from home and have more flexibility? How many dinners do you need that week and how many servings of each?
After you know which meals you need to prep, it's time to choose your recipes! For some this is fun and for others it's a dreaded task on the never-ending to-do list.
If you fall into the latter category, make sure to check out our done-for-you meal plans if you haven't already! Each week, Prep Dish subscribers receive 4 meal prep meal plans: Gluten Free, Paleo, Low Carb and 1-Hour Super Fast. These meal plans include an organized grocery list, detailed meal prep plan and “dish day” instructions for the night you plan to serve. In short, they help you stick to meal prep without all of the planning.
2. Experiment – Find What Works for You
In an ideal world, I like to spend a couple of hours on the weekend getting all of my weekly meal prep done. Why? At the end of the day, it's the most efficient. I lay out all of my meal prep containers, wash and chop all of my produce at one time and do all of the dishes at once.
To me, the benefits actually go beyond those efficiency gains though. When I get all of my meal prep done in one go, I don't have that running list of tasks I need to accomplish in the back of my mind. I can simply cross meal prep off my to-do list for the week and move on.
That said, there have been plenty of times in the last couple of years when a marathon meal prep session just wasn't possible. I've found that I can still get my meal prep done on the busiest weeks, it just might look a little different.
Don't be afraid to split your meal prep up into “mini sessions” on the weeks when dedicating 1-2 hours to meal prep all at once just isn't possible. For example, you might prep the next day's dinner when you're cleaning the dishes at night. Or you might be able to squeeze a bit of meal prep in when you're making lunch on Saturday. Don't feel like meal prep has to look any certain way, make it work for you!
If you want to hear more about what different meal prep strategies might look like in real life, check out this episode of my podcast, Meal Prep Monday: 3 Ways to Use Prep Dish Meal Plans.
3. Schedule It
I don't know about you but, for me, any task is abut 1000% more likely to happen if it's on my calendar. I urge you to put meal prep on your calendar just as you would an important meeting or lunch with a friend. Don't keep it on the back burner as something you'll “get to when you can” or it likely won't ever happen!
Even better, put it on your calendar and share with your partner if you have one to make sure they know how you'll be spending that time. This is even more important if you have little kids in the mix who will need looking after.
I find it easiest to do my meal prep at about the same time every week because that way I'm expecting it and the consistency makes it easier. If your schedule varies greatly from week to week though, just take a few minutes at the start of each week to identify the best time to complete your healthy weekly meal prep.
4. Find Community
I find identity to be a powerful factor in forming any new habit and meal prep is no exception! If you can think of yourself as a “meal prepper,” that will go a long way toward helping you stick to the habit. Finding a community around meal prep can help solidify that new identity.
Do you have a friend or family member who would also be interested in meal prep? Invite them to be your meal prep buddy. Agree to check in with each other every week to see if you've done your meal prep. Habit Expert Gretchen Rubin writes about the importance of accountability buddies for making a habit stick.
Don't have a friend interested in meal prep? Find someone in our Facebook group! You don't have to be a subscriber to join the group, just request access and I'll approve you. We have a great group of encouraging, friendly meal preppers ready to cheer you on.
5. Know Your “Why”
This tip is a little less tangible but it just may be the most important.
What's your “why” for wanting to stick to a meal prep habit? Are you hoping for less chaotic weeknights? Looking to spend less money on food by eliminating takeout? Wanting to eat healthier meals?
Whatever your reason, have a very clear idea of what it is and think about it often. For me, family dinners are super important to me. I know they won't happen if I don't regularly meal prep. Whenever I feel my motivation flagging, I picture our family meals and how important they are to me and that helps me devote the necessary time to meal prep.
6. Find Your Foundational Habit
What is the one small step you need to complete to make sure your weekly healthy meal prep happens?
For me, it's putting in my grocery order. I hate wasting food so I know if I place my grocery order, I will find a way to make that meal prep happen. (As a side note, I use our Prep Dish meal plans every week, which makes this step super easy! I just order the items on the pre-made grocery list plus any extras my family needs that week and I'm good to go!)
For you, that key step may be printing out your meal plan or setting out your meal prep containers on the counter. Think through what small step might serve as your commitment each week to get that meal prep done!
Author and Habit expert BJ. Fogg talks about this strategy in his book Tiny Habits, one of my favorite books on habit formation.
7. Plan for the Unexpected
No matter how consistent and dedicated you are, there will be weeks when things come up and meal prep just doesn't happen. These are the weeks when I rely on freezer meal prep.
I love knowing that I have a freezer full of healthy, homemade meals ready to go when things get crazy. While I sometimes complete a dedicated freezer meal prep session to stock my freezer, I more often double up and freeze dishes I'm already making. So whenever I make a lasagna or soup, I make sure to make extra to stash in the freezer.
Not only does this save me from emergency takeout, it also gives me serious peace of mind knowing I have easy dinners ready to go at a moment's notice.
Want more resources for easy weekly meal prep?
Whether you're a total newbie or a long-time meal prepper looking to up your game, here are some of my favorite resources for easy weekly meal prep:
Mini Prep Sessions – Simple Meal Prepping in Small Pockets of Time
An In-Depth Look at Prep Dish Meal Planning Subscription – Meal Planning Made Easy!