Want to know how to start meal prepping? Get 5 tips on meal prep for beginners and how to fit it into your life in a realistic way.
Do you want to start meal prepping but don't know where to begin? Or perhaps you feel overwhelmed in the kitchen and aren't sure yet whether meal prep is the answer.
Well, I'm here today to tell you everything you need to know about meal prep, including small ways you can get started today if you like.
I've built my business around meal prep and have helped thousands of families start meal prepping so I've picked up a few things along the way 😉
And hey, whether you're looking for a total meal prep for beginners guide or you've meal prepped in the past and want to reignite your habit, I'm here for you.
What is Meal Prep?
Before we get into the tips, I want to talk a little bit about what meal prep is. It sounds simple, but there can be some misconceptions around it.
Why? Because there are several distinct types of meal prep.
1. Meal Prep for Fitness
The first is super popular among fitness enthusiasts and consists of prepping meals for the week and individually portioning them out so that all meals are controlled and pre-portioned. While it doesn't have to, this often consists of simple meals repeated throughout the week. Think poached chicken and broccoli or grilled salmon with sweet potatoes, all portioned out in containers for the week.
There's nothing wrong with these meals or this approach, but I would personally get sick of it! I'm a chef as well as an RD and I like to have interesting, varied meals throughout the week.
2. Freezer Meal Prep
The second approach is freezer-based.
Again, there's nothing wrong with this approach. It works particularly well for large families with lots of kids. I prefer doing a shorter meal prep session each week and stocking my freezer for backup though, a bit of a hybrid approach. I always have a well-stocked freezer, but much of that comes from freezing extra portions of meals or doubling up when I'm making meatballs and sticking half in the freezer for a busy day.
If you are looking to stock your freezer, I have a free download with my favorite crockpot freezer meals!
3. Weekly Meal Prep
That brings us to the third, and my personal favorite, type of meal prep.
Weekly meal prep consists of completing a single meal prep session every week. In this session, you prep, but don't usually cook, the meals for the week.
Even within weekly meal prep, there is of course variety. Some people prefer to prep everything all at once, say on a Saturday morning, while others prefer to split prep up into a couple of sessions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach here, do what works for you!
Is Meal Prep worth it?
So….this sounds like a lot of work, is meal prep actually worth it?
Yes! It is so completely worth it for anyone with a busy schedule who dreads the 5 PM hour when everyone is hangry and asking what's for dinner.
For starters, meal prep is so much more efficient. You get the cutting board out once, instead of every day. You make all your sauces and marinades at once. There's no need to drag out appliances like the blender or food processor every evening.
Furthermore, meal prep enables you to do the work of prepping delicious, healthy food, when it works for you, rather than at the end of the day when everyone is tired.
I've heard from countless families that meal prep has given them back time with their families in the evening, in addition to cutting down on takeout and making it super easy to eat healthy food.
For the past 4 months, my husband and I have been diligently prepping our meals together every Sunday for the week ahead. With busy children and our full-time work schedules, I cannot believe how much less busy and stressful the weeknight dinner routine has been. I’m loving that! And one thing I hadn’t expected was the fun time together my husband and I now share prepping for the week. It’s a great time to catch up. Next step is getting the kids to participate in the meal prep so they can learn how to make their own lives less busy when they have their own families.– Happy Prep Dish customer
5 Tips on How to Start Meal Prepping
Now that you're (hopefully) sold on meal prep, how do you get started? Here are 5 of my favorite tips, perfect for anyone looking for meal prep for beginners or meal prep veterans hoping to make things a bit easier.
1. Start with Some Quick Meal Prep Wins
If something is too overwhelming, you likely won't stick with it. That's no fault of yours, it's simply human nature.
As someone whose work focuses on helping people start (and keep!) healthy habits, I'm fascinated by behavioral science and habit formation. I recently read and loved BJ Fogg's book Tiny Habits. It's all about the importance of starting small.
This totally applies to meal prep too. Don't be afraid to start really small when you're just starting out with meal prep.
You might start by simply prepping a homemade salad dressing for the week. Or maybe by spending 5 minutes after dinner to prep the next day's breakfast.
Or, start your meal prep habit by simply washing all of your produce when you get home from the grocery store, before putting it away. I don't know about you but I'm much more likely to reach for that apple if it's washed and ready to eat!
No matter how small your starting point, don't forget to celebrate it. If you prep a homemade salad dressing, stop and appreciate how easy it is to throw together a healthy, delicious salad throughout the week. These small wins can go a long way toward encouraging bigger change.
Interested in the ideas and strategies behind Tiny Habits? Check out my podcast series all about the book and how it applies to meal prep here!
2. Remember, It's Not All or Nothing
While, at the end of the day, doing a single meal prep session for the week is likely the most efficient, that simply doesn't work for everyone. And that's okay!
Don't feel like you have to commit to a 3-hour session on the weekend to prep 21 meals for the week. For many, that's simply too much. Making that your goal makes it less likely you'll do any meal prep at all.
Instead, experiment to see how meal prep best fits into your own unique life. If you work from home, maybe you have a few extra minutes on your lunch break to chop the veggies for that night's dinner. Or, if you have little kids, maybe you devote Saturday's nap time to meal prep and simply do as much as you can within that window.
There is no right or wrong way to do this. After all, it's supposed to make your life easier, not harder.
3. Determine Your Meal Prep Priorities
If you don't have the time (or the desire) to do a marathon meal prep session each weekend, think through your meal prep priorities.
What are your biggest pain points with cooking healthy food right now? Is it getting dinner on the table after a long day at work? Having something healthy to grab for breakfast on your way out the door? A healthy lunch so you don't keep buying takeout?
Choose one meal prep priority that's most important to you and start there.
4. Take Advantage of Small Pockets of Time
This is one I really learned after I had kids, although it could certainly apply to people in all stages and walks of life.
Sometimes you have a wide-open block of time on Saturday morning to prep healthy food for the week…and sometimes you don't.
On the weeks when you don't have that large time block, don't give up! It doesn't mean you can't meal prep, it just means you're going to have to get a little creative.
On weeks like this, make a short list of a few items you'd like to prep and put it up in your kitchen. That way in those magical moments when your kids happen to be playing peacefully together without you, or when you're waiting around for your partner to be ready to go, you can check one of the items off the list.
These tasks could be as simple as chopping a few onions to use for dinner throughout the week or making a sauce or marinade to use a few days later. Trust me, these little items add up! And you'll be way less likely to want to order takeout if you've already put in a little prep work toward a homemade dinner!
5. Use a Meal Prep Meal Plan
Does all of this sound like way too much work?
To be honest, it is a lot of work, at least at the beginning.
Figuring out what recipes work well to prep ahead, exactly how much food to plan for your family and how to create a meal plan that avoids excess ingredients (I'm looking at you half bunch of celery!) can be overwhelming.
The good news? You don't have to do it alone!
I have a passion for meal planning and meal prep. Why? Because I find that it lowers stress in our busy lives and brings families together. That's why I love sharing healthy meal prep meal plans with thousands of families each and every week!
What exactly is a meal prep meal plan?
It's a weekly meal plan where all recipes are designed to be prep-ahead. So you can prep 4 dinners, breakfast, a salad and a snack in 2-3 hours. Then on weeknights, all you have to do is finish the meal! This usually involves the actual cooking, as I prefer most things freshly cooked. We certainly do have families who choose to fully cook meals on prep day though and that works great too!
But what if you don't have 2-3 hours to prep?
That's not a problem! You are definitely not alone if 2-3 hours sounds unrealistic. After all, most people who are curious about meal prep are interested because they are busy and want to make their lives easier.
That's why we started offering weekly Super Fast meal plans this year! Super Fast meal plans contain 5 healthy dinner recipes and the entire meal plan takes only 1 hour to prep.
The best part? You don't have to choose. All Prep Dish subscribers receive four meal plans every week: Gluten Free, Paleo, Low Carb (Keto) and Super Fast. So you can choose each week which meal plan best suits your preferences and schedule.
And don't worry if you're not Gluten Free/Paleo/Low Carb. We have plenty of families who simply want healthy, prep-ahead meals.
Sound like something you're interested in?
Click below to give Prep Dish a try for free! We'd love to have you as part of our community.