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The Ultimate Guide to Meal Prepping with Easy Meal Prep Ideas and Tips + 10 Healthy Meal Prep Recipes that We Keep coming back to!
Cooking on a daily basis can become irritating, especially when you’re busy. But eating out everyday is not a healthy alternative. In comes meal prepping, the ultimate fix for daily cooking. Where meals are ready to go when it’s time to eat, no work required. We know meal prepping can seem like a daunting task, but with these meal prep ideas and tips, you’ll be an expert in no time!
We’ve been pre-making our meals for years, which makes me a self proclaimed meal prep pro! We’ve learned that not only will meal prepping save you time, but it was also save you money. What more could you ask for!?
These meal prep tips are things we focus on on our prep Sundays. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so take it slow the first few times and soon you’ll join the meal prep master club. Take notes, this is a long one!
15-Minute Meal-Prep Salmon and Asparagus in Garlic Lemon Butter Sauce via Eatwell101 // This is one of our favorite quick recipes that are great for beginner meal preppers! It’s delicious and healthy too.
Meal Prep Ideas and Tips
1. Create a meal prep plan
Things get chaotic when you don’t have a plan. This applies to meal prepping too! Take some time to figure out what you need for the week. Sounds redundant, but having an idea of your weekly requirements will make the recipe planning and prepping process easier. Ask yourself these simple questions to get into the mindset of meal prepping.
- What are my nutritional goals this week?
- How many meals do I want to prep?
- Am I eating any meals out with friends?
- Do I need snacks and supplements prepped too?
- Am I planning any heavy exercise that may require more sustenance?
All in all, keep your goal in mind and keep your eyes on the prize, whether it’s a healthier lifestyle or time saved, or both!
2. Schedule your meal prepping days on your calendar
It’s easy to plan something and forget because life gets in the way. Make meal prepping a non-negotiable part of your week by putting it on your calendar. Block off a section of your weekend and dedicate it to completing your goals. Its harder to forget when there’s a glaring reminder in front of you!
3. Make a menu for the week
One of the most important meal prep ideas; Sit down with a pen and paper (or Google Docs) and brainstorm your menu for the week. Start with one or two meals if you’re a beginner, definitely don’t overdo it.
If you’re more comfortable with the process, add on more recipes and meals/snacks. Make your menu personal to you, pick meals that you love and wouldn’t mind eating a few times a week. If you’re meal prepping every week, remember to change up your recipes to keep things interesting.
4. Get organized and Make a grocery list
Once you have your menu for the week, break down all of the ingredients to see what you need. Check your pantry to avoid purchasing unnecessary items. We like creating an ingredient list per recipe first, and then combining it to remove duplicate items.
5. Keep a well stocked pantry
A stocked pantry will be different for everyone. Reflect on what you use often and always keep these on hand. Especially non perishables. A few of our non perishable pantry items include:
- Oils: Avocado oil, canola oil, olive oil
- Spices: Salt, pepper, garlic powder, crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper, curry powder, italian seasoning, etc.
- Vinegars: Balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, rice wine vinegar
- Flour: whole wheat, all purpose, bread flour
- Sweeteners: Table sugar, powdered sugar, Brown sugar, Honey, Maple syrup, Agave nectar
- Grains: Jasmine Rice, Brown Rice, Basmati Rice, Quinoa, Pasta, Oats
- Canned: Tomatoes, Tomato paste, Chicken broth, Black beans, Chickpeas, Corn, Green beans, Olives, Jalapenos, Roasted Red Peppers, Artichoke Hearts, Capers
- Meats: Canned tuna, anchovies, canned chicken breast, Spam
- Snacks/Misc: Cereal, Pretzels, Crackers, Popcorn, Granola Bars, Chia Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Dried Fruit, Nut butter, Coffee, Tea
6. Buy in bulk
This isn’t applicable to everyone, but if you have the space and extra money, it helps to purchase items in bulk. Non perishable items like rice and flour are substantially cheaper per ounce if you buy in bulk, so save money and stock up. You can also collect a bunch of spices since it helps to have a wide variety on hand.
7. Head to the store with your list and get your groceries
Now that you’ve made your menu and your lists, it’s time to go shopping. Shop your pantry first and then check off all the items on your grocery list. You can put your list on the notes app to make checking the items off easier.
Honey Sriracha Glazed Meatballs via Eat Yourself Skinny // This sweet and spicy meatball recipe only takes 30 minutes to make and is jam packed with flavor. You can even sub the brown rice for cauliflower rice if you want something with less carbs.
8. Get the right containers
Having the right storage containers is crucial to a successful meal prep. They need to be airtight, food safe, microwave safe and maybe even dishwasher safe. Amazon has a ton of options and we love the BPA free glass containers.
Just remember to invest in high quality containers up front so you don’t have to replace them in the future. It also helps to accumulate a decent amount of these, especially if you’re prepping all three meals. That could mean 15 containers for just one person! Pro tip: get meal prep containers with the same lid so you don’t waste time matching lids up!!
Best Selling Meal Prep Containers on Amazon
9. Start with a clean kitchen
Picture this, when you’re prepping a week’s worth of food, there are going to be a lot of dishes. You’re also going to need a lot of space. If you’re kitchen is cluttered with dishes in the sink and a mess, you’re going to have a hard time. You may even run out of dishes. To avoid this, make sure your kitchen is clean and ready before you start prepping. If you’re prepping on Sunday morning, spend Saturday cleaning and organizing the kitchen to save time on prep day!
10. Try Mason Jar meals
Meal prep ideas don’t have to be overly complicated. A popular way to prep and store your meals is with a mason jar. Mason jar meals are easy to prepare, fairly healthy, perfectly portioned and easy to reheat! Oh and they also store well in the fridge and look really pretty too! Everything gets layered into one container which optimizes the longevity of the recipe. When you’re ready to eat it, just heat and shake!
We rounded up 20 mason jar meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner to make things easier for you!
Mason Jar Southwest Chicken Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing via Joyful Healthy Eats // This is by far our favorite mason jar meal ever! It’s packed with Southwestern spices, and only takes 30 minutes to make and assemble. They teach you how to assemble this, which is important for mason jar meals!
11. Start small
Overdoing it will become your downfall and we can’t stress this enough. If you have no idea what you’re doing start with one meal, maybe just breakfast. Then add on more meals and snacks as the weeks go on. Or you can start with simple recipes that have limited ingredients and prep work! These 30 minute meal prep recipes are a great resource if you’re just starting out.
12. Prep your food asap
When you get home from the grocery store, the first thing you do is put everything away. Go one step further. Start prepping your groceries as soon as you come home! Wash and dry your fruits and veggies, chop up your herbs, even cut your vegetables to save time later on. We peel and mince our garlic as soon as we get home because that’s my least favorite part of cooking!
13. Opt for time saving shortcuts
It’s entirely okay to use shortcuts while meal prepping. Use frozen veggies to avoid cutting them. Or get pre-cut veggies to save time. Whatever works for you! A few other shortcuts we’ve used over the years:
- Get your groceries delivered!
- Building on my hatred of peeling garlic, get pre-peeled garlic.
- Use a rotisserie chicken as your protein
- Bulk chop your veggies and bulk cook your proteins and vegetables
14. Keep snacks simple
If you’re noticing a trend with these meal prep ideas, it’s that simplicity is key. You’re probably going to need snack throughout the day, but don’t overcomplicate it into a full meal. Opt for something on the simple side. Like pre-portioned chips, or cut veggies with hummus, or mixed nuts and dried fruits. These energy bites make great snacks!
Turkey Taco Meal Prep Bowls via Sweet Peas and Saffron // Another tex-mex dish that’s quick and delicious. Its well balanced filling too. Definitely one of our go tos!
15. Create a personalized meal prepping cookbook with your favorite recipes
Over time, you’ll come to love some recipes more than others. It’s a smart idea to flag and organize these recipes in an easy to access location. Have a specific space to hold your meal prep ideas and recipes and figure out a system to add to the list! Whether you print them out or make a bookmark on your computer, having a handy personal cookbook will make the planning process way easier.
16. Think about your nutrition
One of the huge benefits of meal prepping is being aware of your nutrition. If you’re cooking all of your meals, you know exactly what’s going into them. Plan your recipes based on your goals and healthy lifestyle choices. You can also portion control everything since it’s going into a container. AND if you’re counting macros, you can save time and do it all at once! If you’re a vegetarian, check out these easy vegetarian recipes that are meal prep friendly.
17. Batch Cook
Getting into a cooking mood takes time, so with that mindset, having everything ready before hand saves time! With batch cooking, we aim to cook everything on one day, so the kitchen stays clean for the rest of the week. If you were cooking chicken breast for 30 minutes 5 times a week that’s, 2.5 hours vs. cooking all of your chicken breasts on one day! We always batch cook our grains, meats and veggies for the week.
California Sushi Roll Bowls with Cauliflower Rice Meal Prep via Kirbie’s Cravings // If you love sushi, you need to try this bowl. Since it’s imitation crab, it can be prepped in advance and keeps pretty well. We like adding avocado to the dish right before eating it!
18. Change things up
Let’s be honest here, it can get boring eating the same thing everyday. But there are ways to make the same dish a little different. Try prepping a bunch of different sauces to use throughout the week, like pesto, chimichurri, and balsamic reduction. Since these flavor profiles are so different, they’ll completely transform an ordinary salmon + roasted veggie dish.
19. Set a time limit
The first time we meal prepped, it took SIX hours! I almost quit after that, but with some pre-planning, we’ve managed to cut that into three hours. This isn’t to discourage you; it helps to set a limit to your prep time. Look at your recipes and estimate how long everything will take and then set a timer to keep you on track. Avoid other distractions while prepping too! We listen to podcasts or audiobooks during prep time!
20. Prep with a buddy
When you’re grueling in the kitchen for 2+ hours, it gets a little lonely. If you have a partner, family member or friend that’s free, ask for help/company. My fiance is pretty useless in the kitchen, but he always gives me company while I’m spending long hours meal prepping.
Garlic Parmesan Kale Pasta Meal Prep via Budget Bytes // Another favorite here! This one is for the pasta fans, the skillet roasted tomatoes are a burst of flavor.
21. Learn to multitask
Don’t do one task at a time. Preheat your oven while you chop your veggies. Cook your meats and veggies at the same time. Prep your sauces while everything cools down. The multitasking options are endless and they are huge time savers. They say you should work smarter, not harder and these meal prep ideas truly help with that!
22. Use your slow cooker or pressure cooker
Two gadgets that help save time and energy during meal prepping is the slow cooker and the Instant Pot. The slow cooker does require some planning since those meals take over 6 hours, but it’s all passive time, so you can leave it and go. The Instant Pot on the other hand shortens cooking time while imparting lots of flavor.
23. Use your weekend
For us, Sunday is the ideal meal prep day. It’s typically a lazy day filled with chores, so adding cooking isn’t too hard. If your weekends are chill and relaxing, dedicate a few hours to making the next week easier.
24. Or break the meal prepping to two days
If a long weekend meal prep isn’t feasible, try breaking your prepping into two days. Think Sunday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Friday. Whatever works best for you. This way you can change up the recipes halfway through the week and have a variable. Cooking on two days still sounds better than cooking everyday!
Skinny Bang Bang Zucchini Noodles Meal Prep via Kirbie’s Cravings // Zoodles and Bang Bang Shrimp, this combination is genius and so tasty. Since shrimp only takes minutes to cook, this one is a quick one!
25. Use apps to track nutrition
EatThisMuch and MyFitnessPal are great apps to track your food intake and nutrition and even build your meal plan. If you have specific goals in mind, use these apps to help track and meet your goals!
26. Use time saving gadgets
We love gadgets. They save time, money, space and all in all make like easier. A few of out favorite meal prep gadgets are:
- This vegetable chopper for onions and peppers
- A mandoline to thinly slice veggies
- We already mentioned the slow cooker and Instant Pot
- A food processor for easy chopping/sauce making
- An enamel cast iron pot/ dutch oven for one pot meals
- Immersion blender to avoid having to move sauces and soups into the blender
- This garlic press, because we hate mincing garlic
- A kale tool to remove tough stems
- Herb scissors to make chopping herbs finely easier
Meal Prep Chia Pudding via Downshiftology // These freezer friendly cups of yummy-ness are pretty much dessert for breakfast, but they’re actually healthy!
27. Create freezer meals
Meal prepping doesn’t have to be planning and preparing your meals on a weekly basis. Freezer meals are a great alternative and can be batch prepped on any free day. Just do one recipe at a time and make 5-10 servings of it to freeze for later. This does take up a lot of freezer space so it isn’t for everyone. But we do have a list of 20 freezer meals for quick meal times.
28. Always meal prep breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This statement has been ingrained in our minds since childhood and although I don’t entirely believe it, I can see the benefits of eating a large meal in the morning. If you’re a breakfast person, meal prep your morning food. It is a game changer to have a batch of overnight oats or breakfast burrito ready with minimal work. Morning’s are already hard enough, so every second counts.
29. Make your meals pretty
This might be a me thing, but making things aesthetically pleasing makes the process easier! With meal preps, you can create cute bento boxes that are fun to create, thus making time pass quicker. You can get adorable pink storage containers or arrange your lunches into something colorful and nice to look at. Beautiful meals just warm my heart, you get me?
30. Have fun with it
Most importantly, trust and enjoy the process. The benefits of meal prepping outweigh the negatives, and making it a fun process keeps it from becoming a chore. Play some music or your favorite podcast and get started!
More Meal Prep Ideas That we Keep Coming Back To! We’ve scattered a few throughout the post too!
Breakfast Meal Prep Ideas
Breakfast Scramble Clean Eating Meal Prep Bowls! via Clean Food Crush // This satisfying breakfast bowl has all the makings of a healthy and well balanced morning meal! Pro tip: keep the freshies(tomatoes and avocado) separate and add them after you reheat the bowl.
Ham, Egg and Cheese Breakfast Quesadilla via Damn Delicious // I was shocked when I saw that this hearty breakfast comes at under 300 calories per serving!
Meal Prep Pancakes via Meal Prep on Fleek // These pancakes are light and taste so good. I love how they use coconut flour since its grain-free! Just read the directions carefully since coconut flour is a little tempermental.
Lunch Meal Prep Ideas & Dinner Meal Prep Recipes
Korean Chicken Meal Prep Bowls via The Girl on Bloor // This marinated chicken recipe is juicy and pairs perfectly with their asian slaw!
Chicken burrito bowls via Clean and Delicious with Dani Spies // This quick and easy Mexican meal is gluten free and low carb! But it still has a ton of flavor!
Sticky Ginger Soy Glazed Chicken Meal Prep via Budget Bytes // This saucy chicken and noodle dish is filling, fast to make and flavor packed!
Meal-Prep Shrimp Taco Bowls via Gimme Delicious // This 30 minute shrimp bowl can be made into tacos too!
Skillet Meatballs and Marinara Meal Prep via Budget Bytes // Carb filled, meaty and balanced, this lunch/dinner option will leave you satisfied!
Crock Pot Teriyaki Chicken via Fit Foodie Finds // Crock pot meals are amazing since you just leave it and return to a flavorful dish. This one tastes like teriyaki chicken from a restaurant, and it’s healthy too!
Paleo Greek Turkey Meatballs : Sheet Pan Meal Prep Bowls via Well Fed Soul // Sheet pan recipes save dishes and are quick since you throw everything in the oven at the same time. This one is our favorite sheet pan option!
- Start small so you don't get overwhelmed.
- Get organized to avoid wasted food and time.
- Shop your pantry to save money.
- Most importantly, have fun with it!