Meal Prepping 101
When it comes to cooking and preparing for the week, many of us struggle to find the time, energy, or motivation to cook every day. Enter in meal prepping, the way of cooking that helps simplify meal times and allows you to cook once and eat all week!
Meal prepping is the act of preparing foods in advance, and there are several different meal prepping methods. Cooking full recipes is the first method, which allows you to make ahead complete meals so there is no cooking the night of serving. Other methods include precutting vegetables, marinating meat, and/or partially cooking part of the meal to speed up the process when you plan to serve the meal. Meal prepping might even be as simple as writing out a grocery list and menu for the week and simply having all the food you need on hand and ready for the week.
Whichever way you choose to meal prep, it does not need to be complicated! The simpler the better.
When it comes to meal prepping, certain proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats prep better than others.
For protein, most meats prep and/or freeze cooked or raw very well including ground meats, roasts, whole chickens, cuts of chicken, pork chops, etc. Hard-boiled eggs and egg bakes will last a week in the fridge, and the latter can be frozen after cooking as well. 4% cottage cheese and plain, full fat yogurt also are easy for prepping as a quick snack or addition to breakfast for additional protein.
Vegetables that prep well come in a variety of forms, including raw, steamed, sauteed, grilled, or roasted. Depending on your preference, you can choose the vegetable cooking method that suits you best! Steamer bags of vegetables work well to keep on hand for easy meals paired with ground meat or paired alongside of leftover protein such as a pork chop. Most vegetables can be sauteed and can be cooked with ground meat and served with one of the healthy fats listed below for a complete meal. Roasted vegetables, especially sweet potatoes or other starchy vegetables, hold up well to reheating too. Fruit can also be counted in this category, as it requires very little prep work, but shouldn’t overshadow the vegetables.
Last but not least, adding in a healthy fat ties a meal together. Most healthy fats require no cooking and can be added alongside of cooked protein and vegetables. Avocado, guacamole, raw or dry roasted nuts and seeds, olives, or real butter are great sources of healthy fat. Plain, full-fat dairy such as cheese or sour cream can also fall into this category if you tolerate dairy. No oil or sugar added peanut butter or almond butter also qualify in this category. Primal Kitchen is a great brand that offers cleaner condiment options that use avocado oil and would also count as a healthy fat.
There are certain kitchen tools that make meal prepping easier. These include parchment paper and large cookie sheets for roasting vegetables, glass storage containers, large sauté pants, an Instant Pot and/or slow cooker, decent paring knife, multiple cutting boards, and large soup pots. Steamer bags or pre-cut vegetables are also great time savers too!
When you are planning a meal prep, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions to help plan:
What meal(s) do you need to prep for (breakfast, lunch, dinner)?
What protein(s) do you have on hand/want to use/need to buy? – base your meals around this
What vegetables will pair with the protein(s) you’ve chosen? – roasted, steamer bag, raw, sauteed, grilled
What healthy fat options do you have on hand to tie the meal together?
Are there specific recipes I want to make, or do I want to simply prep various proteins and vegetables to pair together later in the week?
Once you’ve answered those questions, it’s time to organize your meal prep! First, you want to make a grocery list and shop for the items you need for the recipes you’ve chosen to make. Then, find a 30-90+ minute timeslot that will allow you to prep and work. Next, figure out a timeline and order of priority with the foods you are cooking – do some need to cook all day in the slow cooker, or are some a quick sauté in the skillet? Finally, start prepping!
The first few times you meal prep, it might take you more time than you wish. However, the more you prep, the faster and better you get! It simply takes time and practice. A great resource is a book by Cassie Joy Garcia entitled Cook Once, Eat All Week, which outlines 26 weeks of meal prep plans. I also have several plans in the archives on the blog found here and here.