You hear a lot about meal prep on blogs, social media, and in magazines. But how do you do it effectively? Whether you’re just getting started or are looking to up your meal prepping game, there are a lot of things you can do to make sure you’re ready to face the week. Here’s how to meal prep like a pro.
What Is Meal Prep?
First, let’s start by defining what we’re doing. Meal prep is basically just making your food ahead of time, but there are several types you can do. You can:
- Cook just one meal and store it in your fridge or freezer;
- Make multiple meals for storing and reheating;
- Make meals for one and portion them out into containers;
- Prepare ingredients for meals, like chopping veggies and marinating meat.
Most people will either make multiple meals or will make meals for one and portion the meal into multiple servings. This is usually what I do when I prepare my meals for several days: I portion my lunch into a bunch of different containers to reheat throughout the week.
Check Your Macros
Before you can meal prep, you need to know what you’re eating for the week. If you’re committed to health and fitness, find out what macros you need to eat. CNET has a great article on calculating and tracking your macros. If you’re using the Renaissance Periodization templates or app, it will calculate your macros and meals for you.
Decide What You’ll Meal Prep
Once you’ve determined what your macros are, you can decide what you’ll prep. For example, you might want to prep all your lunches and snacks, but cook breakfast and dinner from scratch. In that case, you’ll meal plan and grocery shop accordingly. Some people prep all their meals; others only prep a few. It’s totally up to you. There’s nothing wrong with only prepping lunches, or just prepping ingredients for meals so that your weeknights aren’t insane. You don’t need to have an Instagram-worthy spread; you just need what works for you.
Look for Meal Ideas
Chicken, rice, and broccoli gets old, really fast. A quick Google search for ideas will turn up tens of thousands of results. But you don’t have to get that involved. One way to find meal ideas is to peruse the seasonings and spices aisle at your grocery store. For example, I found a slow cooker chipotle chicken seasoning and meal prepped a bunch of chicken that way. The chicken can be used in burrito bowls and tacos, and you can either do buffet-style meal prep that way or prepare individual meals. Experiment with seasonings, different types of rice or grains, and different vegetables.
Invest in Meal Prep Containers
There are a lot of different types of containers you can choose to store your prepped meals:
- Three-compartment containers
- Bowl containers
- Glass containers
Basically, you’re not limited to your mom’s Tupperware. You can go as fancy or as simple as you like, but make sure they’re containers that fit the types of meals you like. For example, I actually prefer making burrito bowls for lunch, so my ideal meal prep containers are the bowls. Browse The Container Store to find something that works for you. I’ve even found meal prep containers at Kroger, so check your supermarket or Wal-Mart, too!
Set Aside Time to Meal Prep
Contrary to popular hashtags, you don’t have to meal prep on Sunday or Monday. Set aside a time to prep your meals that works for you: Saturday afternoon, in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. It doesn’t matter, as long as you have a block of time set aside for it.
You also don’t have to prepare meals for the entire week. If you’re the type of person that likes fresh food, prep what you’ll need for a few days. The point of meal prep isn’t so that you cook a bunch of food that you won’t eat; it’s to save you time and help you with your planning so that you’re not chowing down on vending machine food. Also, some foods just don’t keep well in the fridge, so double-check the FDA’s fridge and freezer storage guidelines.
Try a Slow Cooker
I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my favorite meal prep hacks is the Crockpot slow cooker given to me as a wedding present (many years ago!) It’s not a fancy model, and it does exactly what I need it to do: cook food. There are a ton of Crockpot recipes available on the Internet, so a quick Google search will turn up ideas for beef, chicken (my favorite is a really simple buffalo chicken recipe), and other tasty meals.
Consider Buffet-Style Meal Prep
This is one I do a lot. I’ll prep a batch of protein, like the aforementioned slow cooker chicken, and some rice. Then, instead of creating burrito bowls, I’ll just store the prepared food in the fridge and measure it out for lunch every day, adding veggies and healthy fats as needed. It’s great when I’m squeezed on time and can only carve out about half an hour for prepping meals. I find that having the protein on hand makes it so much easier to stay on track.
Weigh and Measure Portions
Remember those macros you calculated earlier? To put them into practice, you need to weigh and measure your food when you’re portioning out your meals. I have a really simple food scale (again, you don’t need anything fancy!) to do this.
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What are your favorite meal prep tips? Your favorite recipes? Please share with me!