Featured in: Fitness & Weight Management  |  June 12, 2020

Meal Prep for Beginning Cooks

By Dale Wallis

In the past few years, meal prepping has gained a lot of buzz on food blogs and social media, and for good reason. It’s a great way to ensure you are eating nutritious meals throughout the week, and it saves a lot of time.

When starting meal prepping, there are a few basics you should know so you can create a week’s worth of meals you’re excited about. Let’s get started!

What Is Meal Prepping?

Meal prepping is spending a period of time making meals in bulk. For example, many parents choose to spend Sunday afternoon preparing ingredients and meals for their family to eat throughout the week. Meal prepping has grown in popularity because it’s a great way to save time and create balanced meals.

When planning to meal prep, set aside at least a few hours. You’ll need to go on a grocery store run; think ahead about what ingredients you need for a week’s worth of food. Then, based on what recipes you’re making, you’ll need to factor in time for prepping and cooking. Although an afternoon of cooking may seem daunting, you’ll be happy with yourself when you can cook less throughout the rest of the week.

When meal prepping, consider what foods keep well as leftovers. Food items such as brown rice, pasta, beans, sweet potatoes, hearty fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, cheese and sauces tend to be popular choices for meal prep.

As a beginner, start small with the number of meals you make so you can get used to eating similar meals each day. You may discover that you only want to eat the same lunch for a couple of days rather than the entire week. The more you meal prep, the more you can figure out how to cook items in bulk while still keeping your meals varied.

The Difference Between Meal Prepping and Meal Planning

Meal prepping and meal planning are not quite the same things. Meal prepping is when you prepare your meals in advance, often spending a few hours cooking. Meal planning is deciding what you are going to cook throughout the week ahead of time. For example, you may buy ingredients for a casserole one night and tacos the next night.

Both of these processes may require you to make a grocery list  and buy items in advance. If you are wanting to prepare many different types of meals during your meal prep session, you may even use meal planning methods to decide what meals you want to make.

Why Meal Prep?

To put it simply, meal prepping can make your life so much easier. Here are some common reasons people get hooked on it:

  • Save time: Instead of going through the process of heating up the stove or oven, cutting up ingredients, waiting for food to cook and then cleaning it all up every day of the week, you can choose to do it only once or twice a week. By devoting a chunk of time to meal prepping each week, you’ll find that you are actually saving a lot of time.
  • Save money: On days you don’t feel like cooking, you may decide it’s easier (and tastier) to grab takeout. Although it’s nice to treat yourself to a meal out every once in a while, this can add up fast. With meal prepping, you have a delicious meal waiting for you for a fraction of the cost.
  • Eat healthier: Since meal prepping requires some planning, you can make more of an effort to choose healthy food options. You’ll also become more aware of what you are consuming. For example, when you see a few days worth of meals in front of you, you may realize that you need to add additional food groups to make a more balanced diet.
  • Eat better: When cooking seems like too much effort or you’re in a rush, you may be more inclined to grab a processed snack or heat up a frozen meal. Meal prepping ensures that you will always have something tasty to grab on the go.
  • Reduce waste: Since you are cooking everything at once and planning out when you will eat it, you are more likely to eat everything you purchased before it spoils.
  • Reduce stress: Meal prepping can benefit your overall well-being because it helps you feel more prepared for the week or days ahead. After you finish your meal prep session, you’ll feel a huge sense of relief knowing that you have a great week of meals ahead of you. Gone are the days of stressing over what to grab for lunch when you’re in a hurry.

Who Should Meal Prep?

Everyone has the capability to meal prep in some capacity. If you’re the kind of person who wants a lot of variety in your meals, then meal prepping for a full week may not be your cup of tea. However, you could choose to do smaller meal preps, so you’re only eating similar meals for a few days rather than an entire week.

If you’re looking for a more efficient way to plan meals, then you should try meal prepping. You’ll quickly discover how convenient it is to have meals at hand ahead of time.

Parents, office workers and students tend to love meal prepping because they are always on the go. When trying to get little ones off to school in the morning, many parents save a lot of time by having their child’s meal made in advance. Likewise, in the middle of a long workday or schedule packed with classes, it’s nice to have a well-rounded meal to look forward to.

One important meal prep tip for beginners is to keep in mind how many containers meal prepping requires. If you are someone without much kitchen storage space, it may be challenging to find the room for all these containers. However, one solution could be purchasing reusable sandwich bags that take up less space.

How To Organize Your Fridge for Prepped Meals in Bulk

People who meal prep a lot typically use reusable containers such as Tupperware or mason jars to store all of their meals. You want to choose something that is easy to grab, has a secure lid and is microwave friendly. As the meals start adding up, you may find that you need to play a game of Tetris to fit everything into your fridge.

Here are some tips for keeping your fridge organized after a big meal prep:

1. Clean Out Your Fridge First

Once you have all your ingredients for meal prepping set aside, take a few minutes to clean out your fridge. Throw away any food items that are expired or spoiled. Wipe down all the surfaces with a washcloth or disinfectant wipes and then dry it off.

2. Put All Your Condiments in the Side Shelves

Things like salad dressing, ketchup, mustard, jelly and other condiments should stay in the side shelves attached to your refrigerator door. This way, you can keep the main part of your fridge clear and avoid knocking over condiment bottles and making additional messes.

3. Group Similar Items Together

If you have food that is not a part of your meal prep, organize these food items by similar types. For example, if you have fruit and vegetables, keep these together. Make sure to keep uncooked meats away from the rest of your food items to avoid cross-contamination.

Consider which food items you need to grab the most often and make sure other items are out of the way. Chilled water, milk and other beverages tend to be things people grab the most, so keep these in the front of your fridge. You may also want to keep foods that spoil fast within easy reach so you are more likely to eat them before they expire.

4. Organize Prepared Meals

Keep all your prepared meals in the same area. Organize them by meal type: breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Also, keep them in the order of when you intend to eat them. For example, put the meals you want to eat first on the top and front of your stack of meals.

If you have a mix of glass and plastic containers, put your meals for later in the week in the glass containers. This way, you can keep the glass on the bottom of the stack since glass tends to be heavier than plastic. This reduces the chances of your stack getting top heavy and falling over.

Once you get in the habit of meal prepping, you’ll quickly realize how convenient and efficient it really is. The more you do it, the more unique meal prep recipes and techniques you can try. Pick a day when you have some extra time to get started. Soon you’ll make meal prepping a part of your weekly routine!

 

Link to “how to grocery shop for one” when it’s published

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