MEAL PREP FOR BEGINNERS
It’s important to remember not get overwhelmed when you first start meal prepping. Too often people get bogged down in all of the details, when sticking to the basics will do more good to keep you on track and actually following through.
1. DON’T TRY TO COOK EVERYTHING FOR THE WEEK
Instead focus on the main foods that take the most time to cook (i.e. chicken, turkey patties, quinoa, brown rice, etc) and get those ingredients lined out. Store them in containers separately as a “stock pile” to pull from.
Then, each day you may have a small amount of prep to pull together…things like veggies or fruit, but the main bulk of your meal is ready and pre-cooked to build a meal.
You often see folks go on ‘health-kicks’ all the time, and what happens? They lose their gusto pretty quickly, many times because they add too many new things at once. They start a salad-only diet, a pact to go to the gym, running, yoga, etc — all in the first week.
In real life, it doesn’t work like that. You have to start small, build habits singularly and stack on another when you master one. Same goes for Meal Prepping.
2. PICK A DAY
The first thing you should do is pick a day to prepare all your meals or your meal base materials. For most, Sunday is the best day because it’s typically a day when you are off work, kids are home from school, have extra time and you can enlist the help of the entire family if you need it.
More experienced meal preppers seem to like Sunday and Wednesday as their chosen days to cook and prepare meals for the week. Using these two days allows them to split up the week’s prepping into two days.
In the beginning, you don’t want to prepare meals for the whole week. You want to start off with no more than three meals. This will help you by creating a manageable amount of work as well as letting yourself learn what you’ll actually eat and how much of each part of the meal you’ll want.
You might want to create a meal calendar for yourself so you can visualize your meals ahead of time and obtain all of the right ingredients.
3. START YOUR SHOPPING LIST
If you are training with me online, this is an easy one. You can simply take your meal plan and multiply that out for several days in a row. Want more variety, use my clean eating food trade-out list and purchase what is on that list. Most of all, I want you to have good for you foods available in your pantry & refrigerator so that you don’t fall off track because you can’t not find anything good to eat. That’s the easiest way to get off the rails and start a downward diet spiral.
4. PICK THE MEALS
You need to decide which meal you are going to prepare first: Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner.
If you are preparing for a family, then prepping your dinner meals seems to be where you would get the most from your efforts. However, if you are single, or cooking for one or two people, then you may want to try to prepare breakfast or lunch meals first. Ultimately, the choice is yours. You just want to think about it a little before you get started.
After that, you want to decide on the recipes you are going to prepare. You might not want to cook the same recipe for all three meals, although you can. But if you choose to prepare three dinner meals for your family, and they are all the same recipe, you might have a bit of an uprising on your hands.
When choosing your recipes, think about how you want to balance the meals. For my clients, I line out the calories and macro nutrient percentages that they want to hit for each day. As you begin to meal prep, that you should factor into what recipes you choose and what sides if any you’ll include. Knowing how each macronutrient converts into calories will also help provide more accurate information:
Using a kitchen scale can help you with things like this.
They can also help you make sure you disperse each part of the meal evenly. And that brings me to my next point…
5. USE PROPER CONTAINERS
Determine whether you need containers that will hold full single meals or if you want to simply store larger quantities of prepared foods.
If you work from home or eat at home often, I suggest larger containers that allow you to store say 5 cooked chicken breasts and you can simply remove one with each meal that you choose.
If you are gone from home for extended periods of time then you will want individual containers that will hold full meals.
There are a good deal of multi use semi disposable meal prep containers out there built specifically for this purpose. Here’s a link to one such container in bulk. Full disclosure, that’s an affiliate link where if you purchase, I receive a small fee. So thanks if you do 😉
So, what makes a good container?
Choose ones that are BPA Free. “BPA Free” simply means it’s safe and microwaveable.
You should also make sure your containers are clear, and that they are the same size. Clear containers allow you to quickly see what’s inside. Meal prep containers that are uniform in size, stack, nest and are easily organized in your refrigerator or freezer, not to mention allow you to use the same pocket or space in your briefcase or backpack to store it each day on your way out. Once you start preparing more and more meals, this simple feature will become invaluable.
Put simply, you want containers that are:
• BPA Free
• Freezer Safe
• Dishwasher Safe
6. BUILD A PROCESS THAT WORKS FOR YOU
In The Kitchen:
Start off, like I said, with just a few meals to start. Don’t try to cook a whole week’s worth of meals in one sitting. You may want to do this later, as you get more comfortable, but for now, just try to find your meal-prepping-groove. Find the processes and foods that work for you and make it a process you’ll want to repeat.
Focus on simple meals. Chicken is a favorite among many meal preppers because it can be cooked in a seemingly endless number of ways. It’s also easy to store and freeze. You can even just grill plain breasts of chicken to be added to a sauce, a salad or shredded and becomes very versatile.
With just a bit of chicken and a few vegetables you can easily prepare three totally different meals.
Learn to Multitask:
Remember that you can cook lots of different things at the same time. Use your oven space to its fullest potential. There’s no need to place one thing in there at a time. Use multiple oven trays if it helps, or use aluminum foil to make dividers on one oven tray and multiply your efforts. Start with recipes that lend themselves to this type of cooking.
When planning your first shopping trip as a meal prepper, ask yourself if you have enough oven trays, aluminum foil and other utensils you might need during the cooking process.
7. EASY STARTS
Fruits: Fruit is a great way to dive in to meal prepping. You can cut up different types of fruit and store them just like any meals you could prepare. You can easily make fruit salads or smoothies to go along with you prepped meals. Or you can simply start off with fruit preps only.
The Crockpot: Okay, this one is obvious, yet so many new meal preppers overlook it. The Crockpot has been a favorite among moms for decades. Use it to make simple, great tasting meals then store them away.
MEAL PREP STRATEGIES FOR BEGINNERS
Below are 7 strategies that should get you off on the right foot with meal prepping. These handy tips and tricks for meal prep for beginners will help even the most novice cook.
1. Plan around your social life
I find the biggest roadblock in meal prepping is factoring in your social life. I find most people take this all or nothing strategy with meal prep that hinders your ability to stick with it for the long term. If you’re realistic about when you’re going to be eating out you can dedicate yourself more fully to meal prepping.
For instance, if you know you go out to dinner on the weekends, don’t force yourself to meal prep for nights when you’re likely to be out with friends.
2. Use recipes that have an overlap in ingredients
This is much easier than you think! Try and find recipes that use the same protein, carbs and veggies but use different sauces so that you’re not running out and buying five different types of vegetables or a ton of different cuts of meat.
3. Cook/chop staple ingredients ahead of time for mix-and-match bowls
When you first get back from the store, you can cut up veggies and assemble greens in containers for easy access later.
You can also buy pre-chopped or pre-spiralized veggies from the store so it’s easy to throw these veggies in different meal prep bowls or stir fries later on.
You can also use your Instant Pot or Slow Cooker to cook up a bunch of chicken in bulk to use for other recipes later – rotisserie chicken also works in a pinch.
4. Use your freezer to your full advantage
I will cook up a big batch of veggie pasta or chicken fried rice and then freeze in individual-sized portions in foil containers so all I have to do is take one out of the freezer and bake in the oven after work.
You can also assemble ingredients into plastic freezer bags, then defrost when you’re ready.
5. Stock your fridge, freezer and pantry with healthy basics
There are some foods that should just always be in your kitchen. Almond milk, eggs, lean chicken breast, ground lean turkey, salmon, flank steak, your favorite veggies, olive oil, vinegars, spices, peanut butter, etc. As you prep, be sure that the basics are ready and there for you.
6. Plan to use dinner as leftovers for lunch
This is the most common meal prep strategy I use because it’s easy! Even if I don’t feel like cooking ALL the time after work, it’s the time I have available most to do any cooking and there’s something so nice about a hot, fresh dinner.
If you make a huge batch of food, odds are you’ll have leftovers for lunches AND other dinners during the rest of the week so this is a great meal prep strategy I use over and over.
7. Make sheet pan/one pot meals
Sheet pan and one pot meals are the best way to cook in bulk so that you have a ton of food leftover for lunches and dinners, and since it all comes together on or in one dish, you don’t have much clean up either.