Meal prep is the PERFECT tool for busy people because it makes sticking to healthy choices significantly easier by making them the path of least resistance.
When you intentionally take time to prepare food components for the week, your meals are simplified and you’re nourished with real, wholesome ingredients. When you’re not intentional about planning and prep, then nutritious meals become a burden, stressful and something that just doesn’t happen.
With the right strategy, meal prep can seamlessly fit into your lifestyle and even become something you look forward to.
What is meal prep?
When we mention meal prep or, as we like to call it, food prep, we’re talking about being intentional about making a few foods during a dedicated time to prepare for the week ahead.
In fact, we recommend that you don’t. Instead, focus on finding what style of prep works for you! That’s the beauty of food prep... it can adapt to fit your cooking skills, lifestyle and personal dietary needs.
Your style could be chopping a few ingredients to minimize the time you spend in the kitchen throughout the week OR prepping as little as one or two meals that you can quickly make on busy nights.
Some different ways you can prep ahead
One of our biggest mistakes as beginners was trying to make ALL our meals for the week at the same time. The problem was, this approach was time-consuming and overwhelming. We couldn’t keep up and ended up constantly feeling like a failure, so we gave up.
After tossing our hands in the air and taking a brief hiatus from prep, we decided to try something different. Rather than preparing entire meals, we began focusing on prepping components that could be mixed-and-matched with other foods to create different meal combinations.
We realized that small actionable steps like chopping some veggies, pre-mixing a marinade or tossing a roast in the slow cooker and then using those components to create multiple meals helped us BIG TIME during the work week.
Following are a few ways you can divide and conquer:
- Chop ahead: Chop a single ingredient for a specific recipe or a few staple ingredients and mix-and-match them to create different combinations throughout the week.
- Cook ahead: Cook a single ingredient ahead and base one or several meals around it.
Prepping entire meals
- Reheat meals: Assemble and cook entire meals ahead of time to reheat throughout the week.
- Freeze meals: Assemble and freeze meals for future use. (These pre-assembled freezer meals can be cooked or uncooked.)
What are the benefits of meal prep?
- Save money: Because you’re only purchasing what you need, you’re not overspending and wasting ingredients.
- Minimize stress: Previously prepped components mean one less thing for you to worry about during the week.
- Save time: Prepping ahead means spending less time in the kitchen during the week, and more time doing the things you love most!
- Eat healthier: When life gets crazy, convenience is king. When components of your breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner are already (mostly) made, willpower is taken out of the equation.
What containers work well for prep?
Glass containers are durable, as well as freezer, microwave and dishwasher-friendly, making them the PERFECT way to store food. You’re able to keep your food fresh, reheat in the same container and then toss the dirty container in the dishwasher, which is a huge timesaver!
Here are our personal fav’s:
- 2-cup glass storage containers: Great for chopped ingredients or pre-portioned leftovers
- 6-cup glass storage containers: Great for storing washed fruits and veggies, pre-made snacks, meals, etc.
- 8-cup glass storage containers: Great to marinate in or to store large portions of pre-cooked meals
- 24-Piece Superior Glass Food Storage Containers Set: Perfect set of assorted storage containers in place of purchasing individually
- 4-ounce mason jars: Perfect for condiments, dressings, and sauces
- 16-ounce mason jars: Great for storing overnight oats, sauces, broths, stocks and single servings of soup (which can be frozen for future meals too!)
- Gallon-size freezer bags: Great for storing freezer meals like marinated chicken, as well as pre-made foods like breakfast burritos, snack bites and homemade pizza dough (you may want to wrap them in foil first)
1. Understand and connect with your “WHY.”
The foundation of sticking with any habit is understanding why you want to develop it. Even though food prep doesn’t necessarily take a whole lot of time, it does require a portion of your time. When push comes to shove, it can be difficult to choose prep over whatever else you could be doing with that time. So, take a moment and ask yourself, “Why is meal prep important to me? How will it benefit me?”
There are so many reasons it may be important to you—it’s an OPPORTUNITY to create less waste and save money, eliminate stress, save countless calories and set your family up for healthy success—just to name a few.
Anytime you struggle with the decision to choose food prep over something else you could be doing, connect with your WHY. Remind yourself why food prep is more relevant to you than whatever else you could be doing with that time.
2. Pick ONE meal to start with.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you do too many things at once in the kitchen. Rather than trying to go from zero to 100, focus on the meals or snacks that need the most attention... the ones that stress you out the most.
If you work until 5:00 pm and then rush to grab your kids from sports practice, preparing nourishing dinners might be your biggest stressor. Therefore, your primary focus should be simplifying weeknight dinners.
If cravings tend to strike midday at work and you often head straight to the staff lounge for cake and cookies, then home in on preparing and packing healthy snacks.
If you have a lot on your plate in the morning (pun intended), breakfast might be your biggest stressor. In that case, your food prep should be geared toward things that are easy to serve your family in the morning, such as pre-made muffins (possibly from the freezer), an egg casserole or overnight oats.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to make more than one meal to get the benefits of meal prep, especially when you’re just beginning to incorporate prep into your routine. Small changes allow you to become comfortable with prepping without feeling overwhelmed.
Even choosing just one meal to start with and then prepping a few stable ingredients ahead will help simplify your week—we promise! Once you get the hang of it, add in more.
3. Make a meal plan.
A meal plan is an easy way to save time in the kitchen, simplify your week and minimize stress. Think of it as your essential eating guide to staying on track. Without it, the time you spend making decisions on the fly really adds up and you’re much more likely to make poor choices out of convenience.
Each week, start by defining your goals:
- How many meals do you want to plan?
- What feels realistic to you?
When you plan one week at a time, you're able to evaluate your schedule and come up with a practical menu based on how much time you have to devote on prep day or cooking each night of the week. Don’t be afraid to start small. Once you figure out what works for you (and what doesn't), and you get into a routine, you can revise your plan.
An example of what this typically looks like for us:
- Breakfast and lunch: We choose two meals and alternate them throughout the week.
- Dinner: We look at our schedule and plan two or three dinners to prepare on less hectic evenings throughout the week. We then make extra and enjoy them as leftovers during busier nights.
- Snacks: We pick one, maybe two, healthy snacks to rotate.
Next, keep your meals SIMPLE!
Forget everything you see and hear on the Internet. All those Pinterest-worthy meal plans that look delicious but take hours to prepare—toss them! Instead, use dependable real-food recipes that you know your family enjoys and you’re already comfortable making.
While these quick, reliable meals may not be the kind of meals you see scrolling through your social media feed, they're realistic, made with real food and are much healthier than fast food or take-out. Set yourself up for success by saving fancier, new recipes for the weekend when you have more time.
4. Write down your grocery list.
A grocery list helps save time by having you strategically purchase only the food you need so you don’t overspend on unnecessary ingredients (bye-bye rotting, unused food).
For your first few trips, remember to include items like containers, tin foil, Ziploc bags or other prep tools you may need. The initial trip may be a big investment, but once you’re in a routine, you’ll be able to scoot straight to the exact ingredients you need for your staple recipes.
5. Write down your prep plan.
To stay focused during prep time, it’s important to sit down with your meal plan and take note of what you’re going to prep in advance.
Base your prep on your family’s schedule and your biggest stressors. If you have a super busy week ahead, you may decide to spend a few hours in the kitchen preparing as many components as you can. If your week is more relaxed, you may only need to spend 20-30 minutes chopping a few items.
Then, write down your what you want to prep on the back of your meal plan or a note pad, or put it in your phone.
This allows you to come up with a solid plan of action so you're able to stay focused while prepping, work efficiently and establish a good flow. Writing it out also helps you identify what makes sense to prep in what order. For example, you can marinate chicken and roast potatoes while you chop your veggies, etc.
6. Start prepping.
You have your meal plan, you’ve purchased the groceries, now it’s time to start prepping!
Get out that lovely list with everything you're going to prep. Head into the kitchen, turn on some tunes (no, really, it makes it much more enjoyable), connect with your WHY (food prep is an OPPORTUNITY to set yourself up for healthy success), possibly make a mimosa or pour a glass of wine and prep, prep, PREP!
Come mealtime tomorrow, you'll be able to toss together a healthy, nutrient-dense meal without hassle or having to worry about spending hours in the kitchen.
The goal of prepping is to simplify your routine and lifestyle, not complicate it. Keep in mind, there is no one-size-fits-all approach or a "right" way to do it. Like most things, there's a learning curve to discover what method works best for you.
So, think about you biggest stressors, the week ahead and what you can do to minimize these stressors with intentional prep. By identifying and tackling your weak spots first, you’ll prep each week without feeling frustrated or overwhelmed.
Since mastering food prep, we feel significantly less anxious about planning and preparing nutritious, real-food meals—and with the right strategy, food prep can do the same for you too!
What helped us significantly are the proven strategies outlined in the FfL Meal Prep Made Easy Course. The simple, actionable steps in this course allowed us to customize our planning and prep to fit our specific needs and lifestyle.
So, if you’re tired of feeling overwhelmed and stressed about feeding your family healthy, homemade meals and snacks, it’s something you should definitely check out!
Take Action Today
- Understand and connect with your “WHY.”
- Pick ONE meal to start with.
- Make a meal plan.
- Write down your grocery list.
- Write down your prep plan.
- Start prepping.
Let’s simplify meal prep and succeed — together!
xo, Pam & Kalie
P.S. We know how overwhelming it can be to prepare healthy meals every day. That's why we have an entire section of our blog dedicated to Meal Planning & Prep.
If you're in need of checklists and cheat sheets to create and execute a clear plan of action in the kitchen week after week, check out our Meal Planning and Food Prep Cheat Sheets.
If you're looking for a comprehensive guide to simplify planning and prep, check out Meal Prep Made Easy.