Maintaining a balanced diet is essential, and home-cooked meals are one way to achieve it. However, not everyone has enough time to cook every day, especially when working a 9-to-5 job.
Meal preparation, or meal prepping, can be a good solution. It can help you save time in the kitchen while enjoying a healthy, home-cooked meal.
Eating and enjoying your meals is the easy part. Meal prep will require some work and a bit of time. Here’s a beginner’s guide to meal prepping to help you get started.
Benefits of Meal Prepping
While meal prepping might not be for everyone, it offers significant benefits you may want to consider. Here are some ways meal prepping can help improve your quality of life.
Yes, meal prepping takes a chunk of your free time, but it helps you save a lot of time throughout the week.
When your busy days come, you could take out your prepped meals, reheat them, and enjoy them. You’ll be sure you can have a nourishing, filling meal when you get home after a tiring day.
While you can find many affordable meal options in restaurants and diners, you’ll be more likely to save when preparing your meals.
Meal prepping usually requires buying ingredients in bulk, and you can save a lot of dough that way. You can buy everything you need at once and prepare meals that could last you for a week or more.
Involves portion control
If you’re having trouble cooking or eating manageable and healthy portions, meal prep can help. Part of meal prep involves portioning your meals. It can help you eat healthier amounts and reduce food waste.
Takes the stress out of meal planning
When meal prepping, you condense all your prep work into one period. This period might take a few or several hours, depending on your skills and the amount of food you plan to prepare.
However, after you finish prepping, you’ll spend less time and mental bandwidth deciding what to eat. Aside from saving time, you won’t need to worry about buying ingredients and cooking when you’re busy.
Best Foods for Meal Prepping
The foods you choose for meal prep will depend on your taste or nutritional goals. However, some types of foods last and stay fresher for longer. Here are some of the best ingredients you can include in your meal plan.
- Cooked grains (rice, corn, quinoa, oats, etc.)
- Cooked pasta
- Cooked meat (beef, pork, turkey, chicken, etc.)
- Dried meat (air-dried beef jerky, biltong, etc.)
- Nuts and seeds
- Hearty vegetables (carrots, peas, cabbage, kale, celery, etc.)
- Whole fruit (apples, oranges, etc.)
- Cheese, sauces, and dips
You are going to freeze or refrigerate your meals, so some foods and textures might not hold up. Softer fruits and vegetables and crunchy foods might not be the best ingredients for meal prep.
There are some ways to keep certain ingredients fresh, like packing them individually. This method might not be as convenient and will require extra work. but it might be worth it if you want to prep with them.
How To Prep Your Meals
Meal prep can seem intimidating, but there are simple ways you can get started. There is a wide range of techniques and ingredients you could explore. You can also switch up your methods to suit your lifestyle and preferences better.
If you’re just starting with meal prep, here are some basic steps you can follow.
1. Choose a meal prep method
You can choose from different meal prep methods depending on your schedule and cooking style. You can use one or a combination of these meal prep methods to suit your needs.
- Ready-to-cook ingredients. If you prefer to cook your food right before eating, you can prep and portion the ingredients beforehand. This method involves minimal effort. You only need to chop up and portion your ingredients before storing them in the fridge.
- Make-ahead meals. This method involves cooking complete meals you could reheat at mealtimes. Soups and casseroles are excellent recipes for this method.
- Batch cooking/freezing. This method involves preparing multiple batches and portions of a specific recipe. Due to the amount of food, this method might be pretty laborious and time-intensive. However, your portions will usually last you for months.
- Individually-portioned meals. Portioning your meals allows for more control, especially regarding specific ingredients or food groups. This method is best for people with specific health goals who want to watch what they eat.
2. Make a prep plan
Once you’ve decided on one or more meal prep methods, it’s time to plan your meals. Create a menu of recipes you want for a particular period.
If you’re new to meal prep, you can start by prepping for one meal, like all your breakfasts or dinners for a week. Make sure to consider your schedule and routine to work around it.
Start with some easy recipes you already know. Keep things simple, and work with seasonal ingredients to ensure freshness.
Finally, schedule your prep. Pick a day when you have free time to focus on the meal prep process.
3. Prepare your ingredients and materials
After finishing your meal prep plan, it’s time to gather your ingredients and materials. Take inventory of ingredients you may already have in your pantry, like pasta, grains, fruits, and veggies.
Consult your recipe books to see if you need anything else, and then go grocery shopping. A clear list of ingredients can help you save money and make the trip go much quicker and more smoothly.
Aside from ingredients, ensure you have the right supplies depending on your prep method. For example, if you plan to make individual meal portions, make sure you have enough containers for all your meals.
4. Prep and store
Once you have everything, it’s time for meal prep. Here are some tips to maximize your time and energy.
- Start with the meals that require the most time to cook.
- If you’re cooking multiple recipes that use the same ingredient, prep that ingredient for all the recipes that need it.
- Take note of each ingredient’s or meal’s storage life.
- Freeze your meals to maintain their quality.
- Keep various spices on hand.
After preparing and cooking your meals, divide them accordingly into high-quality containers. Label them with the date, then store them in your fridge or freezer.
5. Enjoy your meals
When mealtimes come, you can easily access delicious, filling meals. Cook or reheat your prepped meals and enjoy them yourself or with your loved ones.
Meal prep can seem like a daunting task, especially for a beginner. However, the more you do it, the more you develop your skills and judgment. After a few meal prep batches, you’ll soon develop your style and preferred meal prep method.