Meal Planning and Meal Prepping Made Easy For Beginners, or even if you are a pro some of these tips and tricks are sure to come in handy to you as well. And let me tell you, meal prepping is surely a process, and you can get it down to a science, but it is also an art that you can and need to master for your own sanity and to meet your health and fitness goals…
Per your request, this is a more detailed meal prep blogpost, following this high-level meal prep blogpost and my Instagram Stories.
P.S: Ideally, I would love to cook meals every single night and serve my family fresh meals every single day, but practically that is just not possible given our busy lifestyle and schedule.
So lezgo Meal Prep 101…
If you are a complete newbie to this whole meal prepping thing, you might be wondering…
WHAT THE HECK IS MEAL PREPPING EVEN?
Meal prepping is nothing but planning your meals and making them ahead of time so when it comes time to eat you don’t have to open your refrigerator and stare at it long and hard and pray that somehow food would magically appear before you from underneath one of those hidden drawers without you having to so much as lift a finger (yeah, I wish so too), but instead, take out one of the dishes you already made/stored in the refrigerator and devour…
But jokes aside, meal prepping is making all or some of your meals ahead of the week so you don’t have to worry about what to make or what to eat every.single.day.
Also, meal prepping falls within the realms of Task Batching that I speak so passionately about, read more here.
WHY MEAL PREP? WHAT ARE ITS BENEFITS?
– You meal prep so you don’t have to slave away in the kitchen every single day. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking, I find it therapeutic, and I enjoy it very much, but doing it every night, especially accompanied with all that cleaning after whipping up your favorite dish is no favorite task of mine.
– You meal prep so you don’t have to think about what to make/eat every single day. Trust me, I have been there and it is one of the most stressful things to tackle, especially when you are short on time.
– You meal prep so you can eat well-balanced healthy meals and not reach for some store-bought frozen or pre-packaged food when it comes time to feed yourself and your family. It also helps you make smarter decisions and keeps you on track with respect to your health and fitness goals.
– You meal prep so you reduce your grocery bills, minimize food wastage, and stay better organized.
– You meal prep so you can save money on take-out/eating out. Plus, ordering in or eating out often doesn’t remotely help if you want to lead a healthy lifestyle. Even if it’s just salads that you order, making it at home is way healthier and cheaper than spending $12 on a salad not knowing how the ingredients were sourced and how long they have been out on the shelves.
– And last but the most important, at least to me, I meal prep so I can spend some quality time with my baby boy and hubby in the evenings than spend all that time in the kitchen. You just need to know where your priorities lie and choose what is best for you and your family.
HOW TO MEAL PREP? PLUS TIPS TO MAKE THE WHOLE PROCESS EASIER & FASTER
As I said, meal prepping is a process and it is an art. It all comes down to how efficient you can be during the whole process so you don’t spend an entire Sunday doing just that, and also not allow it to make you feel overwhelmed.
* Set aside a day or two to meal prep based on if you want to meal prep once or twice a week. Say, Sunday and Wednesday. Totally depends on your schedule and what days work best for you.
* Meal plan before you meal prep. List out how many meals you want to meal prep, is it only dinner or all 3 meals for all 5 days a week, for how many people, etc. Set aside a day/time before you meal prep to decide what recipes to make. Take into consideration any food restrictions (say if someone is counting macro or carb cycling etc) or plan recipes based on the type of meal, prep time, etc.
* And as far as recipes go, I love to make a variety of dishes from various parts of the world aka. a few different cuisines each week, because 1) It would be too boring to eat the same thing every week, if you know me you know that I love variety. 2) Given that there are thousands of dishes you can make from around the world what a pity it would be not to make + eat at least a few hundred among them 😉 3) I love trying/experimenting/making new dishes all the time, so I don’t typically make the same dish again at least for a few weeks/months (unless it is some kind of South Indian comfort food which both the hubby and I usually crave every so often).
* But, if you are a newbie to either cooking or meal prepping, then don’t try to make a huge variety of dishes or try many new things at the same time. You will only hate the whole process and give up very soon. Start small, stick to recipes you know are easy and quick to make at first (say theme night dinners like taco Tuesday) and then slowly switch up recipes or add new ones as you learn your way around the whole meal prepping process. And recycle the recipes once every few weeks as in repeat the dishes or recycle the entire week’s menu.
Pro Tip 1: Create and maintain a recipe repository. It could be as simple as a folder on your computer, google sheets, Evernote or any latest apps (my recommendation here), or a Pinterest board (my favorite) which allows you to save recipes that you can refer back to during the later weeks.
Pro Tip 2: Instead of spending hours on a given day to decide what to make simply save recipes of something someone made as you scroll through social media apps (Instagram stories or Facebook or anything else) during the week, so you don’t have to spend any additional time deciding what dishes to meal prep this week. Trust me, it all adds up.
* Once you have narrowed down on the recipes make a list of ingredients that you need. But if you follow my Pro tip 2, then add ingredients that you might need to your ingredients list right away. Get a stock of what is in the refrigerator and pantry, mark your ingredients list accordingly and then head out grocery shopping with an updated grocery shopping list.
* Before you head out grocery shopping, clean out the refrigerator (you can do it simultaneously when you are getting a stock of it). That way you have enough space in your fridge for all the groceries you buy (plus, a section of your kitchen also gets cleaned, meaning, another thing checked off of your weekend agenda (unless, you are someone who follows my #PACT15 method, read more here, then you probably already have a clean refrigerator ;)).
* Finish grocery shopping in as little time as possible. Double, triple check your list to make sure you didn’t forget to buy something.
Pro Tip 3: Always have a stocked pantry with items you know you will always use while cooking, that way your weekly grocery shopping is quick and easy.
Pro Tip 4: I prefer grocery shopping early on Saturday mornings as soon as the store opens so I have the store all to myself and I am done in half the time, no traffic on the streets, no trying to make my way around the weekend crowd, no long lines to pay.
* Once you are back from grocery shopping (which reminds me that I need to get you all my grocery shopping haul list, plan to do so soon), clean, wash, prep your produce before you put it away in the refrigerator. Saves you time/space when putting things in the refrigerator especially if you need to make room for everything you just bought. And reduces the amount of work you have to do when you get down to the actual meal prepping process, plus makes it easy to just take out what you need while cooking.
Pro Tip 5: Pre-prep meal prep – yes, like soaking black beans overnight, shopping for groceries the previous day, and/or cutting veggies ahead of meal prep time if you want to split the workload.
* Meal prepping requires a lot of stamina and energy as it can take anywhere between 2-4 hrs depending on how many meals you are making. So make sure to eat before you start meal prepping (and rest a little bit if possible) and ensure that you don’t have to feed the kiddo while you are still in the middle of meal prepping or any other such interruptions. I meal prep late in the evening and hubby takes care of feeding Aarush dinner anyway, so I don’t have any interruptions at that time.
Pro Tip 6: Drink water as you make progress or you will feel parched by the end of it.
* Before you begin meal prepping, wear comfy and airy clothes, get the music going or if listening to podcast is more your thing then queue it up, or maybe even have some TV show that doesn’t need you to pay attention to playing in the background (say Friends), basically whatever works for you. We want to make this process as fun as possible.
* Then clean the kitchen – clear the kitchen counters, empty the sink, empty the dishwasher, empty trash, etc. Get all your cooking essentials ready – cutting board, knives, utensils, mixing bowls, pressure cooker, instant pot, etc. Get a list of my kitchen must-haves here.
* Pull out your recipes – on your phone, laptop, or if you are one to use print outs or recipe cards get them ready. I usually don’t follow any specific recipes, unless I am baking. I tend to come up with my own version of various recipes as I cook so I don’t rely on any recipes as such but will have a fair idea, not on paper or anything but just in my head, only because it works for me.
* Decide the order in which you are going to start cooking based on the utensils and gadgets you have handy. For example, I first start with the dish that needs to be made in the Instant pot so it is done by the time I have to use the instant pot again to make another dish (usually my last dish). Then move onto the dish that needs to be made in the pressure cooker then one that needs to go in the oven and then a dish that only needs a cooking pan. You get the idea.
* Once you are done cooking, get all your containers ready as the food cools down. Then pack breakfast, lunch, snacks, etc and stack them away.
Pro Tip 7: Always use clear glass containers that are not too heavy to store food in the fridge so they can be taken as is to work/school and reheated during lunch. If you are freezing something use Ziploc bags and thaw them overnight in the refrigerator the night before.
Pro Tip 8: In order to make it easy on your family members and yourself make a menu card and put it up where it is visible so they know what dish is for when. Also, this will make you feel more organized about your kitchen and life in general. Trust me, every simple step adds up in making you feel efficient and super productive.
If you are not one who likes to make all meals all at once then prep for a few meals ahead of time which you can simply put together on a weekday night. I do this for dishes that taste good when you eat it right after cooking, so I prep all ingredients and put it in the fridge so I can quickly whip up the dish during one of the weekdays.
Trust me when I say this, over the years I have tried various combinations on how best to cook for my family and make the most of my time. And I can honestly say that the weeks when I meal prep are usually the ones which are smoother than the ones when I have not.
So ideally, your meal prepping should look something like the below, but the key is to figure out what works best for you and your family…
- Split your workload and spread it out
- Plan recipes during the week – spend 5 mins when you can to save your favorite recipes and not scroll through Pinterest pinning recipes for hours.
- Finalize your weekly menu on Friday
- Get a stock of your pantry and fridge on Friday.
- Grocery shop early Saturday morning and pre-prep meal prep.
- Full meal prep on Sunday.
- Pack meals accordingly.
- Enjoy the fruits of your hard work the rest of the week.
- Rinse and repeat 😉
Pro Tip 9: To all my fellow travel addicts, this is specifically for you… A week or 2 weeks before your vacation make more of a few meals and freeze them. Given how much we travel this comes in super handy when we come back from our weekend getaways or long vacations. Helps us get a jump start on things when we are back from a trip and I don’t have to worry about grocery shopping and cooking at least for the first couple of days. Also helps satisfy your craving for home cooked meals after all that eating out when you are traveling.
There you have it, meal prepping 101.
I hope that all my meal prep tips and tricks are helpful to you.
If you have any tips of your own please do share so we can all benefit from them.
“You don’t have to eat less. You just have to eat right.”