Embarking on a meal prep journey can transform your daily routine from chaotic to streamlined, and who doesn't love a little extra order in their life? It seems like a lot of extra work, but really it's doing a few moments of work to save so much time (and the need to make choices) when we're in the middle or end of our days and needing to eat.
It's about making smart, savvy decisions that work with your schedule, not against it. It's all too easy to succumb to random fridge foraging, ending up with microwaved nachos yet agin. But by learning to plan, you can save time, reduce stress, and keep to your nutritional goals.
The key, especially when you're just starting out, is to keep it uncomplicated. Plan just 1-2 days of cooking/meals, review what you can have on hand, and think of easy things you can have on hand to throw together. Here's step by step guide:
Step 1: Plan
Taking a few moments out 1 day/week to plan a few meals is so incredibly time saving, especially when you're pressed for time, starving, and literally anything (hello dinner of tortillas and chocolate chips!) in the fridge and panty is fair game.
Some planning tips:
- Pick which day of the week works best for you for a regular planning day. For me, it's Saturdays for planning and Sunday mornings for shopping
- Review what's already already in the pantry and fridge. Did you buy a bag of spinach last week that's on the verge? Prioritize using that in SOMETHING you'll prep.
- Stuck? Did you know you can use ChatGPT to come up with food ideas? Try telling ChatGPT you have tuna, a bag of baby spinach, and clementines, and see what it comes up with [here's what I got when I did that recently].
- Keep it simple! Especially when you first start. It's easy to decide to cook a elaborate slew of recipes, but in reality you just won't feel like doing that. Or if you're new to cooking it will quickly become overwhelming. Your meal prep doesn't have to be spectacular. Try just picking a protein, vegetable (or 3), and a complex carb.
- Example - batch cook chicken breasts, air fry some broccoli, get a bag of mixed greens and some baby tomatoes. Put it all together with a 1/4 or 1/2 sweet potato, microwaved.
STEP 2: Shop
- Pick which day or days of the week are best for you for shopping. Do you need to go to 1 store or more? When I lived in NYC, I had to shop a few times a week on my way home since the grocery store was between the subway and my apartment. Now that I live in Texas, I bike to the grocery store every Sunday morning - getting in my Zone 2 cardio AND my shopping. I also have found that Sunday mornings before 10am are the least crowded times and because I get tweaked out by crowds, I make that my timeslot.
STEP 3: Cook
- For me, cooking 1-3 days/week works best. But you should plan for whatever is best in your schedule.
- I batch cook a few things I can eat at least twice during the week, whether it's whole meals (thank you Instant Pot) or just a bit batch of air fried tofu (or chicken)
- I also like buying a few things that are pre-prepared. It can be a little more expensive, so this will also depend on your budget, but for some things, the time it saves chopping or cooking makes sense to me.
- REMEMBER: The goal is not perfection, but to strive for at least 80% of your diet as minimally processed as possible. I actually put cooking into my calendar so it's already there and part of what I know I have to do. I schedule it for the times I have available.
- Think cooking feels time consuming and you'd prefer to just watch TV? Bundle it together with your guilty pleasure TV time or listen to your favorite podcast. The time goes by, you haven't just zoned out in front of the television, and now you have food. It's a big win.
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