How To Start Meal Prepping: Healthy and Simple Meal Ideas
Why stress about meal prep? Despite wanting to wake up early to make a healthy breakfast and pack lunch, life is already chaotic enough. Then after battling traffic to make it home, making dinner sounds like a lot of work. That’s why meal prepping is the next best thing. Meal prepping is a process of planning and preparing meals ahead of time but remembering flexibility is key. Preparing meals ahead of time encourages you to consume healthier foods throughout the week and your wallet will thank you.
Feeling overwhelmed by the thought of meal prepping? We got you covered. In this blog, you have the tools to help you tackle ways to build balanced meals and snacks all week long.
Easy Meal Planning Template
- Protein + Healthy Fat: Where’s it coming from? (Lean proteins, seafood or plant-based options)
- Veggies & Fruits: What’s in the fridge or in season? (Try Fresh and Frozen)
- Feeling Carbs: Yes, No or Possibly? What goes best with whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa or sweet potatoes?
- Add Layers of Flavor: What spices, herbs and sauces will make the above meal taste delicious?
These are the questions that can run through your head when deciding what to make for the week or even just a few days in advance!
Meal Prepping: Where to Start?
Start Small & Simple: There’s no need to overwhelm yourself with complicated recipes, especially if you are new to meal prep. Start with recipes that require minimal ingredients, such as pasta dishes, rice bowls, tray bakes or Instant Pot meals. Most people meal prep on Sunday but you don’t necessarily have to meal prep all your meals. Even just preparing protein will give you more time during the week.
Look at Your Week: Before making a list and shopping, plan out how many meals you think you’ll eat at home or bring to work. Do you have dinner plans on Friday night or are you staying late at the office? On average most people eat at least two meals away from home so there is no reason to over prep.
Plan your Meals (2 options)
- Choose Your Recipes: The first option is to pick a few of your favorite recipes to prepare and then enjoy leftovers throughout the week. So ,for example you could choose a meat pasta dish and a chicken stir-fry to enjoy for weeknight dinners.
- Mix & Match: Now the second option is great for anyone (including myself) that loves variety all week long. Instead of creating entire recipes, you can choose to mix and match different variations of food groups. With this option your family will never get bored! Mixing and matching is the easiest way to create lunches and dinners in a matter of minutes.
Prepare 2-3 different proteins such as chicken, beef and tofu.
Prepare 2-3 different starches such as pasta, rice and sweet potatoes.
Prepare 2-3 different veggies such as salad, roasted cauliflower or Brussel sprouts.
Batch Cook Grains: My favorite meal prep hack is to pre-cook all my grains for the week, like quinoa, brown rice, pasta or wheat berries. Most use the same equipment, either a rice cooker or large pot with water or low-sodium broth for added flavor. Grains often cook just like rice, with a 2-to-1 or 1-to-1 ratio of grain to water. Now these grains can be used as the base to build balanced meals from salad toppers to burrito or taco fillings to quick additions to stews. There’s tons of variety and it saves so much time.
Organize your Shopping List: Arm yourself with a list when shopping, that way it’s a no brainer to bypass temptations and stock the kitchen with healthy staples. Think about your shopping list meal by meal. The easiest way to organize is by planning out breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks each day, and then break it down by ingredients. Before heading out, check to see what items you have in the fridge, as well as in the pantry.
Stock Pantry Staples: While you can’t buy fresh produce and meat a month in advance (unless frozen), pantry items like spices, condiments, canned goods and grains can go months without spoiling. Stock up on commonly used essentials from the list below. I always have chicken stock, canned tomatoes and tomato paste to make a quick pasta sauce!
- Fresh & Frozen Fruit - berries, bananas, apples, citrus, stone fruit and grapes.
- Grains - Brown rice, rice noodles, quinoa and pasta noodles.
- Plant-Based - Lentils, black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas.
- Fats - olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, walnut oil and oil sprays.
- Nut & Seeds - walnuts, almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
- Greens - spinach, arugula, romaine, kale and super greens mix.
- Fresh & Frozen Vegetables - broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, beets and zucchini.
- Starchy veggies – squash, sweet potatoes, corn and potatoes.
- Nut Butters - almond, cashew, peanut butter and hazelnut.
- Canned/Boxed Goods – tuna, canned veggies, canned beans and stocks.
- Animal Proteins - chicken, fish, beef, turkey and eggs (Buy in bulk! Freeze then thaw meats when needed).
Hit up the Grocery Store: It can be hard on Sunday Funday to shop, but spending 30 minutes at the store will save your wallet and keep you satisfied all week long. Remember to take your shopping list to keep you focused on a quick trip. Better yet order your groceries to be delivered right to your door. We actually spend less money shopping online vs. the actual store too.
Pre-Prepped Ingredients: There is nothing wrong with taking shortcuts to save time at the grocery store. Look for pre-cut veggies, salsa, guacamole and hummus. If using these things helps you eat healthier, then why not? Don’t be afraid to buy frozen veggies or fruits. Bags of frozen produce aren’t just convenient; they're surprisingly nutritious. According to a study from the University of Chester in England, the majority of frozen produce is higher in antioxidants and other nutrients than fresh produce, since they are picked at their peak and flash frozen. For example, in the study, frozen carrots were found to have about three times the lutein and twice the beta-carotene, as well as greater levels of vitamin C compared to their fresh counterparts.
Whip up Overnight Oats
Overnight Oats require no cooking and you can make big batches at the beginning of the week that will last through Friday! All you have to do is combine rolled oats with a liquid (milk, almond milk, or yogurt), keep in the fridge for at least 8 hours, then add your choice of fruits or nuts in the morning. Try adding 1 Tablespoon of chia seeds for extra crunch and health benefits.
DIY Yogurt Bowls
Greek yogurt parfaits are great for a satisfying breakfast. Layer plain Greek yogurt, sliced fresh or frozen fruit, sliced almonds and a dash of cinnamon in a sealed container or mason jar. Then all you have to do in the morning is grab and go, so there is never an excuse to miss breakfast again. Make it fun by eating out of actual fruit like a papaya, apple or cantaloupe!
Try Building Mason Jar Salads
This is such a fun idea and a time saver! Meal prepping in mason jars is so fun and a huge time saver. I have the best trick to keep your salads from getting mushy. Any liquids such as dressings should be poured into the bottom and then you start to build your salad with veggies (carrots, cucumbers), whole grains, and crunchy toppings. Leave the top quarter of the jar for those tasty leafy greens! You can actually make these jars in advance, so they are ready for your 5 day work week. An easy way to get those veggies in. To help absorb the extra moisture, place a paper towel on top for a crunchy salad! Don’t think mason jars are just for salads or lunch. This could make a great dinner option when you’re on the go too.
No Mess Tray Bakes
One pan or pot meals are the best for busy weeknights, with little clean up! Tray bakes are perfect for quick meals, especially when it’s hot out. They are simple, tasty and you can mix and match all your favorite ingredients. All you have to do is double or triple the recipe to make extra leftovers for the next day. Use the pre-cooked protein (chicken, beef or tofu) to have with your lunch during the week. Then for lunch use a mason jar or reheat into a burrito bowl tossed with your pre-cooked grain. Tray bakes allow you to cook several ingredients on a single sheet tray with parchment paper. If you are looking for a way to cook all your proteins, starches and veggies this is the way to go!
Pick and choose what meal prep options fit your lifestyle or switch it up each week. Meal prepping is all about flexibility, so start small and keep it simple! We can’t wait to be a part of your meal prep journey! What will you be cooking up this week?