What is Meal Prep?
Meal Prep, or meal preparation, is just what it sounds like: Preparing meals or snacks for yourself in advance. You have probably seen images on social media of beautiful identical Tupperwares lined up, filled with colourful vegetables and perfectly roasted chicken breasts, but it really doesn’t need to be that pretty (unless that makes you happy, of course).
Why Meal Prep?
A lot of us know what we should be eating, but for some reason find it hard to execute good nutrition in our daily lives. Knowledge and execution are two very different beasts! A consistent theme of these nutrition posts is the power of preparation. Having healthy meals prepared for yourself can help save you time, ensure you eat what you want to be eating, and keep you from making food decisions you may regret later. Meal prep is basically letting your wise and level-headed Sunday-self make decisions for your hungry and tired Thursday-self.
If you are interested in trying some meal prep, here are some tips to help you get started:
1. Identify what you need
If you have never meal prepped before, it may not be a good idea to go all in with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks the first time. Start small, like making lunches and snacks for a few days.
If you don’t know how much food you need, try tracking everything you eat for a week (be honest with yourself!) Tracking for a short period is a good way to gauge how much you eat, and when you like to eat. If you find it hard record your food, that might indicate that you aren’t quite ready to stick to a week-long meal plan.
Having an idea what you already eat can also help you make meal-prepping a sustainable part of your life. For instance, if you already make the same type of meal a few times a week or everyday (like you always have oatmeal, fruit and hardboiled eggs for breakfast), it is easier to turn those meals into a big-batch recipe than starting completely fresh with recipes you don’t even know if you like. It can be frustrating to see a recipe on Instagram that looks good, make 5 days worth, and then being stuck eating something you don’t like twice a day for a week. Trust us, it sucks.
2. Make time
The first time you meal prep, it might take you a long time (we are talking 3+ hours). The more you practice meal prepping, the more efficient you will be, and you might even be able to multitask by cooking a bunch of things at once. Don’t expect to be a meal-prep wizard the first time you do it! It requires some patience.
Many people like to meal prep on Sundays, but you can do it whenever you can make time. Make sure you plan your grocery list with your meal prep plan in mind, so you have everything you need when you start cooking. In the beginning, the planning and shopping stages will likely take longer than the cooking stage.
3. Tools of the trade
You don’t need the fanciest containers, but you do need some that work (eg. ones that don’t leak), and that are microwave safe. If you want to go for the best, containers with snap-lids often last longer and stay tight, and glass containers, while heavy, are easiest to clean.
You are also going to want a clean kitchen, a fridge (and/or freezer) with space, and maybe some Ziploc bags for snacks.
WHAT SHOULD I PREP?
As always, we recommend cooking with ‘real food.’ For reference, here is our food guide.
You can really fill your Tupperwares with whatever you like, but if you don’t know where to start, here are two common approaches for meal prep.
1. Big Batch meals
This strategy is recommended for people who don’t mind eating the same stuff day after day (as long as it tastes good), and don’t really want to think about their food after the initial prep stage.
Here’s how it works: you make a normal meal you like that keeps well in the fridge, but make a much bigger batch (like by multiplying the recipe by 2 or 3). It may seem very simple, but you may have a little bit of math to do in the planning stage here. For example, let’s say you want to make chili for week night dinners for yourself and a roommate/partner who eats the same amount (so 10 meals). Your standard chili recipe serves 6. So, multiplying each ingredient amount in your chili recipe by 1.7 should give you enough for the both of you for the week! Of course, if you mess up and make too much, you can always freeze the rest.
Some examples of meals that keep well, and that are pretty easy to make in large quantities:
- Stews and soups
- Shepherd’s Pie, lasagna, or other one dish meals
- Curry and rice
- Stuffed peppers
- Overnight Oatmeal
Once the big batch is cool, divide into portions in your containers. This is where having a uniform set of containers is useful, so you can easily make the portions equal. If you have a mixed set of containers, you may want to use measuring cups, or a food scale.
2. Mix-and-match meals
This is a good technique for people who like a little more variety, or who want to feel more spontaneous with their meals. It can also work well for people who don’t need their meals pre-portioned out in packable containers, but still want to be prepared and make their nutrition convenient for themselves.
Here’s how it works: You prep some different proteins, some different vegetables and other carbs, and mix and match. You can either leave the different things in big containers and grab as you need, or make up meals with different variations in smaller containers.
- Meatballs/meatloaf- Meatballs are especially suited for this because it is very easy to portion out equal amounts.
- Chicken with different seasonings - So this would involve putting your chicken breasts on your baking sheet, but season half of them one way and the other half in another. For example, one side could be seasoned with chili powder, paprika, lime juice, and salt, and the other side could be seasoned with coconut oil, curry powder, and turmeric. Obviously you could use this technique with different meats or vegetarian proteins.
- Steak strips
- Tuna salad
*Please be aware of food safety with keeping meats in the fridge/freezer. Here is a guide.
Vegetables and other Carbs:
- Roasted vegetables
- Mashed vegetables
- Hardboiled eggs
- Chopped vegetables
- Whole Fruit
There are about a million meal-prep friendly recipes online if you want to get inspired. A good resource for simple recipes that translate well to meal-prep is our very own Christine’s www.nutritiousfuel.com. You can also check out our meal prep guide here.