by Doretta Wright, M.S., R.D., LDN
Meal prepping has become the new big thing and for once, this is a food fad I’m a fan of.
Unfortunately, it can be a little bit daunting, so I’ve broken it down into 10 simple steps.
If you’ve never prepped before, keep it simple. Maybe you start by only prepping dinners for the week then work your way up to dinners and lunches. Maybe breakfast is the one meal you always end up hitting the drive through for, whatever meal it is, it can be prepped!
People often ask how long it takes to prep, or comment that they don’t have time to prep. The truth is, prepping can be as fast as 1 hour or take as long as 4 hours. It all depends on what you make, how much you make and how efficient you are. If you cook one dish at a time, it is going to take a while. If you cook 5 or 6 different recipes, it’s going to take a while.
I generally make 20 meals for each week - that’s lunch and dinner for myself and my husband Monday through Friday. Occasionally, I will make enough to last us through the following weekend, it all depends on our plans and what we have going on. I don’t normally prep breakfast because we are both early risers and have plenty of time to make it each morning. Remember that prepping is different for everyone and there is no right or wrong way to do it. If you are making food in advance, you are prepping! Chances are, you’ve probably already meal prepped before and just didn’t realize it.
So, let’s get started!
- Make a plan. Determine how many meals you need to prep. Are you struggling with breakfast, lunches or dinners? Maybe all three? Do you need to prepare meals for yourself and your family? How many people are you prepping for? How many days/meals are you prepping for? Look at your week ahead and plan accordingly. This week, I made enough to get us through lunch next Sunday, (minus breakfast since we make it every morning) so 26 meals.
- Pick your recipes. If you are new to prepping, keep it simple. Choose dishes that only have 2-3 ingredients such as baked chicken with roasted broccoli and brown rice, or baked spaghetti squash with ground turkey and marinara sauce. The internet is full of recipes if you don’t already have a few of your own. You don’t have to have a different recipe for every day. I generally make 2-3 recipes that I rotate between lunch and dinner. Breakfast is always the same (2 eggs, 2 slices whole wheat toast and side of fruit)
- Once you’ve picked your recipes, determine portions. Most recipes make 4-6 servings. You may need to double or triple the recipe depending on how many meals you plan on using the recipe for.
- Take inventory and make a grocery list. Check to see what ingredients you already have in your cupboards and make your grocery list accordingly.
- Shop. Give yourself enough time to go through the grocery store, read food labels and get everything on your list.
- Get ready to cook. Organize your foods. I prefer to group them based on type. Meats stay in the refrigerator until I’m ready to cook them, fruit and veggies are out on the counter next to grains and beans. Spices are lined up on the counter.
- Lay out your storage containers. You can do this in two ways. You can use individual containers for each meal, which is very convenient for taking meals with you on the go and ensuring specific portion sizes, or you can store foods in large containers and portion servings out when you go to eat, which is convenient for when you are eating at home. Key thing to remember here: make sure you have lids for each container.
- Cook. If you are making multiple dishes, this is where multitasking comes into play.
- Start with items that are going to take the longest. Pre-heat oven or start water on the stove to boil if necessary. Prep food that is going to go in the oven or boiling water.
- While oven is pre-heating or water heating up, prepare your vegetables. Wash them and lay them out to dry. This is a task that can be interrupted at any time, so if your oven beeps that it is ready, you can stop washing or chopping and go ahead and put in your prepped food.
- Once vegetables are prepped and slower cooking items are in the oven or simmering on the stove, etc., start working on the more acute items. Foods that will cook faster and need attention while they are cooking. Ground turkey for example, you will need to stay close by while browning your ground turkey. Once it is sufficiently cooked, you can set it aside while you finish preparing other parts of your meals.
- Cook vegetables as indicated in your recipe.
- Once previous items already cooking are complete and cool, you can start adding them into your containers and assembling your meals.
- Once each recipe is complete and meals have been assembled into containers, store in refrigerator. (Take a picture first to show all your friends!) Most recipes will last for up to one week.
- Clean as you go
- Use the same pans for multiple foods
- Line baking pans with parchment paper or tin foil for faster clean up
- Enlist help from your family
- Kids are great at peeling potatoes and cleaning veggies
- Ask your spouse to man the grill while you are inside manning the stove