Tired of scrambling to figure out what to eat every day and stay on track with your goals?
Say hello to meal prepping!
As a nutrition coach, I’ve helped countless clients simplify their lives and achieve their health goals through meal prep.
Below, I’ll give you a step-by-step guide to help you plan, shop, cook, and store your meals like a pro.
I’ve also included a sample meal plan so you can see how the meal-prepping process comes to life.
What is Meal Prep and Why Do It?
Meal prepping is the art of planning, preparing, and packaging meals and snacks in advance.
This typically involves setting aside a few hours once or twice a week to cook, portion, and store meals for the upcoming days.
Here are a few motivating reasons to start meal prepping:
Save Time, Money, and Energy
By planning and preparing meals ahead, you can reduce the time spent on daily cooking and cleanup.
You’ll also save money by avoiding last-minute takeout or impulse buys at the grocery store.
Additionally, having a plan minimizes food waste, leading to a more efficient use of your resources.
Improve Diet Quality and Health Goals
Meal prepping encourages mindful eating and helps you stick to a balanced diet.
By controlling the ingredients and portions, you can easily tailor your meals to meet your personal health goals.
This could be weight loss, muscle gain, or simply maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Reduce Stress and Decision Fatigue
Ever experienced the dreaded “what’s for dinner” question?
With meal prepping, you can eliminate this stress by having a plan in place. Decision fatigue, the mental exhaustion caused by making too many choices, can be reduced as well.
You’ll know exactly what you’re eating, giving you more mental energy for other tasks.
- Related Article: How To Start Eating Healthy: 5 Simple Tips For Beginners
Different Ways to Meal Prep
No two meal preppers are the same, and that’s what makes this practice so versatile.
Below are some popular meal prep methods that cater to different needs and preferences, with examples from my own experience.
1. Make-Ahead Meals
With this approach, you cook full meals in advance and reheat them at mealtimes.
This is perfect for those who want the convenience of ready-to-eat meals without resorting to store-bought frozen dinners.
For instance, I often prepare a big pan of lasagna or a hearty casserole on Sunday and store individual portions in the fridge or freezer.
Then, during the week, I can simply reheat a serving for a quick and delicious meal.
2. Batch Cooking
If you don’t mind eating the same meal a few times during the week, batch cooking is a great option.
Cook large quantities of a recipe, divide it into portions, and freeze them for later use.
I love making a big pot of chili or vegetable soup, portioning it into freezer-safe containers, and enjoying a homemade meal whenever I need something warm and comforting.
3. Individually Portioned Meals
This method involves preparing fresh meals and storing them in grab-and-go containers.
It’s ideal for busy individuals who need quick meal options without sacrificing nutrition.
For my weekday lunches, I often cook a protein like grilled chicken or tofu, a serving of brown rice or quinoa, and some roasted vegetables.
I portion them into containers so I can easily grab a healthy, balanced meal on my way out the door.
4. Ready-to-Cook Ingredients
If you enjoy the process of cooking but want to save time on prep work, this method is for you.
Chop, slice, marinate, or season ingredients ahead of time and store them in the fridge or freezer.
When I know I’ll be making stir-fry during the week, I’ll slice the vegetables and pre-marinate the protein on the weekend.
A Quick Note On These Methods
It’s important to note that these meal prep methods are not mutually exclusive.
In fact, you’ll likely find yourself using a combination of these techniques to best suit your needs and schedule.
For example, you might batch-cook a big pot of soup for dinners while also preparing individually portioned salads for your weekday lunches.
The key to successful meal prepping is to find the right balance of methods that work best for you. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different techniques or adapt them to fit your specific needs.
Step 1: Plan Your Meals for the Week
Creating a weekly meal plan that works for you is the foundation of successful meal prepping.
Start Small and Simple
Don’t overwhelm yourself by planning every meal and snack for the entire week.
Choose one meal type, like lunches or dinners, to focus on.
Once you’re comfortable, gradually expand your planning. For example, start by prepping three dinners for the week.
You can mix and match the leftovers for lunches, cutting down on your prep time.
Consider Each Food Group and Balance Your Plate
Aim to include a variety of food groups in your meals—protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy or dairy alternatives.
Use the “MyPlate” guidelines as a template: fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-quarter with grains, and the remaining quarter with protein.
This ensures a balanced and nutrient-dense meal.
Use a Calendar or Planner
Map out your meals and snacks on a calendar or planner to help you visualize your week.
You can use digital tools like Google Calendar or meal-planning apps like Mealime, or simply write it out on a physical calendar or whiteboard.
Set aside specific days for grocery shopping and meal prepping. Be sure to plan for leftovers, and check for any special occasions or social events that may impact your meals.
Also, check for gaps and overlaps.
Spotting gaps refers to identifying days or meal times where you haven’t planned a meal yet, while overlaps might mean you’ve planned too much food for a specific day.
Check Your Pantry, Fridge, and Freezer
Before planning your meals, take inventory of what you already have on hand.
Organize your pantry, fridge, and freezer so you can easily see what’s available.
Keep a running list of staples to replenish and use a shopping list app like AnyList to keep track of items you need to purchase.
Choose Recipes That Fit Your Budget, Schedule, and Skill Level
Be realistic when selecting recipes. Consider your time constraints, cooking abilities, and budget.
Choose meals with overlapping ingredients to minimize waste and save money.
Opt for recipes with shorter cook times or fewer ingredients on busy days, and save more elaborate dishes for days with extra time.
Example Meal Plan
To give you an idea of a balanced meal plan, here’s an example of what I might plan for a day:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with fruit and nuts for a filling start to the day, packed with fiber, vitamins, and healthy fats.
- Lunch: Chicken vegetable stir-fry with brown rice, providing lean protein, an assortment of colorful veggies, and whole grains.
- Dinner: A burrito bowl with beans and veggies, offering plant-based protein, fiber, and a mix of textures and flavors.
I’ll use this meal plan in the next few steps to show you how everything comes together.
Step 2: Shop for Your Meal Prep
Once you’ve planned your meals for the week, it’s time to hit the grocery store.
Make a Grocery List Based on Your Meal Plan and Stick to It
Compile a shopping list with all the ingredients you need for your meal plan.
Organize your list by category (produce, dairy, grains, etc.) to streamline your shopping trip.
Stick to your list to avoid buying unnecessary items that may contribute to food waste or derail your budget.
My advice is DON’T shop when you’re hungry.
Shop in Bulk for Staples and Items That Last Long
Save money and reduce packaging waste by shopping in bulk for non-perishable items like grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
You can also stock up on items with a longer shelf life, such as canned goods and frozen foods when they’re on sale.
Buy Seasonal, Local, and Frozen Produce When Possible
Seasonal and local produce tends to be fresher, more flavorful, and often less expensive.
Plus, it supports local farmers and reduces your environmental footprint.
For example, right now strawberries are in season, so I just bought 3 cartons during my last shop.
Also, don’t shy away from frozen fruits and vegetables, as they’re picked at peak ripeness and can be more nutrient-dense than some fresh produce.
Look for Sales, Discounts, and Coupons
Plan your meals around sale items to make the most of these savings.
Avoid Impulse Buys and Processed Foods
Stay focused on your list and avoid purchasing items that aren’t part of your meal plan.
Steer clear of highly processed foods, which can be high in calories, sodium, and added sugars, and instead focus on whole, nutrient-dense ingredients.
Example Meal Plan
Revisiting the example meal plan I shared earlier—oatmeal with fruit and nuts for breakfast, chicken vegetable stir-fry with brown rice for lunch, and a burrito bowl with beans and veggies for dinner—here’s how these shopping tips would apply:
- Write down the ingredients needed for each meal, such as oats, fruit, nuts, chicken, vegetables, brown rice, beans, and any necessary seasonings that aren’t already in my pantry.
- Purchase oats, brown rice, and nuts in bulk, taking advantage of lower prices and reducing packaging waste.
- Opt for seasonal produce for stir-fry and burrito bowl, and consider buying frozen veggies as a convenient and nutrient-rich option.
- Look for sales on chicken and produce, and look for any promos to save on pantry staples like beans and seasonings.
- Stick to the list and avoid picking up extra items like chips, cookies, or pre-made meals that aren’t part of my meal plan.
Step 3: Cook and Store Your Meal Prep
Now that you’ve planned your meals and shopped for your ingredients, it’s time to cook and store your meal prep.
Quality Storage Containers
Look for containers that are leak-proof, microwave-safe, freezer-safe, and dishwasher-safe.
Store your cooked oatmeal in glass containers with airtight lids, making it easy to reheat in the microwave.
Keep your cut fruit and nuts in separate smaller containers or silicone bags to maintain their freshness and prevent sogginess.
For your stir-fry and burrito bowl, use leak-proof containers that can handle both hot and cold temperatures.
Use Different Sizes and Shapes of Containers
Having a variety of container sizes and shapes allows you to store different types of foods more efficiently.
Use small containers or silicone bags for your cut fruit and nuts, medium-sized containers for your oatmeal and burrito bowl, and slightly larger containers for your stir-fry and brown rice.
Keep track of your meals by labeling containers with dates and contents.
Label each container with the meal type (e.g., “Breakfast – Oatmeal,” “Lunch – Stir-fry,” “Dinner – Burrito Bowl”) and the date you prepared it.
This ensures you know exactly what’s inside and when it needs to be consumed.
Cool Your Food Completely Before Storing
Let your cooked food cool to room temperature before storing it in the refrigerator or freezer.
This prevents condensation from forming inside the container, which can lead to soggy food and spoilage.
For example, allow your stir-fry and burrito bowl to cool to room temperature before transferring them to their respective containers.
Refrigerate or Freeze Your Food Promptly
Place your prepped meals in the refrigerator, ensuring they’re spaced out for proper air circulation.
If you have prepared extra servings of any meal to be consumed beyond four days, transfer those portions to freezer-safe containers, label them with the date, and store them in the freezer.
This way, you can easily grab and thaw them for future weeks.
Full Meal Prep Example
Now that you have these steps, here’s how it translates into practice for a day of eating.
|Day||Meal||Menu Item||Shopping List||Meal Prep Task|
|Monday||Breakfast||Oatmeal w/ fruit & nuts||Oats, |
fruit (e.g. berries),
nuts (e.g. almonds)
|1. Cook oats according to package instructions |
2. Wash and cut fruit (if needed)
3. Measure out nuts
4. Store cooked oats in a medium-sized container
5. Store cut fruit and nuts in separate smaller containers or silicone bags
|Lunch||Chicken stir-fry w/ brown rice||Chicken, |
veggies (e.g. bell peppers, broccoli),
stir-fry sauce (e.g. teriyaki)
|1. Cook brown rice according to package instructions |
2. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces
3. Wash and chop veggies
4. Cook chicken in a pan until cooked through
5. Add veggies and stir-fry sauce, cook until veggies are tender
6. Portion stir-fry and rice into medium-sized containers
|Dinner||Burrito bowl w/ beans & veggies|
Beans (e.g. black beans),
|1. Cook rice according to package instructions (can use same rice as lunch) |
2. Drain and rinse beans
3. Chop veggies
4. Sauté veggies in a pan until tender
5. Mix beans, cooked veggies, and rice in a bowl
Other Expert Tips to Make Meal Prep Easier and More Enjoyable
Here are some additional expert tips that seasoned meal preppers shared with me:
Tip #1: Go the delivery service route
Use a service like PlateJoy or Mealime to get personalized meal plans, recipes, and grocery lists delivered to your phone or email.
“Meal delivery services can be a great way to save time and money while still eating healthy and delicious food. They can also help you discover new recipes, ingredients, and cuisines that you might not have tried otherwise.”– Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook and Smart Meal Prep for Beginners. Bio
Tip #2: Organize your fridge
Arrange your food items by category and use clear containers or labels to see what you have and where it is.
“Organizing your fridge can make a huge difference in how easy it is to meal prep and eat healthy. By grouping similar foods together and using clear containers or labels, you can see what you have at a glance and avoid wasting food or buying duplicates.”– Alyssa Gagarin, owner and founder of Meal Prep Chef, a weekly personal chef service in New York City specializing in meal prep. Bio
Tip #3: Make extra sauces and grains
Cook more than you need and store them in the fridge or freezer for later use in different dishes.
“One of my favorite meal prep hacks is to make extra sauces and grains whenever I cook. Sauces can add flavor and variety to any dish, and grains can be used as a base for salads, bowls, or stir-fries. You can store them in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to three months.”– Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD, CPT, author of Meal Prep For Weight Loss. Bio
Tip #4: Do a different step on different days
Break down your meal prep into smaller tasks and spread them over a few days, such as shopping on Friday, chopping on Saturday, and cooking on Sunday.
“You don’t have to do all your meal prep in one day. You can break it down into smaller tasks and spread them over a few days to make it more manageable and enjoyable. For example, you can shop on Friday, chop on Saturday, and cook on Sunday. This way, you can spend less time in the kitchen each day and still have fresh and tasty meals ready for the week.”– Nick Quintero from Meal Prep on Fleek. Bio
Tip #5: Eat the same foods every day
Some people find it easier and more satisfying to eat the same foods every day, especially if they have a busy schedule or a specific health goal.
“Eating the same foods gives people a sense of control during a time when the world feels very unpredictable and chaotic. It also makes meal planning easier and more efficient, which can save time and money.”– Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian, author, and founder of Middleberg Nutrition. Bio
About The Author
Avi Silverberg is an author, coach, and the Founder of FeastGood.com. Avi has a Master of Science in Exercise Science and has published over 400 articles on the topics of health, exercise, and nutrition.
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