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Meal Prep 101: A Beginners Guide to Meal Prep

If you are trying to lead a healthier life, and following inspiration on social media - you've likely seen "meal prep" photos online. Huge portions of food in plastic containers and a set plan of what to eat throughout the week.

This meal prep guide for beginners will help you get a handle on how to begin, how to choose your meals, how to make a meal prep grocery list and more.

Why Meal Prep?

To be prepared. It’s a slogan that’s stood the test of time because the relationship between looking ahead and successfully meeting one’s goals is undeniable. When it comes to what you eat and how you eat, preparedness matters if you want to reach your health and fitness goals. And, meal prepping helps you do just that.

Having a healthy meal ready to enjoy can help you say no to unhealthy food choices. Tempted to go through the drive-thru on the way home to save time? No point when you’ve already got a delicious meal at home waiting for you! Taco truck pull up in front of the office again? No sweat — you’ve already packed a hearty lunch you’re looking forward to. Someone brought donuts to the office? Solve your snack craving with these meal prep snack ideas.

Research published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine saw a link between the amount of participants spent on home food preparation and the quality of their diet. What’s more, meal prepping can be a great time-saver. “I think of meal prepping as a way to put lunch, breakfast, or even dinner on autopilot for the week,” says Atlanta-based dietitian nutritionist Marisa Moore M.B.A., R.D.N., L.D. “You do all of the major chopping, cooking and cleaning on one day!”

Start Small If you not calculating calories yet, but just want to make more healthy food choices, start small by meal prepping a few of those! Planning ahead and prepping your meals can be a great way to make more healthy choices and avoid temptation! If you’re not used to cooking, you might want to begin with just prepping one or two days at a time.

“I recommend starting small with meal prep for a couple reasons,” says Moore. “It can take a couple hours to get through the chopping, cooking and cleaning [for a week’s worth of meals]. If you try to do too much too soon, you may be overwhelmed and not want to do it again.” Moore adds that starting small will allow you test one or two recipes to see how you like them and just how much you eat. “You wouldn’t want to make too much food and end up wasting it.”

Stock Up on Meal Prep Essentials Before we talk about a grocery list, you may need to dust off some other items to set yourself up for meal prep success. Here are some items you might find helpful to pick up if you don’t have them already:

  • Meal Prep Containers

  • Mason Jars

  • Chef’s Knife

  • Measuring Cups and Spoons

  • Cutting Board

  • Spatula

  • Saute Pan, Small Saucepan, Baking Sheet

  • Mixing Bowls

  • Slow Cooker or Insta Pot (optional)

  • Blender or Food Processor (optional)

  • Portion Control Containers

Pick a Day to Meal Prep Moore recommends starting on a Sunday or Monday. Sundays often work well since most people have a little extra time. She adds that people also tend to be more motivated to engage in healthy behaviors at the beginning of the week. “Meal prep is a great way to carry that enthusiasm throughout the week with just a little effort upfront,” she says.

Come up with Easy Meals to Prep Planning your meals for the week doesn’t have to be complicated. At first it might seem a little daunting, but it’s surprising how many different meals you can make with just a limited number of ingredients.

Check out this 5 day sample meal plan.

If you’re not ready to commit to a full meal prep just yet, keep it simple. LA Life Chef Seth Santoro suggests no-fuss combinations like chicken, brown rice, and broccoli for dinner, and salmon, roasted carrots, and spinach for lunch. To add flavor without calories, stock up on herbs and spices.

Once you have your meal prep recipe list set, check your pantry and fridge for ingredients, make a list, and head to the store!

Prep Staples to Use Later Once you’re comfortable meal prepping, Seth Santoro recommends preparing staples — like rice, oats, lentils, and yams — in bulk. You’ll return to them again and again and they can take the longest to cook. “You can make a pot of rice, use some now for a meal, refrigerate a portion, and freeze a portion to be used later, he says.

3 More Tips for Easy Meal Prep:

  • Include some no-cook recipes in your meal prep. Snacks like Shakeology and foods that don’t require cooking (like salads and overnight oats) can help save time in the prep process. Here’s a popular no-cook meal prep to get you started.

  • When prepping, use the oven to cook several things at once. Veggies can generally roast together, and there’s a reason that sheet pan dinners are becoming so popular.

  • Don’t shy away from the Crockpot or the Insta Pot. The former has long been a meal prep maven’s kitchen staple and the latter is quickly becoming one. They’re time savers – just add ingredients, set, and forget. While it’s doing the work on one recipe, you have time to focus on another.

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