Life can get hectic.
And if you feel like you’ve barely got time to eat a halfway decent meal most days, then you might want to double down on some meal prep ideas.
What is meal prepping?
Meal prepping is simply the art of setting aside a day (a lot of people like Sundays) to prepare all or most of your meals for the week and store them.
As you can guess, the next time your stomach is rumbling but you don’t feel like making anything, or worse yet have to run out the door in a few, all you have to do is grab a quick meal and go!
Super simple right? To be able to do meal prep week after week successfully and incorporate it into your lifestyle you’ll want to learn some meal prepping pointers first.
So, if your looking for a complete guide on how to meal prep for beginners look no further…here we go—
How much does it cost to meal prep for a week?
Hands down, meal prepping for the week is always going to cost you less than eating out or even making dinners every single night.
For an average of $6 – $8 per meal, you can make sure you’re eating food that is GOOD for you, that doesn’t have added chemicals or fats or an overdose of sodium, and that will fill you up until your next meal. The secret is in planning ahead. It all starts with a plan!
Free meal prep planner printable
Your meal prepping isn’t complete without a set of gorgeous meal planner templates. That’s why I’ve designed a set just for this meal prep guide. Enter your email below to get your weekly meal prep printable planner right to your inbox!
Plan out all your meal prep ideas for the whole month with this blank slate monthly meal prep planner! This is an awesome way to get specific and plan which meals you’ll prepare for which days and the ingredients needed for each. Perfect for the foodie planner! If you want a broader overview of your meals for one week then this is the perfect meal prep sheet for you! Once you download them, you can print them again and again. Better yet, you can even laminate each sheet and use a magnet to stick it to your fridge!
The benefits of meal prepping
There are quite a few benefits to setting aside a day to meal prep.
The only con of meal prepping is that it can take time to do it successfully, especially the more meals you prep. But even then, all that time you are deciding to cook your meals in one go save you the time and hassle of having to decide on meals every single day throughout the week.
Saves you time and stress
Hello! No one likes the hassle of having to come home to figure out yet another problem: what to eat for the night (and what to make for tomorrow). With meal prepping you can easily make that two less decisions you have to come home to every day.
Reduces food waste
Planning ahead makes sure you don’t make too much of one thing and you portion it out for meals throughout the week. This prevents you from making more than you should and having leftovers that go back and inevitably make it straight to the dumpster.
Saves you money on your grocery bill
Once you get your meal prepping and weekly meal planning down, you’ll know exactly what to buy and how much of what to buy. You’ll be able to go grocery shopping like clockwork, which helps make sure you aren’t spending too much.
Helps you reach your weight loss goals
Meal prepping has been a HUGE factor in many people losing the extra weight. This is because you’re more prone to creating healthier meals and have more portion control when you store your cooked foods. Meal prepping also helps keep you away from unnecessary usage of fats and oils.
Makes sure you get your nutritional needs
There are TONS of delicious meal prep ideas and recipes out there that incorporate lots of different ingredients that are actually good for you in a tasty way. Using and memorizing these recipes will make sure you get the most out of food for your nutritional needs.
Keeps you from overspending on takeout
It is very easy and tempting to simply order takeout after a long day at work. But doing this even just a couple times a week can cost you lots of money in the long run. Before you know it, you’re food bill for the month has skyrocketed and eaten up finances you could have put into your savings.
How do you meal prep for the week?
So, how exactly do you go about meal prepping for the week? There are a few general guidelines.
In the end, it’s all about finding out what works best for you! All you’re doing is creating make ahead meals, so there is plenty of fun you can have with this in terms of how creative you get with the foods you cook.
The biggest tip for beginners is to start small. Seriously.
And keep it to: One grain + One protein + One veggie.
Starting small will make sure you aren’t overwhelmed with trying to create five recipes at once and cleaning up afterwards. You can reserve that for when you get to ‘pro’ meal prep status. For now, make sure you start with 2-3 basic meal prep ideas and recipes that are easy to prepare.
Types of meal prep ideas
Quick Lunch Meals
Quick lunch meal preps can be anything from baked salmon to 5-bean salad to simple grilled chicken and rice. They might take a little more to prepare but are worth it in terms of saving your lunch plans whether at work or at home. There are tons of meal prep ideas out there for either lunch or dinner that you can collect as your favorite recipes.
Make Ahead Dinners
Make ahead dinners are fabulous and save you so much time and hassle for when you’re too tired to make a full on dinner.
Salads In A Jar
Salads in a jar are some of the best ways to make quick meal preps. All you have to do is get some jars and fill them up with your favorite salad ingredients. To top it off you can create your own healthy dressings to drench your salads with on your lunch break/as a quick snack. Use these jars to create kick ass and filling salads in a jar!
Snacks in A Jar
Snacks in a jar are also pretty simple to make in terms of meal prep ideas. For example, check out this chia seed pudding from THIS list of healthy snack ideas I use constantly! Pretty darn easy to create for snacks throughout the week.
A simple meal prep method
You might be asking yourself, ‘what should I meal prep this week?’ Which is probably right up there with the question, ‘what is the easiest meal prep method?’ Well, there is no one way to do all your meal prep.
But there are definitely ways you can go about it that makes it easier on yourself. Hands down, the easiest way to do meal prep is to plan it around a staple ingredient or two.
For instance, if your meal prep includes rice, you can make that the focus of each meal prep and dress it slightly differently each day. Maybe for one or two meal preps you can make asian fried rice and supplement it with noodles.
And maybe for another meal or two you can make it mixed beans and rice, along with veggies or grilled chicken breasts. It’s all about dressing up your main ingredients differently and getting a bit creative with your foods.
So, step 1: Decide on a main staple ingredient that can be your focus.
Step 2: Find different ways to dress it up, different combinations of complimentary ingredients, and different spices. To help with this meal prep strategy, here is a great list of healthy foods that last all week:
- Ground Beef
- Chick Peas
- Rice/Brown Rice/Wild Rice
It might take some practice for your first few meal prep times, but once you get it down, you will LOVE your meal prep results! Not to mention, you’ll love the change you’ll see in your personal health, and how much more energy you’ll have. Getting in the habit of meal prepping can definitely be life changing.
Sunday meal prep hacks for the week
If you aren’t really about creating complete meals all ahead of time, but still like to save time throughout the week come meal time, there are a few things you can always do on Sundays before the week begins or whenever you do your grocery shopping.
Here are a few meal prep hacks and tips I use when I want to make the most out of my meals throughout the week:
- Create smoothie bombs for quick early morning breakfasts
- Make a ton of meatballs you can freeze and use later
- Make Frittatas that you can portion and freeze and then only unthaw what you need daily
- Cut up all your veggies and fruits and store them in air tight containers
- Cook all the rice you’ll use for the week, portion and freeze
- Cook all the legumes you’ll use for the week e.g. beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc. in one go
- Bake wheat flour muffins for a filling breakfast option
- Hard boil all your eggs for the week to use in salads and breakfast
- re-purpose leftovers into new meals that you just pop in the oven during the week
- Use your pressure cooker to create make ahead mash potatoes
Talking about hacks, when you’re cooking you’ll often run into conversion questions that you might not know off the top of your head. Especially when converting liquids. Here’s how to remember your kitchen conversions!
How long can you keep meal preps in the fridge?
Meal preps can last you relatively long in the fridge depending on how you store it. For example, you can freeze store certain foods like cooked rice, and it can last you for up to 6 months in the freezer. To help give you a better picture, here’s a detailed chart with the general shelf life of staple ingredients we all use with official info from the
How to use your crock-pot to meal prep
Crock-pot meal ideas are a great way to create make ahead dinners for your meal prep sessions. They primarily speed up the cooking process for things such as beans and can help you finish your meal prepping faster. Here are other ways to use a crock-pot that will help make your meal prepping faster:
- Slow cook ground beef for one of your staple ingredients
- slow cook chicken that you can pull apart and use later
- create slow cooker mashed potatoes
- Make crock-pot cherry cobbler for a few dessert snacks throughout the week
- Slow cook just about anything at the beginning of your meal prep day to have it ready to portion out when you prepare your meals
Seasonal meal prepping
There are different foods that are in season during different times of the year. Thankfully there are lots of ways to meal prep ahead of time that can help you freeze and preserve certain ingredients that you can use at a later time. You can freeze preserve things like fruits and veggies and use them later for certain recipes.
Meal prep hack: Check out the Seasonal Food Guide site to learn what is in season and available in your area.
Freezing. portioning, and labeling your meal preps
The top three things you’ll use most when freezing, labeling and portioning your food are:
- freezer tape
- plastic wrap
- aluminum containers
- gallon ziploc bags
- your favorite meal prep containers
- Permanent markers
How to freeze label and portion soups
One awesome way to portion soups is to pour it out into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, you can keep the cubes in the freezer and only use the cubes you’ll need for soup that day!
How to freeze label and portion smoothies
Use individual ziploc bags to portion out one smoothie a bag with your favorite ingredients. Make sure you use freezer tape to label the date made and the type of smoothie mixture it is (it’ll be hard to see what it is once its frozen solid).
Always make smaller portions of staple ingredients like rice so you don’t have to unthaw a whole batch to portion out what you’ll use for the day. Also, you might not want to freeze foods in glass containers as they can expand and cause your containers to break from the pressure. Instead, try using aluminum casseroles for make ahead meals, plastic wrap and even gallon ziploc bags.
Top three durable meal prep containers
There are lots of meal prep containers out there. But the three most popular types and the ones that I find most convenient when doing meal prep are the glass containers, the bento boxes, and the Ball Jars.
Portioned glass containers
These glass meal prep containers are perfect for creating your healthy meals for the week and making sure they don’t catch odors. It’s also portioned into sections so you can keep your ingredients separate!
BPA free bento box
Bento boxes have always been a cool way to prepare a lunch for work or school, but they can also be used to prepare your fresh meal prep for the week to be store in your fridge (or even freezer). They’re less heavier than glass and a bit more flexible.
Ball pint jar
These Ball Pint Jars are pretty much perfect for anything. If you want to meal prep soups in them, or if you want to make some salads in a jar or even chia seed pudding. They are PERFECT for your meal prep tasks!
Top 21 favorite meal prep recipes
Easy meal prep recipes are a great ‘gateway’ into meal prepping so you don’t end up overwhelmed and give up. Here are 20 lunches/dinners you can meal prep on Sunday:
Taco salad meal prep
Recipe: Creme De La Crumb
This taco salad meal prep is a totally YUMMY option for your meal prep plans! And you can use your bento boxes to put it together successfully.
Chicken salmon mason jars
Recipe: Kristines Kitchen Blog
This is probably the perfect example of how you can use your Ball Jars to create all kinds of salads and make ahead meals. Chicken salmon salad jar sounds deliciously healthy!
Greek chicken bowl
Recipe: Eazy Peazy Mealz
Greek chicken bowls are perfect for either lunch or dinner and can pack a punch of flavor! Best of all its pretty easy to make and can help you break out of your usual meal prep rut!
Overnight chia seed pudding
Recipe: The Work Top
I’m IN LOVE with chia seed pudding and I make it regularly. It can serve as a great midday snack or even an on-the-go breakfast for work. Totally delicious!
Healthy roasted chicken and veggies
Recipe: Gimme Delicious
Roasting your ingredients is a pretty healthy and popular way to do meal prep. This classi healthy roasted chicken and veggies is the perfect way to get started with meal prep without too much of the overwhelm.
Make ahead microwave breakfast scramble
Recipe: Budget Bytes
Here’s a cool way to do breakfast in a pinch: Create make ahead breakfast scrambles, kinda like the prepackaged ones you can get at the store, except the homemade version is much better and healthier for you.
Meal prep fiesta chicken rice bowl
Recipe: The Girl On Bloor
If this fiesta bowl doesn’t look like it would be a fiesta in your mouth I don’t know what will. Check out this and many other delicious recipes for meal prepping on The Girl On Bloor blog.
Meal prep greek chickpea salad
Recipe: Iowa Girl Eats
Yet another example of how you can add greens into your daily food intake with jar salads just like these.
DIY starbucks protein bistro box
Recipe: Number 2 Pencil
Get some protein in you with this protein bento box creation. It almost requires no cooking and it’s definitely a filling snack option.
Lemon roasted salmon with sweet potato
Recipe: Little Spice Jar
This lemon roasted salmon with sweet potato is a pretty great option for people who are looking to do healthy meal prep that isn’t too complicated to put together. You really can’t go wrong with lemon and salmon.
Sweet chili chicken meal prep bowls
Recipe: The Girl On Bloor
This beautiful meal prep creation has chicken, sweet chili thai sauce, bell peppers, scallions, and rice just to name a few. It’ll definitely fill an empty stomach!
4 easy meal prep smoothies
Recipe: Simply Quinoa
You can’t go wrong with meal prep smoothies. You can really have fun with these because there are endless ways to combine your favorite ingredients so you make sure to come up with something new every time.
Easy pressure cooker Italian meatballs
Recipe: Meal Prep Weekly
Try these easy pressure cooker italian meatballs if you want something a little heavier and filling to create for your meal preps.
Meal prep healthy lettuce chicken wraps
Recipe: Skinny Fitalicious
Chicken lettuce wraps are some of the easiest meal preps you can make if you’re feeling extra lazy. Make sure you check out the recipe.
Instant pot buffalo chicken meatballs meal prep
Recipe: Project Meal Plan
How about some buffalo chicken meatballs for your meal prep recipe repertoire? Pair it with some healthy celery and carrot stalks and you’re good to go!
Make ahead greek shrimp meal prep bowls
Recipe: Organize Yourself Skinny
If you’re feeling shrimpy (see what I did there?) make sure you put this meal prep bowl together along with some chick peas and cucumber! It can definitely be a great meal prep idea for weight loss.
Meal prep burrito bowls
Image and Recipe: Free Your Fork
These meal prep burrito bowls are almost too nice to dig into! If you don’t want to end up with a soggy tortilla for your burritos then try creating these delicious bowls. Same burrito concept, except prepared for meal prep convenience. A pretty perfect creation from Free Your Fork.
DIY instant noodle cups
Recipe: The Kitchn
This instant noodle cup idea is pure genius and requires very little time to put together. You can get creative and add your favorite veggies to go along with your noodles.
Creamy greek yogurt fruit cup
Recipe: Sweet Peas and Saffron
If you get bored of a simple fruit cup try adding greek yogurt to go with it. It’s a great way to garnish your favorite fruit.
Recipe: Pop Sugar
You can’t go wrong with a classic fruit cup to satisfy those midday sugar cravings. Try cutting up your favorite fruits so you can have them ready to go throughout the week. You’re more likely to be skipping the sugary snacks this way!
Learn how to meal prep and save your week
There are tons of meal prep ideas and recipes out there, so there’s really no excuse to get started! All you need are a few ingredients, actually learning how to meal prep, some cooking tools, and an evening or afternoon to take care of all your meal prepping for the week. Any meal prep hacks and tips you wouldn’t mind sharing? Share it below!