School is in session, y'all! Welcome to Meal Prepping 101. By the end of this post you should be well-equipped and empowered with all the inspiration, recipes, and tools you need to start [or enhance] your meal prep journey. It is a journey, folks, not a destination. Because, if you're like me, you'll fall off from time to time and want to eat out or buy something premade. But if you remember what you learn here and apply it even half the time, you should be ok. 🙂 This is a collection of tips, tools, and techniques to master a realistic meal prep routine no matter what your schedule.
Why Should I Meal Prep?
Typical meal prep motivations include:
- A. Saving money
- B. Saving time
- C. Attaining/Maintaining health goals
- D. Learning about/having fun with food
*Since I've always been an overachiever, my motivations include all of the above. 🙂
Building Your Meal Prep Schedule
I have been known to say "Sunday evenings were made for meal prep." Really, it just depends on what works best for you. I briefly mentioned my Sunday routine in this post, which explains why that's my day of choice. As my life and schedule changes, that may change too. I've also had success doing a few meals on Sundays, then the rest on Wednesday evenings. Like going to the gym, studying, or any other good-for-you thing, the toughest part is getting started so make it easy on yourself! Set aside some time, lay out all of your necessary items, turn UP the music that puts you in beast mode (the new Gucci Mane is my current go-to), and do. it.
Supplies You'll Need
Containers are key. Ever hesitantly open a kitchen cabinet with the fear of being buried under a cascade of mismatched Tupperware? That's a scene from my childhood. On replay. My family has [thankfully] de-cluttered a bit since then. I made the switch from plastic to glass containers a couple of years ago and am very pleased. In my opinion, glass is easier to clean, more sanitary (when your plastic gets permanently stained or smelly, it's really not clean anymore), and easier on the environment. I also don't feel uneasy when heating up my lunch in a glass container.
Of course, if you won't be heating your food, plastic may better suit your needs. I like these containers because they come in all the sizes I need. One thing to be mindful of, though, is that they have plastic lids, which can stain or retain smells so take that into consideration when deciding what to store in them and for how long. These are another good option. I've come a long way from microwaving cup noodles in their radioactive Styrofoam cups at my high school cafeteria. 🙂
What to make and how to store it mainly depend on if you will have access to a microwave and refrigerator during the school or work week. I've recently taken to storing each meal component in its own large container and fixing a plate at each mealtime as opposed to pre-portioning each meal in smaller containers. For example, I used a gallon-sized zip top bag and the jar pictured to store my perfect salad and homemade dressing for work a couple of weeks ago and just served some up in a bowl each day. This is ideal for meals with components that should be served at different temperatures or meals with sauces (think spaghetti). For me, it allows for a bit less clutter and quicker cleanup but each method has its upsides. I store a plate, bowl, fork, spoon, and knife in a cubby in my office at work.
If you don't have somewhere to store (and wash!) dishes, it's probably best for you to pre-portion your meals. Pans with lids like this one or this one are helpful for when I make dishes like casseroles or baked oatmeal because, once cooled, I just snap the lid on, stick it in the fridge, and carry it to work the next day.
Don't forget about what to drink during the week. The progress you make when eating healthy, thoughtful meals can be easily undermined by washing them down with sugary drinks. [I'm looking at you, soda.] During college and grad school I only ever drank water or unsweetened herbal tea during class and this habit has stuck with me as a young professional. A good water bottle helps me drink enough water each day.
Kind of like shoes, different water bottles serve different purposes. Don't have water fountains nearby to refill with? Consider a bottle with a built-in filter like this one. I like traveling with it because I feel comfortable filling it up anywhere. Are you trying to make water more fun or tolerable? Try infusing it with fruit and/or herbs in a bottle like this one. I used this bottle while in school and really liked that it had a straw (though, my braces wouldn't let me fully vibe with the bite valve). If you want capacity, a good old-fashioned gallon jug or canteen is probably the way to go.
This is where your creativity (or Google-ing) skills come in. Below are all of my favorite recipes for the work or school week and each one travels quite well. I won't get mad if you copy! Another great method is to prep a bunch of different components rather than full meals. Claire Siegel has an awesome breakdown of how to do that here.
Meal Prep Breakfast Ideas
- Almond Breakfast Smoothie (Vegan + GF)
- Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal
- Baked Breakfast Potatoes
- Banana Nut Oatmeal Muffins (Vegan + GF)
- Best Breakfast Hash
- Cherry Pineapple Ginger Smoothie (Vegan + GF)
- Cranberry Almond Oatmeal Muffins (Vegan + GF)
- Crispy Potato Breakfast Bake
- Dark Chocolate Chai Baked Oatmeal (Vegan)
- Dark Chocolate Sheet Pan Pancakes
- Frozen Smoothie Packs (Vegan + GF)
- Green Breakfast Smoothies
- Healthy Breakfast Cookies (Vegan + GF)
- Homemade Instant Oatmeal Mix (Vegan + GF)
- Maple Cranberry Oatmeal Muffins (Vegan + GF)
- Overnight Oats (Vegan + GF)
- Piña Colada Oatmeal Muffins (Vegan + GF)
- Pumpkin Maple Baked Oatmeal (can be made Vegan + GF)
- Sheet Pan Blueberry Pancakes
Meal Prep Lunch or Dinner Ideas
- 30-Minute Chicken Noodle Soup
- Addictive Massaged Kale Salad
- Alternative Baked Potato
- Chopped Southwestern Salads
- Coconut Lime Shrimp & Plantain Power Bowls
- Crockpot Moroccan Chicken
- Crunchy Kale Salad
- The Best Oven-Baked Fries
- Perfect Homemade Salad & Dressing
- Power Bowl Method
- Honey Fire Meatballs
- Garlicky Green Beans
- Ginger Curry Carrots
- Grilled Sesame Chicken w/ Beets & Arugula
- My Mom's Lasagna Recipe
- Pesto Parmesan Meatballs
- Rainbow Soup
- Sheet Pan Chicken & Veggies
- Sheet Pan Power Bowls
- Sheet Pan Turkey Meatloaf
- Slow Cooker Turkey Meatballs
- Soul Food Power Bowls
- Spicy One-Pot Pasta
- Sweet & Spicy Meatball Bowls
- Turkey Lettuce Wraps
- Veggie Noodles 3 Ways
- Zesty Lemon Squash
Meal Prep Snack Ideas
I typically snack on fresh fruits, sliced cucumbers, nuts such as almonds or pistachios, and seeds but here are some other options.
- Apple Cinnamon Grainless Granola (Paleo)
- PB& J Smoothie Bowl
- Post Workout Smoothie
- Slow Cooker Applesauce
- Baked Sweet Potato Fries
- Top 5 Healthy Snacks I Keep on Hand
- Slightly undercook your veggies. Since you'll [likely] be cold-storing and reheating them, this helps prevent rubbery, overcooked, grossness later. In order to reap all the benefits of meal prepping, you have to eat the food! It helps if you actually want to eat it. 🙂
- Multitask. Employing a crockpot (see crockpot recipes above) can help but you can increase your efficiency even with traditional cooking methods. For example, while something I made for lunch something bakes, cools, or whatever, I usually throw together the oatmeal mix linked above.
Did I fail to cover anything you wanted to learn about meal prepping? Step into my office hours (comments section) and let me know 🙂 Thanks for reading!