If you're working or going to school all day, the last thing you want to do when you come home is spend hours in the kitchen trying to create a healthy meal. That's where food prep comes in. Knock out all your preparation in one afternoon, so all you have to do the rest of the week is throw dinner in the oven, crockpot or microwave. If you're new to prepping or find it takes you forever, here are some tips and tricks to make it a little easier.
Plan Your Menu First
Before you head out to the store or start cooking, the first thing you need to do is plan your menu for the week. Figure out what you want to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the next seven days. Figure out what parts of your healthy meals you can prepare ahead of time. If you've got roasted protein or vegetables, those can all be cooked ahead — as can most starches like rice, quinoa and potatoes. Then, all you need to do is throw them in the microwave when you're ready to heat, and you've got a healthy, fully cooked dinner.
The goal of meal prepping is to do as much as possible on one day so you don't have to do anything when it comes time to eat other than heating it up.
Start Collecting Containers
You'll need a good set of reusable containers to store your prepped food before you cook it. Airtight containers like Tupperware might be expensive, but they can keep your food fresh while it waits to become dinner. You can meal prep with ziplock bags in a pinch, but this only really works if you're making dump meals for your crockpot. If you are, break out the bags and start prepping. If not, start investing in some reusable storage containers to make your meal prep easier.
Pick One Day to Meal Prep
Don't try to cram all your meal prep in on one of your busy days. You'll end up rushing through, making mistakes or skipping ingredients — and that just ends up being a gigantic mess. Use one of your weekend days and dedicate an afternoon to meal prep. Do this once a week, and you won't have to worry about cooking when you're exhausted from work or school.
Stick to Your Grocery List
Once you've got your menu planned, it's time to write a grocery list — and stick to it. Don't go to the store without one. You'll forget something and end up with a cart full of junk and microwave dinners, which is exactly what you're trying to avoid by meal prepping.
Stick to your grocery list, and don't shop while hungry or you'll end up buying out the entire candy aisle.
Multitask, Multitask, Multitask
Don't just cook one thing at a time — you'll spend all day in the kitchen. Instead, take the time to learn how to multitask. Get three or four pans going on the stovetop, and just as many baking pans into the oven. While things are cooking, chop fresh veggies or fruits that you'll use for other dishes or healthy snacks.
This will take practice. You'll probably burn something while you're learning how to balance cooking, baking and chopping all at the same time, but once you master it, you'll be in and out of the kitchen on meal prep day in no time.
Change Things Up
Meal prepping doesn't mean you have to eat the same thing every day of the week. Change things up a little. Try some new recipes or mix in a variety of your old favorites. Don't eat salads for lunch every day, or if you do, change up the toppings, dressing or protein you include. Skip the eggs for breakfast unless you're making quiche, and opt for waffles, muffins, other baked goods or avocado toast. The possibilities are endless.
As our last piece of advice, we offer this — be patient. You will screw up. You will miss ingredients, and you will burn your meals sometimes. Don't freak out and don't give up. Life happens, and once you get the hang of meal prepping, you'll never want to go back.