Meal prepping is the key to healthy, homemade meals without investing hours in the kitchen after a long day at work. Whether you’re preparing meals for the whole week or a few grab-n-go options, meal prep can save you money and allow you to take control of your food, keeping your health goals on track.
This guide covers everything you need to get started and the steps you should take to start meal prepping like a pro.
What is meal prep?
Meal prepping simply involves planning and preparing homemade meals in advance. This may simply be portioning out smoothie ingredients to freeze for breakfast or batch cooking complete meals for weeknight dinners.
To meal prep, you don’t need expensive equipment or the cooking skills of a chef. You also don’t need to spend an entire Sunday slaving over a hot stove cooking healthy recipes. Even 1 hour of planning and prepping a couple of nourishing meals and ingredients will help you eat well and save time throughout the week.
The meal prep essentials
To meal prep like a pro, you’ll need food storage containers. There are several container options that will help you keep your ingredients fresh and allow you to portion out grab-n-go meals and snacks.
- Snap lock bags
These are a convenient way to store smoothie, salad or ready-to-cook ingredients in the fridge or freezer without taking up too much space. To minimise waste and save money, wash the bags and dry them inside out ready for your next meal prep session.
- BPA-free containers
BPA-free containers are lightweight and affordable options for storing and transporting meals. Look for those that are leakproof and microwavable.
- Glass containers
Glass containers are a premium option and particularly great if you’re looking to avoid plastic. They’re also resistant to stains, odour-proof and surprisingly durable.
- Freezer-safe containers
If you plan to freeze your meals, freezer-safe containers are worth the investment as they reduce the risk of freezer burn and nutrient loss.
- Portion-controlled containers
If healthy portion sizes is at the top of your list of priorities, compartmentalised containers are a great option. This can help ensure you’re not overeating and instead, sticking to your “fit foodie” goals.
- Stainless steel containers
Airtight stainless steel containers are great for healthy lunches or keeping whole ingredients fresh. Keep in mind, you won’t be able to heat these and they’re not the most suitable option for freezing.
Choose your meal prep method
There are several meal prep methods you could opt for depending on your schedule, routine and how you like to cook.
Here are some of the popular ways to meal prep:
- Batch cooking & freezing
Batch cooking involves preparing several portions of a recipe and dividing it into individual containers ready to be reheated. These can then stored in the freezer for a fast weeknight or emergency meal.
Soups, slow cooker recipes and Mexican chilli are great example meals to batch cook. You can also pre-prepare single ingredients such as brown rice or quinoa ready to add to a dish.
- Pre-made meals
Preparing meals in advance on a Sunday is ideal for those who haven’t the time or energy to cook during the week. These can be reheated for lunch or as a stress-free dinner.
Make a stir fry, a pasta, fried rice or your favourite vegan dish. Store these labelled in containers ready to go.
- Individually portioned meals
Individually portioned meals are a great way to keep your healthy eating on track and a saviour for times you’re on the run.
Ideas for this method include preparing overnight oats in mason jars, a pasta in containers or making up individual salad burrito bowls.
- Preparing ingredients
If you enjoy cooking but need to save time, preparing ingredients ahead can be helpful especially when you’re racing to work or coming home late.
Spiralise zucchini, dice onion or cut up your starch veggies ready to roast. You could also save time by cooking up some chicken breast or turkey mince in advance to add to your meal.
Steps to get started
Meal prep can seem overwhelming, but it’s not as complicated as you think. Here we’ve outlined the steps to get you started.
- Work out how many meals you need
Do you want to prepare enough meals for the week’s breakfast, lunch and dinner? Are you making meals for just one?
Calculating the number of meals you need to make will help plan your menu and inform how much time you’ll need to set aside. Don’t forget to check your calendar so you can plan around social and work commitments.
- Plan your menu
Steer clear of recipes with extensive ingredients when planning your menu. Instead, think of a healthy meal as quality protein, veggies, complex carbohydrates and a small portion of healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil or nut butter.
- Build your shopping list
Take stock of what you already have in your kitchen as you build your shopping list. Organise your ingredients into categories to shop more efficiently. Take inventory of your storage containers, ensuring you have enough for your meal prep plans.
- Schedule your prep time
Set aside time to meal prep. This could be 1 hour or 3 hours depending on your menu and the meal prep method you select. Some people choose to meal prep after they’ve shopped or on a Sunday to ensure they’re starting the week on a good note.
- Maximise your prepping time
Where a recipe calls for the same ingredients, prepare them all at once and divide as required. Prepare the ingredients that require the longest cooking times first and get them on the go while you start the next dish.
- Store your meals correctly
Cool any cooked meals before you portion it into your individual storage containers. Label your containers so you know which ones which. Refrigerate those meals you are planning to consume within 3-4 days and freeze the remaining meals to defrost when required.
Best healthy meal prep recipe ideas