Beginner’s Guide to Meal Prep: A Step-by-Step Plan

Feb 21, 2019

If you’re just beginning your quest for easier, healthy eating, you’ve come to the right place! Here at Eat Clean Meal Prep, we are all about saving time in the kitchen while still making delicious, healthy meals. From preparing batches of overnight oats for weekday breakfasts to cooking complete dinners for the upcoming week, there are a ton of great ways to get started on your meal prepping journey. And keep in mind that there is no one right way or method to meal prep — it’s all about what works best for you. Here is your step-by-step guide to getting started with meal prep!

Step 1: Figure out the best meal prep method for you.

Depending on your schedule, the meals you prefer to prep ahead, and your cooking style, one (or a combination) of these meal-prep methods may work best for you:

  • Make-ahead meals: For those with less time to prepare meals during the week, cooking complete meals in advance to be reheated at mealtimes (like a pot of soup or a casserole) makes for superfast weeknight dinners.
  • Batch cooking/freezing: Batch cooking means preparing multiple batches of a recipe to be portioned out and frozen for meals in the weeks to come. For example, doubling a chili recipe or steaming extra rice to freeze and use in the next three to six months.
  • Individual meals: Those with specific health goals or looking for the convenience of grab-and-go meals may choose to prepare foods and portion them into individual servings. Think overnight oats portioned into single-serving containers, and mason jar salads.
  • Ready-to-cook ingredients: If you’d rather cook meals right before serving, prepping ingredients (such as chopping onion and peppers in advance for chili) cuts down on kitchen time, which can be especially helpful on a busy weeknight.

Step 2: Make a weekly meal plan

Once you’ve decided on the type of meal prep you’d benefit most from, spend a few minutes creating a simple game plan to keep you organized.

Choose meal(s) to prep: Are you looking to streamline your morning routine? Prepping smoothie packs cuts down on time spent on breakfast. If busy evenings limit time to cook during the week, consider make-ahead dinners that can be easily reheated.

Write your menu: When planning your menu and prep, rely on a few tried-and-true recipes that you’ve cooked before, with one or two new recipes thrown in. Build meals around seasonal produce for best flavor and value. If you’re not sure where to start, a batch of brown rice, a few chicken breasts, and a tray of roasted vegetables are easily assembled into everything from rice bowls to fried rice to salads.

Schedule your prep: Setting aside some time for actually prepping is important! Consider meal prepping on the same day you shop and write a realistic prep plan. It may not be reasonable to cook five meals in an hour, but you may have time to prep certain ingredients for the recipes.And if you like a challenge, set a timer to keep you on task!

Step 3: Shop for meal prepping ingredients (and take stock of what you have)

With your menu planned, it’s time to build a shopping list. Be sure to take an inventory of your kitchen before you head out though; you might be surprised at how much you already have!

Stock up on staples: Stocking your pantry with a variety of reliable goods, like:

  • Dried herbs and spice blends
  • Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa
  • Condiments like olive oil and low-fat dressings
  • Vegetables you use regularly (carrots, onion, squash)
  • Low-sodium canned beans and broth; fridge staples like eggs and precooked chicken sausage; and a few freezer-friendly foods can transform prepped ingredients into meals in minutes.

Build a shopping list: Navigate the grocery store quickly with a list organized by department. Keep a running inventory of foods you frequently use during weekly prep, like olive oil, onions or brown rice, and add these to your list when necessary.

Check your supply of storage containers: Depending on your plan for the week, you will need an assortment of storage containers, including glass and plastic containers with lids and zip-top storage and freezer bags.

Step 4: Meal Prep & Store

This is the fun part: start prepping your meals! Here are a few tips before you begin.

Make the most of your time: start with foods that require the longest cooking times. Preheat the oven and prepare ingredients that will be cooked first, or bring water to a boil for longer-cooking grains like farro or brown rice. If two recipes call for the same ingredient, like chopped onions, prep the onions for both recipes at once, then divide to use as needed.

Be mindful of storage life: if stored in airtight containers, pre-cut vegetables like onions and peppers will keep for two to three days in the refrigerator. Heartier vegetables, like chopped carrots and winter squash, will keep for at least four days. Lettuce and greens that have been washed, dried, and kept cold in the fridge can stay fresh for up to a week.

Freeze for best quality: foods like soups, chilis, casseroles, and cooked grains are easily frozen for future meals. During those busy weeks, there is nothing more gratifying than pulling a ready-to-reheat meal from the freezer!

Step 5: Eat and Enjoy!

Again, don’t be afraid to experiment! With a bit of practice, you’ll discover a style of meal prep that works best for you. Whether you prep ingredients for one meal, prepare work lunches for the week or cook a double batch of chili to freeze for next month, any amount of time spent meal prepping yields big returns.

In need of some recipe inspo? Check out our blogs for some fun, easy meal prep recipe ideas!

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