Meal Prepping For Beginners: Easy Tips To Get Started

At this point, everybody has heard of meal prepping. But as simple as the concept is—do some work ahead of time to make cooking easier for the upcoming week—it can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. The idea of spending your entire Sunday portioning out a week’s worth of meals and snacks can feel like a LOT. But it doesn’t have to be that intense. 

“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to meal prepping,” says Dana Angelo White, RD, author of the upcoming book Healthy One-Pan Dinners. “If spending an entire Sunday in the kitchen works for you, great! But any way that you can figure out how to do some work in advance counts as meal prep.”

Regardless, it has a number of benefits. Besides saving you time, it can also help you stick to your healthy eating goals. “Figuring out what you’re going to eat for the week can help you avoid impulsive food choices,” says White. “You won’t stop and get takeout on the way home as often because cooking dinner won’t be so time-intensive!” So how do you actually do it? Here are five tips White swears by:

Choose your meals in advance. “You will undoubtedly be a little lost with meal prepping unless you know what dishes you’re going to cook,” says White. She suggests picking three to five spreads per week. If even that feels overwhelming, come up with what she calls a weekly roadmap to help out. For example, cook a vegetarian meal every Monday, cook something with chicken every Tuesday, make something in the slow cooker every Wednesday, etc. “That way you aren’t starting from scratch and wondering what on earth you’re going to cook that week,” she says.

If composed dishes stress you out, meal prep staples. White suggests picking two proteins, two grains, and a few veggies, then preparing them at the start of the week. One week, your choices may be brown rice, quinoa, ground turkey, chicken breast, broccoli, and roasted peppers. With those ingredients chopped, browned, and roasted in advance, throwing together dinner will feel a lot easier.

Try it daily instead of weekly. “Traditionally, people think they need to cook Sunday for the whole week, but you can break it up and meal prep each day if that’s easier,” White says. For example, if you’re going to make tofu with noodles in a peanut sauce for dinner one night, cut up the tofu and make the sauce in advance when you’re already busy in the kitchen (either that morning or the night before, depending on your schedule). “Ask yourself: What can I do ahead of time to make cooking this meal easier in the moment?” says White.

Work meal prep into your grocery routine. When you’re putting fresh groceries away, take the extra step to cut some up before stashing them in your refrigerator. “I cut up carrot sticks for my family to snack on during the week, then later in the week I might dice those carrot sticks up to use in a recipe,” says White. “Pre-chopping saves so much time down the line.”

Use your freezer! Though it’s not exactly meal prepping, White thinks one of the big mistakes people make is not making extra of something and freezing it. “If you’re already cooking chili, make a double batch and put half of it in the freezer,” she says. “Think of it as the ultimate in meal prep: Your entire dinner is already done without you having to dirty a single dish.”

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