Just imagine how much free time you’d have if you didn’t have to cook every night. What if your meals were just waiting for you in the fridge? Meal prepping is the answer—it’s a way to stay in control of your life (no last-minute pizza for lunch!) by making your meals ahead of time so you won’t have to scramble to figure out what you’re eating that day, and to be even more conscious of what you’re putting into your body.
We created a weeks worth of breakfast and lunch recipes that are ideal for meal prepping. There will be some upfront work, but your fridge will be stocked for the week.
We also talked to meal prep extraordinaire Nick Quintero, who’s also the Director of Social Media at Melissa’s Produce, a specialty produce distributor. Nick’s been meal-prepping for years to stay fit. He explained that because you can effectively meal prep for about $40 a week, it’s great for anyone on a budget. Likewise, if you’re trying to stick to a specific diet—Whole30 and Paleo are great examples—you can prepare food in advance which means you’re less likely to cheat with junk food at lunchtime.
Here are Nick’s pro-tips if you’re looking to turn over a new meal-prep leaf this year.
1. Always Plan Ahead
It may seem redundant to say that planning ahead is the key component of a meal that you’ve… well, planned (and prepared) ahead, but it’s important to note. Plan how many days you want to prep for, how much food you’ll need for each meal, how you’ll be seasoning the various components of your meal, and where you’ll be storing all of the containers once your meals are prepped. Write down ingredients and quantities in a notebook or save a list on your phone—you’ll be so glad you did once you get to the grocery store.
2. Building Blocks of a Well-Prepared Meal
Nick suggests a starch, a vegetable, a protein and a fat. (I’m a big fan of half a sweet potato, sautéed zucchini or squash, and chicken breast cooked in coconut oil. Ask any of my coworkers or former roommates—there’s a good chance that’s all I ate for about a month straight.)
3. Contain Yourself!
Buy sturdy, leakproof containers. There’s nothing worse than preparing a meal in advance and bringing it to work only to realize that somehow the container turned sideways and the inside of your bag is full of a weird pool of coconut oil, chicken juices, and squash juice. Not that that’s ever happened to me. (It has.) Bonus: Smart Seal Containers are available in microwave-safe plastic or glass, so you can reheat your meal without dirtying a dish.
4. The Good, the Bland, and the Ugly
Keep in mind which foods prep well (sweet potatoes and grains), which foods require seasoning (chicken and fish), and which foods shouldn’t be meal-prepped. Nick’s tip: avoid anything breaded—it will get soggy. For the protein, season some with salt, some with lemon juice and pepper, and some with paprika, and you won’t get bored of eating the exact same chicken all week!
5. Make Sure You Have Enough Time
Nick suggests three to four hours per week for meal prep. This time includes preparing all ingredients, cooking, and storing. He likes to do it on a Sunday so he’s ready for the upcoming week. If that’s too much of a time commitment, try a slow cooker or pressure cooker.
6. Shop Smart!
Shop the perimeter of the store; that’s where you’ll find fresh fruit, veggies, and meat. The middle aisles are mainly processed food—steer clear if you can.
Check out our Weekday Meal Prepping Guide to get you started.