One of the first things I teach my fitness group participants is Meal Planning 101. That’s how to create a very simple weekly meal plan according to the nutrition program they are following. Planning meals and snacks in advance allows you to create a shopping list and have all the items you need for healthy eating during the week.
The next step after planning is meal prep.
Meal prep has this aura of mystery about it. It’s probably because we think of body builders mixing up weird protein shake concoctions, and assembling dozens of identical Tupperware containers of bland chicken breast and broccoli spears.
I promise meal prep is not scary or time-consuming – unless you choose to make it so. It also doesn’t have to involve a single chicken breast!
Meal prep simply means preparing or pre-cooking some of the meals you will be eating ahead of time.
Be sure to scroll down for a TONS of links for meal prep ideas and info!
The 4 methods of food prep:
“I refuse to cook during the week” meal prep.
This type of prep is designed for people who want to do it ALL in advance. This is the body builder method.
Not only will you chop veggies, wash fruit and precook proteins, but this meal prepper will measure nuts into baggies for snacks, put fruit for smoothies in individual bags in the freezer and roast or steam all veggies for the week ahead. Shakeology drinkers will have 7 scoops in ziplock bags on the counter ready to go.
This level of meal prep is overkill, in my opinion.
It takes only a few minutes to grill fish and I’d rather have freshly cooked seafood than to cook all my protein on Sunday and reheat throughout the week. Same with veggies. I steam them daily to have fresh, crisp green beans or zucchini, rather than cooking once, dividing into containers and nuking them throughout the week.
But if you want it DONE with zero cooking throughout the week, this is your level of prep.
“Prep the time-consuming things” meal prep.
This level of preparation would involve making a pot of chili, throwing a roast in the crockpot, and hardboiling eggs. (Substitute your recipes of choice.) Wash and chop your veggies, bake sweet potatoes, and make a pot of rice or quinoa. Your meal components will be a snap to throw together throughout the week. This meal prepster doesn’t cook everything in advance.
This is me when I am supremely motivated.
“Prep thr0ughout the week” meal prep.
This is a person who will make double portions or a large quantity when that item first appears on the menu. So if you’re serving quinoa on Monday, you’ll make a big pot and eat it for other meals during the week. You may roast extra veggies or potatoes, or make extra turkey burgers so you can have them for another meal.
This is a pretty simplistic and painless method of meal prep and it’s plenty of prep for all but the busiest of people.
“Free Spirit” meal prep.
To be perfectly honest, this is me much of the time. I utilize many healthy convenience foods like prewashed veggies, rotisserie chicken, hardboiled eggs, precooked brown rice, washed & cut fruit, etc. I combine this with “prep throughout the week” and it is really effortless.
How do I know what to prep?
As you write your weekly meal plan, underline or highlight meals that can be made in advance. Soups, chili, roasts, chicken are all great examples. What can be made ahead without sacrificing quality? Can components of your meals be washed and chopped, like onions, veggies, etc?
Here are some common items to prepare in advance. This list is not exhaustive.
- wash fruit
- wash & chop veggies
- steam/roast veggies
- roast potatoes/sweet potatoes
- cook rice
- cook quinoa
- cook steel cut oats
- put regular oats in single serve baggies
- make refrigerator oats
- portion out fruits/veggies/proteins/side dishes/snacks – then grab a single serve container for your meal
- cook meat or poultry in the crock pot
- make soup or stew in the crockpot
- grill fish/burgers/meat/poultry
- season proteins for cooking later in the week
- scoop yogurt into individual containers
- hardboil eggs
- make mason jar salads
- make homemade salad dressing or seasoning mixes
- bake bread (and if you do this you’re well out of my league!)
- start a new crop of sprouts (my newest obsession)
- peel and freeze bananas for smoothies
- freeze berries or other fruit for smoothies
- combine fruit and a handful of spinach in freezer bags for smoothies
- make (and possibly grill) hamburger patties or turkey or turkey burgers
- make a batch of hummus, guacamole or other healthy dip
- brew green or herbal tea
- slice fruit for fruit-infused water
Meal Prep Resources:
Here are videos and articles on meal prep. These are just ideas – tailor everything for YOUR particular meal plan.
If you want someone else to make your clean eating, paleo, low calorie, low carb, or gluten-free meal plan, along with shopping list and recipes, check out eMeals.
Shopping for Meal Prep at Costco Ignore the giant Cinnabun!
21 Day Fix and 21 Day Fix Extreme:
Meal Prep Monday Week 1
Meal Prep Monday Week 12
Whole Foods Market (great recipes!)
Team Beachbody Blog (most recipes have 21 Day Fix containers)
Inspiralized (veggie noodle recipes)
All this thinking about meal prep is more exhausting than just doing it! What tips do you have? Is meal prep a part of your weekly schedule? Please comment below!