The success of a healthy lifestyle is almost entirely dependent upon the food that you use to fuel your body – without fresh, satisfying options on hand, it’s easy to fall off the wagon. That’s why so many health-conscious people sing the praises of meal prep. An afternoon’s worth of cooking, packaging and preparing for the week ahead will make it nearly impossible for you to grab something that’s not in line with your goals.
All you have left to do is learn some tricks of the trade in order to make the process as easy as possible. Here are seven of them:
Find Your Recipes for the Week
You can’t determine your shopping list without first deciding what’s on the menu for the upcoming week. Many meal preppers peruse sites like healthy recipe boards on Pinterest or their favorite healthy-eating blogs to find recipes they can whip up on Sunday to last through the workweek, when time – or a lack thereof – leaves them unable to cook each day.
As you get into the meal-prepping groove, this step will become easier. You might also be able to come up with a list of go-to protein-starch-veggie combos that you can buy and cook in advance and invent meals of your own.
With dinner and lunch sorted, plan your snacks and breakfasts, too. Write everything on a chart or calendar that you can post on the fridge – and snap a picture to keep on your phone. That way, you’ll remember what you’re supposed to eat, and when, all week long.
Always Write a Grocery List
With every last snack planned out, you’re ready to hit the grocery store. Your menu makes it incredibly simple to write your grocery list. Having a list will make your trips to the store a breeze, too, as you grab only what you need to make it through the week. Furthermore, proper shopping will create a dearth of snacks and unhealthy options sitting around the house, which will help you stay on track with your preplanned menu.
The Freezer Is Your Friend
On a particularly productive Sunday, you can meal prep for the upcoming week, as well as for weeks or months in advance. If you have a slow cooker in your kitchen, then take the time to prep and freeze all of the ingredients you’d need to make a freezable slow cooker dinner. Then, on a weekday morning, you can throw the frozen base in, set it to simmer throughout the day and come home to a warm meal.
If you don’t have this appliance at home, find a big-batch soup recipe or other easy-to-freeze meal that you can defrost and enjoy when you’re in a pinch. You can also grab bags of frozen veggies that you can quickly microwave as a dinner side dish, omelet add-in or stir-fry base.
Your oven has multiple racks for a reason: So you can fit multiple things inside of it at once. This comes in handy during meal prep days, when you’ll be getting a week’s worth of food ready in one fell swoop. The good news is that many meats and veggies roast at the same high temperature, so you can cook trays and foil-wrapped foods all at once.
If temperatures vary too greatly, start with what roasts on a lower temp. Once that’s done, amp it up for your second batch. This saves you time on preheating and cuts down on electricity usage and, therefore, costs.
Quick Oats? Yes, You Can
One meal-prep task you’ll likely look forward to is creating oatmeal jars, which make it easy for you to grab a to-go breakfast that’s not heavy on sugar or light on flavor. With all the ingredients sealed into a mason jar – there are plenty of recipe ideas available online, or you can create flavor combos on your own – you simply fill it with hot milk or water while you get ready for work. When you arrive at the office, crack it open and spoon into a creamy breakfast that’s fresh, comforting and satisfying.
Upgrade Your Container Game
Your rag-tag Tupperware collection may have served you well in the past, but it won’t be fun trying to stack and store mismatched pieces in a cramped fridge. All serious meal preppers should have a fleet of containers that match so it’s easy to package and put away everything you’ve cooked. Make sure the new containers you buy come in an array of sizes so you can portion everything out properly.
Stick to Your Plan
Finally, the most important step of meal planning is to stay true to your plan. Find support in friends who also meal prep, or seek out a Facebook or Instagram group that shares tips, tricks and compliments. When it’s tempting to veer off course, remember that you pour hours into your prep as you draw up a menu, shop and cook – sticking to your guns makes all of the effort worthwhile.