Few things are better than enjoying delicious food and feeling satisfied, but some dishes take too much time to prepare. Some people are too busy at work to make lunch and dinner, barely able to whip up breakfast. That’s where meal prepping comes in.
If you’ve wondered how do you start meal prepping, look no further. There are many ways to do so, and not all of them require hours of work in the kitchen. However, we’ve provided some details below.
- What Is Meal Prepping?
- Main Meal Prepping Ways
- How to Meal Prep
- Should I Meal Prep?
- Best Prepping Foods
- Tips and Tricks
- A Worthy Investment
What Is Meal Prepping?
Meal prepping is the opposite of cooking lunch and dinner before your usual mealtimes. Instead, you’re spending time cooking dishes or entire meals for the coming days. It’s a convenient way to save time as you work.
Aside from this primary advantage, people who meal prep can also control portion sizes, which is a crucial step toward achieving weight loss goals. In addition, you eliminate the possibility of overindulging by packing meals in containers beforehand.
Since you have meals in the fridge or freezer, there’s no need to drive and buy Chinese takeout or fast food. These can significantly increase sodium and sugar intake far beyond what’s healthy. Cutting back on these substances can reduce chronic inflammation and other health issues. In the long run, you’ll find your body feeling better.
Some people are less decisive when it comes to choosing what to eat. However, a dish eventually comes to mind when you sit down and think. Meal prepping helps eliminate the guesswork, so there’s no need to wonder what to eat that day.
Main Meal Prepping Ways
It’s necessary to create a meal plan and adhere to it as closely as possible to prepare meals properly. Of course, some people prefer a different approach, but you can choose your own method.
The most common meal prepping approach is to make single-serve meals. However, many like making lunch or dinner the day before, so when they come home, they just need to heat the portion to a suitable temperature. That will save around an hour, maybe even more.
Batch cooking is when you pick a specific recipe and make a large batch. Next, you’d split the food into many portions and store it over weeks or months. This method is excellent for lunch and dinner, though you may have to defrost the food, which takes longer than microwaving food left in the fridge.
A slightly different way to meal prep is only preparing the ingredients first. Then, of course, you’ll do the actual cooking before a meal, so spending time in the kitchen is necessary. However, you effectively skip a large portion of the work before mealtime.
You can choose one or combine the methods as needed depending on your schedule or habits. Of course, you can always try the one that grabs your interest first before switching to another. Experimentation is how you find the sweet spot.
How to Meal Prep
Meal prep is more than cooking extra servings. There are some things to get or consider before undertaking this task.
Get Some Containers
The best way to store food is to keep them in containers. Some people start with bags and plastic containers, which are okay when just starting out. However, they’re not the best because of chemical leaching.
When heated, plastic can release BPA or estrogenic substances. The former is a carcinogen and very unhealthy in the long run. In addition, your hormones won’t be happy should you introduce the estrogenic substances, which can cause imbalances.
However, they should be fine if you’re only using them to store food and not for heating your meals.
Some people stick with plastic containers because of the low costs and the large selection. However, reusable Ziploc bags are common, and you can usually purchase them in large quantities. In addition, more sturdy plastic containers are also cheap and easy to find.
The best containers are either made of glass or steel. Stainless steel is an excellent choice because high-quality ones can be airtight and waterproof.
One disadvantage is that metal absorbs heat, so you must be careful if the container is heated. It’s best to wait for the surface to cool before handling it. If you don’t have time to wait, be sure to use some oven mitts to protect your hands.
Many believe metal containers are best for cold foods like sandwiches or even Japanese bento boxes. Many people enjoy eating from a bento box, contributing to the experience.
Glass is widespread and tends to be hailed as the best material for food prep containers. It doesn’t get too hot in the microwave, allowing you to enjoy your lunch or dinner while it’s still hot. However, shattering remains a valid concern, so we recommend exercising caution.
If you practice meal prepping at home and plan to freeze portions, get some freezer-safe boxes or mason jars. These will reduce nutrient loss and freezer burn. Leave an inch of space so the food can expand as the temperature drops.
There’s also the issue of condiments, especially if you make your own. Again, there’s nothing wrong with immediately putting it in the container, but you may prefer the option of carrying it in a separate container. For instance, you can get one-ounce-size plastic containers to hold ketchup and mustard.
Store Foods Safely
Meal prepping is healthy and safe when you have cleanliness in mind, but sometimes people forget food poisoning is an ever-present risk. It’s common knowledge that millions of Americans suffer from it every year.
When you cook foods at the right temperature, they’re safe for a while. However, poor storage practices can ruin a large batch of stew, for example. Similarly, you shouldn’t reheat foods more than once.
Frozen foods should be kept below -18° Fahrenheit or 0° Celsius. This will prevent spoiling and bacteria growth. Refrigeration is best at 40° Fahrenheit, around 5° Celsius.
Before placing containers in the fridge or freezer, let them cool off. It’s safe to cool within two hours, but the best results are when the food is lukewarm.
Poultry and fish should be cooked within two days of purchase, but red meat has a more lenient storage limit of up to five days. Therefore, meat should be stored on the fridge’s bottom shelf.
When reheating foods, the temperature should reach at least 165° Fahrenheit or 75° Celsius. Consume the reheated food within 24 hours to minimize the chance of food poisoning.
Dishes should be stored in the fridge for no more than four days before eating. However, food can be stored in the freezer for three to six months.
Prep the Meal
In general, the process of planning to prep is very straightforward. The first few times can be more daunting, but practice makes perfect. After a while, you’ll spend even less time making food.
- Pick a prepping style.
- Create a schedule.
- Choose the number of meals to prepare.
- Look up some recipes.
- Make a grocery list.
- Go shopping.
- Return home and start cooking.
- Store your food correctly.
Of course, this isn’t a routine to be followed without room for flexibility. Sometimes, there’s extra food lying around you can use. Your personal situation will dictate what your food prepping habits look like.
The Importance of Time
Before making a large crockpot of chicken, you should sit down and delegate certain days for prepping. These days are when you leave time for cooking, and there are ways to optimize your schedule. The weekends are great for meal prepping since that’s when most people have more time, but not everyone abides by the same schedule.
The best days are what works best for you. But, of course, even if you have the time, certain appliances or processes just aren’t optimal. We suggest getting large pans and considering an Instant Pot. You can use both simultaneously since slow cookers, and similar devices don’t need constant attention.
Before going to the store, make a list of everything you want to get. It’s best to stay there just long enough to get what you need. It’s common knowledge that the longer you shop, the more you spend.
Studies have been conducted proving this as fact. Unplanned shopping trips can result in impulse spending. You don’t want to go over your budget or end up with unnecessary food.
A strict budget and a list are all you need before shopping. Once you get everything on your list, head home to avoid the temptation of overspending.
In time, you’ll come to appreciate practicing this discipline. Time is money, and you also save actual dollars with strict shopping habits.
Should I Meal Prep?
If you have a busy schedule that doesn’t allow you much time for cooking, then meal prepping is an excellent choice. People from all walks of life make meals in advance, sometimes for the next week. Nevertheless, not everyone will practice the same method of meal preparation.
Just cutting up the ingredients up reduces time in the kitchen at mealtime, but some people don’t have the extra 30 minutes to cook food from pre-processed ingredients. Therefore, only people who want to shave off half an hour or so of cooking should consider this method.
Some foods like soft vegetables and fruits are also not great for long-term storage. However, if you enjoy eating dishes with such ingredients, a trick is to use the prepping method above but do it on separate days. This way, you can ensure everything remains fresh and safe to eat.
Ask yourself whether a microwave is available. If not, you can pack a cold lunch.
Other foods may cause histamine buildup, including beans, tomatoes, and dairy. Avoiding these issues by selecting low-histamine ingredients and consuming the portions sooner is easy. You can also mix and match foods with more histamine so you don’t provoke a reaction.
Meal prepping can be safe and enjoyable, regardless of high or low histamine content. It only takes time and experimentation.
There are many reasons to meal prep, but in the end, you will have to decide if it’s appropriate for you.
Best Prepping Foods
Practically anything that can last a long time in the fridge or freezer is great for prepping meals. But, above all, they should be nutritious, tasty, and enjoyable, even as leftovers.
- Cooked meat
- Roasted vegetables
- Raw vegetables that last longer
- Cooked beans, including baked beans in a can
- Cooked grain products such as pasta and rice
Technically, some foods can last but don’t end up as palatable. This is because they soften over time and aren’t the ideal ingredients.
- Softer vegetables
- Sliced or opened fruits
- Crunchy products
Your reheating method will also affect the recipes you can make. A stovetop or oven allows you to make almost everything since you control the temperature. However, microwaves are a different story.
Microwaves are more aggressive, heating the food much faster. Therefore, your ingredients must be able to withstand this sudden temperature change.
Tips and Tricks
Over the years, many life-changing tricks have been discovered by others in the food-prepping community. Here are some notable ones:
Get Rotisserie Chicken
A rotisserie chicken is cheap and allows you to add delicious meat to all kinds of dishes. The chicken can last for many portions, while the bones can be used to make stock if you’re so inclined. It can save you a lot of time.
The First Week Is Always a Learning Experience
You’re bound to make mistakes during the first week of prep. After learning from your mistakes, the following weeks will become smoother sailing. Cut out whatever you don’t like.
If there are some leftover ingredients or portions, you can upcycle them into an entirely new dish. Besides expanding your palate and experimenting, you reduce waste. It’s a win-win situation for you and the environment.
Don’t Forget the Food
Making lots of food can be overwhelming, so some people may leave something in the freezer for too long. Unanticipated circumstances can also make you forget the food you prepared beforehand. Don’t fret if you do, but try setting phone reminders to avoid this problem.
A Worthy Investment
How do you start meal prepping? The primary step is simply planning and delegating time. That way, you can start making delicious lunches and dinners in a day.
Remember that food prepping is an investment in yourself, both financially and physically. Healthy food can do wonders for the body and mind. The differences will surface in time.