Check in! These past two weeks, we’ve focused on hydration and walking. Take a moment to reflect on your new healthy habits. Were they enjoyable? How does your body feel? If they didn’t work out as you had planned, take a look back at the different tips and strategies we suggested — there may be another solution to help work these habits into your new routine.
This week, we’ll be tackling meal prep! Meal prep is the practice of preparing the key elements of a dish (think: grains, roasted veggies, cooked protein, etc.) or even the entire recipe before you plan to eat it. This smart meal planning method gives you a head start on the week, often leading to faster, healthier, stress-free eating. Learning how to meal prep will seriously change your weeknight dinner game, since it can save you a lot of time in those precious (sometimes hectic!) post-work hours and ensure that you’re getting a nutritious option on the table in no time.
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How do I prep my meals for the week?
There are a few different ways to meal prep, but basically, all the food preparation methods involve organizing the food in your fridge in a way that makes for easy, make-ahead meals or easier breakfasts, lunches and dinners — whether that’s just chopping or slicing foods or actually cooking it. There’s no one way to do it, but three common techniques include:
- Batch cooking: Make big recipes at once (like on the weekends) and freezing or saving for use later on.
- Individually portioned meals: Divvy up portions into containers ahead of time so you can grab and go.
- Prepped ingredients: Do a bunch of chopping, peeling, slicing, or roasting beforehand and use those prepared components in recipes later on.
You may feel motivated to prep for the entire week, and that’s a great thing! But it can be difficult to sustain. We’re working on building healthy habits for the long run, so maybe start this week by meal prepping just one meal. If you’re always scrambling to find something in the fridge for lunch, then maybe that’s the meal that you tackle. Alternatively, starting the day with a prepped breakfast can save you time and stress and begin things on a healthy note. Even pre-chopping a few vegetables, so they are ready to toss in the oven when you get home from work counts!
How long will meal prepped food last?
Prepared foods can remain refrigerated for 2–5 days or frozen for 3–4 months, depending on the ingredients. To play it safe and avoid foodborne illness, keep food out of the “danger zone” — temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. Sealing food in airtight packaging or storage containers will not only keep bacteria out, but also protect the flavor, lock moisture in and help prevent freezer burn.
How to get started?
These simple steps will get you in a meal planning groove in no time:
- Choose just one mealtime you’d like to prepare for — either quick breakfasts, lunches, or healthy dinners. Keep it simple by starting with one you usually eat out or skip altogether.
- Pick a day to do your meal prepping. Sunday and Wednesday are two common choices, but select a day or days that work best for you.
- Determine how much you want to prep. Experiment with prepping for two or three days before attempting five. You may not like eating the same thing the whole week.
- Invest in a cookbook. Good Housekeeping’s Easy Meal Prep: The Ultimate Playbook for Make-Ahead Meals comes with over 100 healthy make-ahead recipes, as well as tips and techniques to make meal prepping a breeze. You can also browse our site for tons of delicious recipe inspiration. If you’re looking to ramp up your nutrient intake, make veggies or fruit at least 50% of whatever you’re prepping. They don’t necessarily have to come from the actual produce section: Frozen or canned varieties will last almost forever and work in nearly every meal.
- Make your list: Once you determine which meal or meals you plan to prepare in advance and select your recipes, you’ll create your shopping list accordingly. You may want to download a meal prep app that will help keep your plan organized and make shopping and cooking a snap by curating recipes and grocery lists for you. Don’t fret if you’re not into the tech-based solution: A pen and paper also work for planning out your week.
- Shop smart: You’re going to head to the grocery store on a mission and shop smarter since you know what you’ll be getting. When you’re at the supermarket, shop for packaged/canned and dry goods first, then produce, and lastly grab cold/perishable items.
- Consider a meal prep planner. Our Weekly Meal Prep Planner includes tear-off grocery lists and 52 weeks of meal prep inspo and organizational tools.
- Focus on storage: After preparing your meals, you’ll want to make sure they are stored properly. Stock up on reusable, airtight food storage containers that will help your prepared ingredients or meals stay fresh by locking bacteria and odors out.
The best foods for meal prepping:
- Frozen vegetables: Freezer finds are already washed, chopped and ready to be roasted, steamed or sautéed.
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes and other root vegetables are healthy, filling, and will last longer in your fridge than more delicate cooked veggies.
- Stiff fresh vegetables: Celery, carrots, bell peppers, radish and other crunchy veggies make delicious meal-prep snacks on their own or dipped in hummus.
- Sturdy greens: Hearty leaves like spinach and kale will last longer in your fridge than softer lettuces. Keep them washed and dried but wait to dress them until just before serving.
- Whole grains: Oats, quinoa, barley and buckwheat are tasty for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Pulses: Chickpeas, lentils, beans and peas add fast, plant-based protein to any meal.
- Lean protein: For vegetarian protein, stock up on eggs, unsweetened Greek yogurt, skyr, reduced-sodium cottage cheese or tofu. Fish and meat eaters can source frozen or canned seafood, lean cuts of chicken, turkey, beef and pork.
- Whole fruits: Depending on what’s in season near you, look for apples, bananas, oranges, clementines, plums, peaches, pears, berries and more.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds not only add a burst of nutrients, but also a delightful crunch.
Save this trusty shopping list for your next trip to the grocery store:
Tip for success:
Make it obvious.
- Put out your storage containers the day before.
- Print out your recipes or bookmark them in your cookbook.
Make it attractive.
- Make different sauces or dressings that you can pair with your meals to change them up and keep them exciting throughout the week.
- Experiment with flavorful spices like za’atar, sumac and ras el hanout.
Make it easy.
- Look for one pan or sheet pan meals which can make preparing dinner or lunch easier since its less clean up and everything is ready at the same time.
- Use frozen vegetables for a quick nutrient-dense side dish.
- Cut up herbs and place them in water to last longer.
Make it satisfying.
- Schedule your meal prep days Monday-Thursday and treat yourself on Friday to lunch or dinner out with friends or family.
- Buy a new cookbook for innovative recipe inspiration to look forward to creating and eating.
How to habit stack meal prep:
- When preparing dinner, prepare breakfast and prep the next morning’s coffee at the same time. For example, while prepping dinner prepare overnight oats that you can store in the fridge for the next day’s breakfast and boil a dozen eggs that you can keep in the fridge and use for breakfast or lunch during the week.
- When you come home from the grocery store and put everything away, consider cleaning and chopping a few veggies and other ingredients to save time during the week.
These ideas will make it easy for you to start your meal prep journey.
Nutrition Lab Deputy Director
Stefani (she/her) is a registered dietitian, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the deputy director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab, where she handles all nutrition-related content, testing and evaluation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from NYU. She is also Good Housekeeping’s on-staff fitness and exercise expert. Stefani is dedicated to providing readers with evidence-based content to encourage informed food choices and healthy living. She is an avid CrossFitter and a passionate home cook who loves spending time with her big fit Greek family.
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