One of the biggest factors in achieving your health goals is eating right, but that can be hard to remember after a stressful day when your stomach’s growling and the fridge is bare. It’s just so easy to order a pizza — even if you know that you’ll feel guilty about it afterward. Don’t blame yourself. Instead, take self-control out of the equation altogether. Consider meal prepping to help you stick to a healthy eating plan. New to this? Meal prepping for beginners is a lot easier than you might think, and, best of all, it works wonders on your diet and food budget.
Here is what you need to know about how to meal prep for beginners.
What Is Meal Prepping?
In a nutshell, meal prepping means making your meals ahead of time, so they will be ready and waiting when you need to grab a bite. The beauty of the system is that you don’t have to drive to the grocery store and then spend an hour making food while you’re starving. Instead, just open the fridge, grab the container with the pre-made meal, heat it if needed, and toss it on a plate. You’re ready to eat.
Most meal preppers will choose two or three recipes and then double or triple the recipe. They buy all the ingredients in a single trip and cook all the meals in one sitting. (This is known as batch cooking.) When the food is done, they divide the portions into containers and put them in the fridge or freezer to keep them fresh and ready for the week.
Meal prepping can be entirely flexible to meet your specific needs and preferences. For example, while some meal preppers only meal prep for dinner, others prep every single meal and snacks for the week in advance.
Meal Prepping vs. Meal Planning – What’s the Difference?
You may have heard that meal planning can help you stick to a healthy eating habit, but how does it relate to meal prepping? Are they the same thing? Not exactly, although meal planning and meal prepping often go hand-in-hand.
Meal planning simply means planning what meals you’re going to eat over the week (or even the month). Typically, you’ll choose meal recipes and schedule them throughout the week. The key difference is that with meal prepping, you actually make all the food and then portion it out so that all the meals are pre-cooked and ready to eat.
Generally speaking, meal prepping requires meal planning, especially if you want to stick with a specific eating program, like a low-carb, vegetarian, or gluten-free plan. By planning the right type of recipes that will help you fulfill your health and fitness goals, you can get even more out of meal prepping.
How to Meal Prep for Beginners – A Step-by-Step Guide
Excited to start meal prepping? Here’s a quick and easy meal prep guide specifically for beginners.
Step 1 – Decide on Your Meals
When you begin your first week of meal prepping, start slow. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you try to cover every meal for the week. Instead, pick one meal to prep. Which meal do you have the most trouble with? Do you tend to sleep in and skip breakfast? Do you let your coworkers convince you to eat out for lunch most days? Is dinner when your hankering for hamburgers really hits? Choose that meal to prep.
Step 2 – Find Your Recipes
For your first week, choose one or two recipes to meal prep. An easy tip is to choose some healthy recipes you already know and enjoy. This way, you already know what to buy and the steps to cook; this will save you time and effort. As you get deeper into meal prepping, you may discover that tracking down new and delicious healthy recipes is a fun and exciting part of the process. Ask friends and family members for their favorites or consult your trusted online food resources. (Did you know that the EōS Fitness blog includes many yummy and healthy recipes, like these superfood snacks or these 10 high-protein smoothies?)
Make sure your chosen recipes that support your health and fitness goals. For example, if you are seeking to shed body fat, consider keeping a close watch on your calories. If your goal is to build muscle mass, your meals should include plenty of protein. (Here’s more on how to choose a diet and exercise plan that works for you.)
Step 3 – Go Shopping
Make a list of all the ingredients for all the meals you plan to make. Remember to double or triple the recipe so that you can make multiple servings. You can also find many free list apps for your smartphone that can help. Want to save time at the store? Group similar ingredients together to cut down on your time going through the isles.
Step 4 – Get Cooking
Carve out a chunk of time to cook all the meals. A little bit of strategy can save you lots of time. For instance, start on the things that take the longest to cook. Put water on the stove and turn the oven on and then chop your veggies while the water boils or the oven preheats. Consider chopping all your veggies together to avoid task switching.
Step 5 – Divvy up Your Meals
When all the food is done, it’s time to portion it out for the week. You can eyeball the portions, though some meal preppers prefer to use a food scale to ensure their meals are evenly portioned. Any airtight container will work. Go for standard plastic or glass containers. Even mason jars that are popular among some food preppers can work.
The Power of Meal Prepping
There is seriously no better feeling after a long and stressful day than opening the fridge and spotting a complete meal waiting for you. The power of meal prepping is that it takes away all excuses to order out or to settle on a bag of potato chips instead of a proper dinner. This simple habit can pay big dividends to your health and fitness goals.
Consider that, according to HelpGuide.org, the average adult eats 836 calories per fast food meal. Ouch! Fast food and restaurant meals also tend to swim in sodium, unhealthy fats, and sugars. Meal prepping allows you to fill your body with lean proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats to truly nourish your body.
Not only will meal prepping help you feel great, but your bank account might get a little boost along with you. Meal prepping is a great way to save money. The average restaurant meal costs $13, while many preppers can make healthy, delicious meals for $2 or less per serving.
Quick Tips on How to Meal Prep
Meal prepping does require time, commitment, and intention (like anything worth doing), but it doesn’t have to be difficult or take away an entire afternoon. Here are a few ways to save time and effort as you learn how to start meal prepping.
Buy the Staples in Bulk
After you spend some time meal prepping, you may see certain ingredients popping up again and again in your recipes. You may be reaching for brown rice, lentils, quinoa, oats, and olive oil, to name a few. Save yourself time and money by purchasing these items in bulk from a wholesale store.
Embrace the Crockpot
What’s there not to love about a slow cooker? Just drop in the ingredients, set the timer, and go on with your life. Slow cookers are great for making soups, stews, and chili, but don’t stop there. They can easily make plenty of other dishes as well.
Prep on the Same Day Each Week
Consistency is the magic ingredient that can turn actions into habits. Try to shop, prep, and cook your meals on the same day and during the same time each week. Many meal preppers choose Saturday or Sunday to prep for the week. It doesn’t matter what day you choose. Just try to stick with it.
Invest in Useful Kitchen Devices
If you have the budget, a few popular kitchen devices can cut down on your food prep time. A vegetable dicer, for example, can speed up one of the most time-intensive chores in the meal prep process. You may also want to consider buying a blender, mixer, spiralizer, potato ricer, rice cooker, food processor, instant pot, and slow cooker.
What Foods Should I Use When I’m Learning How to Meal Prep?
The meals you make are completely up to you. Ideally, they should support your health goals plus be tasty. (The healthiest meals in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t make yourself eat them.) Fortunately, the crossroad of tasty and healthy is easy to accomplish. Here is just a short meal prep grocery list for beginners:
- Brown rice
- Sweet potatoes
- Spaghetti squash
- Bell peppers
Almost any combination of carb + protein + veggie from this list will make an excellent lunch or dinner. You can also find tons of recommendations from meal prepping cookbooks, blogs, and meal prep guides that meet your specific needs, including low-cost meal prep meals, vegetarian and vegan options, high-protein ones, and easy-to-make meals.
Time to Get Started
Now that you’ve learned that meal prepping for beginners is simple, it’s time to put yourself to the test. Pick one or two recipes and have fun with it all! As you get more comfortable meal prepping, expand your efforts to cover additional meals if you’d like. Challenge yourself to find new recipes and invite your family to join you. Meal prepping always goes by much faster with a little help. Not sure how to start meal prepping to meet your specific fitness goals? You have options. Many gyms, including EōS Fitness, offer nutritional consultations. Find an EōS location near you.