11 Tips to Make Meal Prep Easier
11 Tips to Make Meal Prep Easier
What do you think when you hear “meal prep”?
The term “meal prep” might sound intimidating. Or even douchey. I get it. I used to roll my eyes when people would mention “meal prepping” like they were some fitness messiah or something. It seemed extreme and unnecessary. Honestly, at the time, it was extreme and unnecessary…for me. I didn’t have kids, had time to cook despite having a full-time job. Going out to eat was a common occurrence, and I didn’t really give a damn about calorie counting or macros. Or “fitness” in general for that matter.
Now I get it.
Now, about 8 years, 2 kids, and becoming a stay-at-home mom later, I have less free time than I’ve ever had before in my entire life. It’s incredible. I have less time to do basically anything you can imagine, right down to going pee. Seriously, I use effort to push the pee out faster than it would just naturally come out on it’s own. It’s tragic, really. But anyway, despite not having time to pee as nature and evolution has so intricately and efficiently designed, I started taking a good couple of hours each week to cook and package up a week’s worth of lunches for both me and my husband.
Why? Because if I didn’t I’d eat take out, ice cream, or boxes of cereal for lunch each day. You know what happens when that happens? Yeah…I feel gross. And when I feel gross sometimes it just snowballs into making myself feel grosser with more snacks, sweets, and junk food. I dunno why, but it’s my MO. So, having a filling, delicious, healthy, balanced meal ready to eat at lunchtime each day absolutely saves me! It’s convenient and soooo much better for me than anything I might be tempted to reach for in a moment of extreme hunger and impatience.
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I’ve learned a thing or two about meal prepping, seeing as I’ve made 5-10 lunches per week nearly every week for the past 3 years. I’ve made mistakes, and honed my skills.
Here are some ins, outs, tips, and tricks I’ve learned over the years. They can help you get started with your meal prep goals, or make your current meal prep routine easier. When meal prep is less hassle and less daunting, you’re more likely to stick with it and work toward your fitness goals. Here are my top 11 Tips to Make Meal Prep Easier.
1. Load up on protein & veggies.
Regardless of your fitness goals (fat loss, muscle gain, or maintenance), I’m willing to bet protein and veggies will support them. Supplementing lean protein with high volume veggies will satiate hunger and add valuable nutrients to your diet.
(Sidebar: I heart BUILT protein bars as a between-meal snack with my afternoon coffee every day. The macros are amazing and they taste great! Free shipping, and save 10% with discount code SQUATTO at checkout.)
My vegetable intake increased substantially once I began meal prepping. Because, let’s face it, chopping and preparing raw veggies can be time consuming. Time I just don’t have at lunchtime each day.
From there, you can tailor your meal to fit your personal tastes, preferences, and nutrition goals. Most meals I make I serve over rice. It’s cheap, easy to make, and a good source of carbohydrates. Which your body needs, by the way. Not to mention, a lot of my recipes are Mexican or Asian inspired, so it just goes.
2. Don’t be boring.
When I started making a week’s worth of lunches for both myself and my husband, I made the same damn salad every freaking week for three months straight. I was so sick of those stupid salads.
Don’t do that. Mix it up. Keep it interesting. Now I typically make a different recipe every week of the month. I repeat recipes often, but there are generally multiple weeks in between.
Personally, I don’t get bored or tired of eating the same lunch every day, Monday through Friday. I make delicious food, and am happy to eat it day after day.
Honestly, the convenience of having food 100% ready-to-eat, besides a quick zap in the microwave depending on the meal, outweighs any feelings I might have about eating it on repeat for a short 5 days.
The food being satisfying, flavorful, and supportive of my nutrition goals is an added bonus.
3. Change recipes to fit your needs, or make up your own.
Don’t take Whoever-The-Hell-Cooks-A-Lot’s blog as gospel, folks. You don’t have to use a quarter cup of oil. Or a whole stick of butter. You don’t have to serve over a full serving of rice. Or use onions. You have the power, right, and ability to change things up.
I’ll get recipe ideas online, then make them work within the nutritional parameters I’ve set for myself, as well as my own personal tastes. Sometimes that means less oil or more veggies, ground turkey or chicken instead of ground beef, or keeping the mushrooms exclusively on my husband’s lunches. Because gross.
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You don’t even have to complicate things with a recipe if that feels too formal or intimidating. Pick a protein, pick a carb and/or veggies, and throw it all together with some healthy fat and your favorite seasonings and spices. All in the appropriate amounts to support your goals and fit nicely into your day’s worth of calories, of course.
4. Go the easy route.
Making your life easier is not cheating, it’s necessary. Meal prep is time consuming when you consider chopping, dicing, cooking, packaging, and cleaning up. I know you’ll find a buncha BS on Pinterest claiming “30 freezer meals in less than 1 hour!”, but it doesn’t really work that way. Unfortunately. There are, however, things you can do to decrease your prep time and speed up the process.
Using canned chicken/tuna/salmon or deli meats will save you some cooking time. I’m a big fan of using pre-cooked chicken sausages/brats, as well. These options are quick to throw on top of a salad, veggies, rice, or pasta.
Buy frozen/steam-in-bag or canned vegetables to save yourself a ton of time rinsing, chopping, and dicing.
There are plenty of “light” sauce and dressing options available pre-made and jarred. Rather than making your own pasta sauce from scratch, check the labels at the grocery store and find one that fits your nutrition plan and roll with it. Use store bought light/fat free dressings, dips, and marinades. Red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or Frank’s wing sauce are good zero/low-calorie options to give your dishes flavor, as well.
Don’t use instant rice. The convenience of canned/frozen/jarred ingredients is great, as mentioned above. But don’t make the mistake of using Minute/instant rice for your meal prep. From personal experience, this doesn’t work out so well. The rice hardens as the week goes on, making the dish rather unenjoyable to eat. Just a lil live-and-learn tip from me to you. “Real” white rice and quinoa only take about 15 minutes once your water boils. Brown rice takes about 45 minutes to cook from boiling, so keep that in mind going into a meal prep session.
5. Have go-to fall back recipes and ingredients on-hand.
Whatever day you choose to meal prep on can get hectic. Be prepared for a busy weekend to hinder your ability to choose a meal, grocery shop, and make it. Mom life, work, social obligations, and just wanting to relax can get in the way. Always having some items in the freezer and pantry that you can mix-and-match and quickly throw together is key. Set yourself up for success by having things like boneless, skinless chicken breasts and steam-in-bag veggies in the freezer, and rice or pasta in the pantry at any given time.
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Even in a pinch, you can get ingredients like these cooked up and your meal prep completed without much forethought. My “go-to” fall-back recipe is usually chicken fried rice. I almost always keep chicken and a few bags of mixed veggies in the freezer, and rice in the pantry. When I am not feeling it, or just don’t have time, I grab my ingredients and get it done quickly and easily. I’ve made chicken fried rice so many times I don’t really have to look at the recipe anymore. And you know what? It’s delicious!
6. Grocery shop and chop/dice veggies the day before.
I don’t always get around to getting my groceries and pre-chopping my veggies on Saturday. But when I do, it makes Sunday’s meal prep a lot faster! As a macro-tracker, I even weigh out the veggies or meat ahead of time, then keep them fresh in the fridge until it’s time to make the meals the next day. A food chopper like this one can speed the process up a lot! Having nice, sharp knives (I prefer serrated) and quality cutting boards helps, too.
Curbside pickup saves lives…particularly the lives of my children.
As far as grocery shopping goes, one huge positive to come out of this whole COVID mess was the vast improvements and increased affordability of online grocery orders with curbside pickup. Can I get an A-MEN?! As a mother of 2 littles, grocery shopping is bullshit. Begging to go to the toy aisle. Changing seats in the cart. Wanting to walk. Touching each other. Grabbing stuff off the shelves. Crying and whining. Asking for crap I’m not gonna buy. Skyrocketing blood pressure. Why yes, I will just drive them up to the parking lot happily munching a snack and watching their iPads, snugly buckled into their carseats, while a nice employee loads my pre-ordered groceries in the trunk. Thankyouverymuch.
Save time and sanity by doing curbside pickup grocery orders. Maybe your issues aren’t snot-nosed little brats. Whatever your reason is for not having the time or enegy to peruse the grocery aisles, schedule a pickup for when it’s convenient for you. On your way home from work, soccer practice, or the gym. Don’t skip your workout because you need to go grocery shopping for goodness sake!
Some stores have a minimum order to avoid fees, but others are just free, free-and-clear. Target has free, no-minimum curbside pickup orders ready in 2 hours or less. That’s just insane and wicked convenient.
7. Simplify with kitchen gadgets.
If you have a crockpot, air fryer, and/or instant pot, use them! Cooking meat or entire meals in a crockpot or instant pot is totally hands-off after you get it started. I love cooking chicken for shredding, or baking potatoes in the IP. No need to keep an eye on anything until it’s D-O-N-E done!
If you don’t have any of these nifty lil (but actually kinda big) appliances, simplify your meal prep with one-skillet or one-sheet pan meals. Roasting seasoned veggies with raw chicken or pre-cooked chicken sausage brats in the oven is definitely a favorite of mine. I make 10 lunches each week, so I typically need more than 1 pan, but you get the idea. Cooking or browning meat on the stove in a large skillet, then adding veggies and cooked rice to it makes for a quick, easy meal. Not to mention a quick, easy clean up!
8. Eyeball final portions.
Don’t get too obsessed with divvying up exact portions into your meal prep containers when it’s all said and done. Just count scoops or eyeball portion size. It all comes out in the wash. Maybe one day you have a couple fewer pieces of chicken or a few more grains of rice. The next day you’ll have a few more pieces of chicken and fewer grains of rice. Over the course of the week it’ll all even out.
9. Do dishes & clean up during prep, not just after.
This is a great practice to take up when it comes to meal prepping. You’ll want to clean up as you go so your kitchen isn’t full-on destroyed by the time you’re done. Put spice containers and other ingredients back in the pantry and fridge where they belong when you are done with them. When you’re playing the waiting game for water to boil or veggies to cook, put a few utensils into the dishwasher or scrub a pan or cutting board. Tackling a little bit at a time makes meal prepping, and the clean-up afterward, go a lot quicker and smoother. Plus you’ll have more counter space to work on during the prep itself.
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10. Use quality, appropriately sized meal prep containers.
You’re going to want sturdy plastic or glass containers to store and transport your meals in. There’s nothing worse than a flimsy container or loose lid making a mess of your lunchbox, and ultimately your life. That may seem extreme, but little shit like that really sets me over the edge. haha
There are all kinds of containers to choose from, so consider the kinds of meals and foods you will prep. Do you need compartments? If so, how many? How strong of a lid seal do you need? Does the container fit comfortably into your lunchbox or cooler? Do 4, 5, or 10 of them fit nicely into your refrigerator?
11. Prep when cooking other meals.
If you’re browning and seasoning ground turkey for tacos, make a double batch and freeze half. Freeze some of your big batch leftovers of chili, soup, or pulled pork, etc. When you’re at a loss for ideas or time for the week ahead, fall back on what you have saved in the freezer.
If you’re grilling steak for dinner on Saturday night, throw the chicken for tomorrow’s meal prep on the grill along with it. Baking potatoes for a side? Bake up (or instant pot!) a few extra potatoes, and throw them into your meal prep containers, topped with the grilled chicken, some steam-in-bag broccoli, shredded cheese, and BBQ sauce. Meal prep – check! That’s just a for-instance. Do whatever you want. Grill extra steak, slice it up and put it on some spinach with strawberries and a light balsamic vinaigrette.
You can concoct a “meal-prepped” meal out of anything you happen to be eating and making on the regular. Kill two birds with one stone and cook or chop your meal prep stuff along with another meal when it’s convenient.
It’s Just Leftovers, Folks.
Meal prep doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Make it work for you, instead of working your little tail off preparing some intricate, ridiculous masterpiece. Meal prep is basically just making a lot of something and eating the leftovers throughout the week. That’s the least intimidating way to look at it. Not so scary after all, right?
Start small, don’t feel like you gotta be fancy, and start meal-prepping your way to your weight loss and fitness goals!
Are you a meal prep noob or an old vet? What’s your biggest hang up or best meal prep tip? Let me know in the comments below!
Follow me on Instagram to see what I eat every day, and the meals I prep each week. I include calorie and macro counts for my meals and snacks in my stories and highlights, and share recipes that I love. There’s also a decent amount of motherhood-related bitching, and hefty doses of lifting videos and selfies to be had on my grid, as well.
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