Meal Prepping for Absolute Beginners

Meal prep might seem like a tricky business if you’ve only seen other people do it on videos, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Most households, whether they are single-person, couple, or family units, can benefit from incorporating meal-prep as a routine lifestyle choice.

Besides saving precious time and money, meal prepping is also better for the environment (less waste), easier on the household budget (fewer impulse lunch-buys), and helps you build a healthier relationship with food (more veggies, less junk food).

A Short Intro to Meal Prepping

1. What is meal prepping?

Simply put, meal prepping requires you to spend some time every week preparing a few meals or dishes which you then consume throughout the week.

However, keep in mind there’s no one-size-fits-all for meal prepping. The time you spend prepping can be used to stock up on essential items — such as cottage cheese — which can complement practically any meal, or you could try cooking several meals from scratch and save them for later.

2. How does it differ from meal planning?

Meal prepping and meal planning go hand in hand. Both are ingenious techniques to save time and money and to eat more healthily too. However, there’s a significant difference…

As the name implies, meal planning means figuring out how many meals you’ll cook during the week, which recipes you’ll use, and deciding when to cook them. You don’t actually have to prepare anything!

You can be a meal planner without having to prep anything beforehand, and vice versa.

5 reasons to prep meals while working from home

All of them are especially relevant nowadays when many people are practising social distancing or self-isolating at home for health reasons.

  1. There is less waste. Batch-cooked meals are more eco-friendly!
  2. It is healthier. No need to binge when you’ve got everything prepped beforehand.
  3. It gives you a routine. Always essential in situations where self-discipline is vital.
  4. It gives you more time to relax. You’ll easily win an extra hour of free time on days when you’ve prepped meals already and you only have to reheat them.
  5. It gives you a clearer idea of stock. You’ll never again lose track of food supplies and be forced to go emergency shopping to refill an empty fridge or pantry.

Planning the basics

Meal prepping can be as simple or complex as people make it. If this is your first time prepping meals, I suggest mastering a particular recipe or two, then cook bigger batches of the same dish and portion it over several days.

As soon as you start building confidence in your cooking and meal prepping abilities, you can start experimenting with new recipes, and even creating a meal plan for the next couple of weeks or so.

The key is always to have a couple of recipes you can whip out at a moment’s notice. These basic recipes will keep your belly full and reduce the time spent gathering ingredients and making other “logistic” decisions.

Other things to keep in mind as you level up your meal prepping are to:

  • Use inventory management. Stay on top of your grocery shopping and pantry management.
  • Invest in high-quality containers. Glass containers are more expensive but are easier to clean. Plastic containers are a more affordable option but might stain over time. Starting with a mix of both types would provide a sensible balance.
  • Establish a recipe binder. Take the time to create a binder or folder where you keep recipes for future reference, whether a physical one or a digital version.
  • Ensure your go-to recipes are easy to make. Fill your binder with recipes that use ingredients you can buy all year round.

Know your routine and adapt your meal-prep to it. It’s pointless to be overly ambitious and plan to cook 14+ meals on a Sunday, only to realise it takes six hours to do so. Unless you’re willing to sacrifice an entire day for meal-prep, you should try to simplify or split meal-prep over multiple days.

A Balanced Meal Prep Adapts To Your Schedule

For some people, batch cooking a week’s worth of food at one go might work, but this “all or nothing” approach can be quite intense and disheartening if done incorrectly. A flexible approach is always the most effective for beginners.

If you’re a morning person, consider waking up early on Monday and Thursday to assemble meals for the following few days.

If you’re a night owl, pick a day or two and opt for cooking and storing the basics for the rest of the week.

Are you working from home? Does quarantine have you cooped up indoors for a while? Try chopping up veggies for a quick active break that doubles up as preparation for your next meal. You get your daily intake of vitamins and minerals AND have more time to chill later.

A meal prep approach will always require some level of cooking and assembly on some days throughout the week.

Sample meal prep menu

Breakfast

Focus on incorporating a healthy breakfast in your routine that uses 3-5 ingredients and around ten minutes of prep time.

Healthy staples include:

  • Weetabix with milk, nuts, and fruit
  • Oats soaked in milk overnight with nuts and fruit
  • Hard-boiled eggs and spinach on toast

Lunch

Aim to prepare lunches that include a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. The nutritional powerhouse provided by these three elements will keep you full for longer throughout the day.

Easy lunch ideas to try are:

  • Pre-cooked rice with added veggies and a protein source to create a rice salad
  • A traditional Maltese tuna mix in whole-wheat wraps
  • Marinated chicken breast strips in a basic vinaigrette with potatoes and green veggies

Dinner

One-pan dinners are always an easy go-to in the evening, so aim for meals such as stir-fries or one-pot pasta dinners that utilise only one pot or pan for less clean-up. Once again, remember to combine carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in your plate for a balanced meal.

Dinners are also an excellent opportunity to utilise leftovers in your meals the following day, thus limiting food waste while keeping you on track with a healthy eating plan.

Snacks

Buy snacks which can be easily added to your routine and which can be easily stored at home, at work, and eaten on the go. These include crackers, dried fruit, and nuts.

Give meal prepping a try this week

Someone who is used to skipping breakfast and eating junk food for lunch and dinner every day is less likely to start eating healthily overnight, so don’t be afraid to start with small changes when you introduce meal prepping into your lifestyle.

The key is to persist and to gradually and actively incorporate meal-prep into your everyday routine until it sticks – as all good habits eventually do.