12 Expert-Approved Tips to Make Meal Prep Easier
We asked four meal prep professionals for their secrets to successful meal planning.
You've seen them; those geometrically perfect bento boxes filled with balanced meals. They are colorful and eloquent and … silently taunting you. Meal prep always looks great on Instagram, but it doesn’t always shake out the same way in your kitchen. If you need to enhance your meal prep vibe, look to these tips from true meal prep gurus!
Meet the Experts
Meal prep experts come from all over. We hit up some of the best of the best to share their top tips.
- Nick Quintero from Meal Prep on Fleek is a dad, Californian and super star meal prepper. He and his partner Sarah are championing all aspects of healthy meal prep and preaching their foodie goodness to a 430,000+ audience on Instagram.
- Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND is an award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook and Smart Meal Prep for Beginners. You may recognize the name, she is also a long time contributor at FoodNetwork.com
- Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD, CPT is the author of brand spanking new Meal Prep For Weight Loss. A book that teaches you how to cook today, eat for a week, and lose weight long term. You can get a sneak peek on her Instagram page @hungryhobbyrd.
- Alyssa Gagarin embodies meal prep to the masses. She is owner and founder of Meal Prep Chef a weekly personal chef service in New York City specializing in meal prep. For a taste of her effervescent style, follow her on Instagram @meal.prep.chef.
Nick’s journey to meal prep mastery is best described as slow and steady. His mindful steps help take the stress out of the entire process.
Plan Ahead: I know it sounds cliché, but believe it or not, meal prepping is also known as meal planning, with an emphasis on planning. Now, if you’re just getting started, this doesn’t mean spending tons of time researching and analyzing macros. It literally means spending 5-10 minutes thinking about dishes that you want to eat in the week ahead and asking yourself, “What sounds good to eat?” Once you answer that question, write it down on a piece of paper, in your notepad on your phone, or on a white board near your kitchen.
Have Patience: Meal prepping is the cornerstone to long term habits that produce results, so it’s going to take some time. For me, it took almost four months to figure out a lunch routine that worked and resulted in a 13% loss in body fat. Here’s what to do: Pick one meal that gives you the most trouble. Maybe you go out to lunch four times per week. Focus on that one meal and stick to making a plan for it!
Portion Control: Finally, one of the biggest problems I see is people assuming they're only eating one portion when, in fact, they might be eating two or three full portions for any given meal. In the interest of making this step as easy as possible, Meal Prep on Fleek teamed up with GoodCook to produce a Meal Prep Container line that has portion control built in.
Toby echoes Nick’s need for proper containers plus reminds preppers to keep things sensible.
Pack Immediately: The best way to make sure you pack enough food for each meal is to pack your meal prep containers immediately after prepping and cooking. If you don't do it immediately, you can end up serving yourself too much at one meal and won't have enough food later on. This also means that you may also be consuming too many calories at one meal and leaving yourself short on calories for later meals.
Don't Overdo It: You may see Instagram meal prep geniuses prepping 10 or more dishes at once. That's just crazy! Don't overextend your meal prepping talents and start slow (with three or four recipes) and work your way up to the amount you feel comfortable prepping. If you have access to a healthy lunch at work, then there is no need to prep lunch. Meal prepping is individual, so do what is right for you.
Prep Over Two Days: You don't necessarily have to meal prep only on Sundays. My Sundays are usually filled with kids’ activities, so I can't prep for an entire week in one day. I like to divide my meal prepping into two days (Sundays and Wednesdays) because that works for me. Before you decide to meal prep, look at your schedule to determine if you should meal prep one or two days a week and which day or days that should be.
Kelli’s tips are focused on maximizing your time. Kelli reminds us meal prep can be a huge time saver if you work efficiently.
Long to Short: My number one meal prep secret to save time is to start with the recipe that will take the longest and work your way to the shortest recipe. For example, begin with the slow cooker, then a sheet pan recipe, then a quick skillet recipe. That way, you’re always making something while something else is cooking, which saves time!
Incorporate Convenience: I also recommend using convenience foods as much as possible. Just because you are meal prepping doesn't mean you have to make everything from scratch. Utilize pre-made sauces, dressings, marinades, etc. to speed up the process a bit. The goal of meal prep is to save you time during the week, not take up your whole weekend!
This meal prep chef knows better than anyone that there is no right or wrong way to prep. You do you.
No One-Size-Fits-All: Meal prep might look different for everyone! It is a common belief that meal prep means cooking every meal for an entire week. However, meal prep could also mean prepping a large batch of breakfasts for the week. Or, assembling 5 lunches to take to work. You don't have to cook three meals a day, seven days a week to have a successful meal prep ritual.
Multitask: Multitasking is the key to a successful meal prep. Select recipes that utilize multiple cooking methods and equipment so that you can accomplish them simultaneously. You should always have items roasting or baking in the oven and cooking on the stove that don't require much hands-on maintenance. This will free up your hands for cutting, assembling and preparing some "non-cooked" items like salads. If you have an Instant Pot, slow cooker, countertop oven or other equipment, put them to work too! The more you have going at once, the more time you'll save!
Set A Theme: Tired of eating the same thing all week? Try setting a "theme" for your meal prep and making batches of items from similar flavor profiles that will all taste good together. Then, you can mix and match the items to create multiple various meals with different combinations! For a Mexican/Southwest themed meal prep, you could mix & match items to make a Taco Salad, Burrito Bowl over Rice, Lettuce Cups and Stuffed Southwest Sweet Potatoes.
Prep for Meal Prep: Do you find yourself buying lots of produce that you don't end up using, and it goes to waste? When you get home from the grocery store, before putting the produce in the fridge, do all of your peeling, cutting & chopping first! If your veggies are already prepped and ready to cook with, you are far more likely to use them. And when it comes time to do the cooking, your meal prep will go super smoothly.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.