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Beginner Meal Prep Ideas, Recipes and Tips

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Beginner Meal Prep Ideas, Recipes and Tips


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. Let’s dive in, shall we?

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:

chili soup in a dutch oven pot

Batch Cooking

Make big recipes at once (like on the weekends) and freezing or saving for use later on.

portioned out meals in containers

Individually Portioned Meals

Divvy up portions into containers ahead of time so you can grab and go.

red peppers being sliced on a cutting board

Prepped Ingredients

Do a bunch of chopping, peeling, slicing, or roasting beforehand and use those prepared components in recipes later on.

What are the benefits of meal prepping?

Meal prepping can save you time on busy weeknights (and money on your grocery bill!) by prepping food on the weekends and minimizing waste. It’s also easier to eat healthy meals since the menu gets set in advance. You’re less likely to choose a not-so-great option when you already have a healthy dinner at home, ready to go.

Is there any downside to meal prepping?

Since meal prepping can involve eating the same dish or types of food a few days in a row, it’s not for people who prize variety and freshness above all else. Getting kids on board with eating “leftovers” can also pose a challenge, especially if you’re making accommodations for different dietary restrictions or palettes. To avoid monotony, use different spices, dressings or condiments in your dishes or freeze some of your prepped food to feature in meals for a future week.

Okay! I am ready — how do I start meal prepping?

Stock up on reusable, airtight food storage containers that will help your prepared ingredients or meals stay fresh by locking bacteria and odors out.

Best for Salad

Brilliance Salad and Snack Lunch Combo Kit
Rubbermaid’s Brilliance Salad and Snack Lunch Combo Kit

We love these crystal clear containers with removable dividers that allow you to customize your lunch. The salad box come with portions you can remove and microwave, and a separate cup for dressing to keep greens fresh.

Credit: amazon

BEST FOR BATCH COOKING

12-Piece Multicolored Food Storage Container Set
Joseph Joseph 12-Piece Multicolored Food Storage Container Set

Now 18% Off

Storage space is a nightmare for most people. These containers from Joseph Joseph nest, so while the set includes a wide variety of large sizes, they won’t take up a lot of space in your cabinet.

Best With Dividers

Flex Bento Food Storage Container
PackIt Flex Bento Food Storage Container

One size does not always fit all, and PackIt knows that. Their bento boxes have removable dividers so you can adjust the sections exactly how you’d like.

Credit: PackIt

Best for Snacks

GoStak Twist n' Lock Storage Jars
Blender Bottle GoStak Twist n’ Lock Storage Jars

Snack prepping is just as important as meal prepping, and these Twist n’ Lock Storage Jars make it super easy. We love their narrow, stacking design that easily fits into our bags.

Credit: Blender Bottle

Best for Reheating

Simply Store Glass 18-Piece Food Container Set
Pyrex Simply Store Glass 18-Piece Food Container Set

Pyrex is known for its long-lasting durability. The glass containers can be frozen, refrigerated, microwaved and put in the oven and dishwasher. This variety set includes a size for just about everything. Plus, they stack and transport easily.

Credit: Pyrex

Best for Breakfast

To Go Collection Breakfast Bowl
Sistema To Go Collection Breakfast Bowl

No more soggy granola or overly thickened oatmeal here. These breakfast bowls keep ingredients separate so you can enjoy them when you’re ready.

Credit: Sistema

Best for Planning Ahead

10-Piece Meal Prep Container Set
Ello 10-Piece Meal Prep Container Set

Just looking at these meal prep containers make us want to start meal prepping. They’re made of glass with silicone protection, and can go in the oven, microwave, and dishwasher. The air-tight lids are leakproof and interchangeable.

Credit: Ellodura

Best for Versatility

Quart Jar with Silver Lid
Ball Quart Jar with Silver Lid

Now 26% Off

We love how versatile Ball jars are. They take up minimal space and can be reused over and over again for anything from soups to layered salads.

Credit: Ball

Best for Small Lunches and Snacks

Three-in-One Stainless Food Canister & Lunch Box
ECOlunchbox Three-in-One Stainless Food Canister & Lunch Box

This container is great for kids, or portion control! It features two layers and a smaller container that fits inside one of the layers to keep foods from touching.

Credit: Eco Lunch

Once you have your meal-prepping gear, 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.

anylist grocery shopping app

Anylist

AnyList’s Autocomplete feature suggests common items as you type, and then intuitively organizes them into categories. Share lists easily via email with as many people as you want — any changes will sync instantly.

Get it for free for iOS or Android.

Anylist
mealime grocery and meal planning app

Mealime

Use personalized recipe suggestions based on dietary restrictions and even food preferences to build your menu for the week. Then just tap to add all the ingredients at once to an organized grocery list.

Get it for free for iOS or Android.

Mealime
yummly recipe and cooking tools app

Yummly

Just snap a pic of the ingredients you have on hand to get new recipe ideas, or browse dishes from your favorite food sites. Anything you need gets added to an automatically organized list.

Get it for free for iOS or Android.

Yummly

All set? The next step is picking your recipes. Before you do, consider these four things:

  1. 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.
  2. Pick a day to do your meal prepping. Sunday and Wednesday are two common choices.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Pick up a meal prep planner. Our Weekly Meal Prep Planner includes tear-off grocery lists and 52 weeks of meal prep inspo and organizational tools.

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.

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:

best food for meal prepping, frozen vegetables, starchy vegetables, stiff fresh vegetables, whole grains, pulses, lean protein, whole fruits, nuts and seeds

Need help with recipe inspiration? We’ve got you covered:

Best meal prep recipes for breakfast:

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it’s a good one to pick when you’re choosing which meals to prep. You want to make sure your meal is light, but also has good carbs, fiber and protein.

make ahead egg and cheese sandwich

Best meal prep recipes for lunch:

Salads and soups are anything but boring when you take the time to customize them to your liking. Regardless of what you pick, focus on lean protein, healthy carbs, and veggies.

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green goddess sandwiches

Green Goddess Sandwiches

Refrigerate boiled eggs in their shells for up to one week. Use them to make these veggie-packed sandwiches!

Get Recipe

Mike Garten

Butternut Squash and White Bean Soup

Prep and store the soup and the couscous separately. When ready to eat, top the soup with the fluffy grains and enjoy!

Get Recipe

Asian Steak Noodle Bowl - Healthy Lunch Ideas

Sesame Steak Noodle Bowl

Keep spiralized veggies, like carrots, on hand to add to all of your favorite noodle dishes.

Get Recipe

Danielle Occhiogrosso Daly

Best meal prep recipes for dinner:

Add lots of color to your plate by loading up on all sorts of vegetables, including broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes, but go lighter on the carbs and grains.

pork and veggie stir fry

Best meal prep recipes for snacks:

Put a healthy spin on your childhood favorites when the afternoon slump hits. Trade peanut butter for almond putter and cheesy popcorn for sweet matcha.

easy yogurt dip with cucumber and radishes

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.