Learn concrete meal prep strategies that make healthy family meals practical and possible!
You’ve heard of meal planning, and how much it can transform your family’s eating habits. Just knowing what you’re making before 4:30 pm can save you from many a cereal night. That’s huge!
Meal PREP is a little different, but it goes hand in hand with meal planning. Peas in a pod, those two. And today we’re going to teach you what meal prep means, and how to make it work for you, so family meals feel less like a stressful scramble, and more like a magic trick.
Let’s dig in!
What IS Meal Prep?
If you already know this, bear with me. It recently came to our attention that a lot of our readers confuse meal prep with mealtime cooking. (I GET it… meal prep means… prepping your meal, right? Sort of. But sort of not.)
Meal prep, simply, is cooking part or all of a meal hours or days before you plan to eat it.
It might mean you spend Sunday afternoon cooking all your family’s lunches for the upcoming week. Or you spend a half hour in the morning before the kids wake up prepping ingredients, so you can whip up dinner in fifteen minutes once 5 o’clock rolls around.
However you organize your prep habit, HAVING one is essential to getting consistent, healthy meals on the table for your family. So let’s get on it! See some ideas for prep-friendly foods below, followed by step-by-step instructions on completing a prep session.
What Should I Prep?
The best candidates for meal prep are ingredients you can cook in larger batches and store in the fridge for a few days. We like to prep base ingredients like meats and grains simply, without a lot of added spices, so we can mix-and-match them with fresh new flavors during the week. Other recipes prep beautifully into “ready-made” meals. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Cooked grains like big batches of rice, pasta, steel-cut oats, or quinoa.
- Beans from scratch. Try black beans, kidney beans, or chickpeas in the Instant Pot.
- Hard-boiled eggs or Breakfast Egg Cups
- Sweet Potatoes, baked or cooked in your slow cooker.
- Roasted veggies like Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, cauliflower, squash, peppers, and onions.
- Muffins, like Power-Packed Fruit and Veggie Muffins.
- Waffles, like Flax Freezer Waffles.
- Raw veggies cut for dipping, like peppers, celery, carrots, and cucumbers.
- Washed and cut fruits. Choose fruits that won’t oxidize in the fridge, like melons, pineapples, grapes, and strawberries.
- Leafy greens like romaine or kale, washed, dried, and chopped.
- Granola, like Sugar Free Granola.
- Energy Bites, like Chia Energy Bites.
- Baked chicken, either boneless breasts, or a whole bird.
- Pulled pork made in your slow cooker or Instant Pot.
- Tuna Salad made from canned tuna with vinaigrette or mayo and diced veggies.
- Dressings, dips, and marinades whisked together and stored in jars.
- Fresh-diced mirepoix (that’s carrots, celery, and onions) to use in soups and stir-frys.
Now, do you have some ideas? Do you have a good cup of tea brewing? Then you’re ready to prep. Follow these steps to experience the “aha!” of meal prep for yourself.
5 Steps to Successful Meal Prep
Step one: Make a plan.
Plan a few meals or snacks you’d like to eat in the next few days. Don’t try to plan every single meal. Even just a rough idea of what you’d like to eat for a few dinners (say, chicken, veggies and rice) gives you the building blocks you need to make meals come together quickly.
Step two: Choose a time.
Pick a time you can devote to prepping your meals unhurried. The beauty of meal prep is that it fits into YOUR schedule. Sunday afternoon works for many parents, but you can try prepping in the morning or evening, when life slows down a little.
Step three: Gather ingredients.
Next, shop for what you need. And when it’s time to cook, make sure everything is accessible on your counters and cutting boards. We like to gather spices into a small basket, and have storage containers ready to go. Things are about to move fast!
Step four: Prep it!
Start prepping your ingredients. With a little practice, you can have multiple ingredients cooking at once. Maybe you’ve got rice on the stove, eggs in the Instant Pot, and a chicken in the oven, while you chop up a fruit salad. See? You got this.
Step five: Pack and store.
Once your ingredients are prepped and cooled, pack them into containers to refrigerate. We like Pyrex bowls with lids for grains, beans, meats, and cooked veggies, and Mason jars for sauces, dressings, and pre-diced veggies.
When you’re finished with your prep session, you’ll start to feel the magic. Every time mealtime approaches, you’ve got options! Reheat a fully-prepped meal, or throw together a fresh combination of prepped ingredients with a flavorful sauce. And dinner is ready in 10 minutes, with almost no dishes.
It’s an amazing, top-of-your-game feeling! Here’s to a happy, healthy, and fun week for your family. Cheers!
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie