No matter how busy my weekends are, I try to find time to incorporate meal prep in some way, shape or form.
Sometimes I cook for a couple hours making lunches, snacks, breakfasts and random ingredients for quick dinners. More often than not, it is a 15-Minute Meal Prep Chicken & Rice Bowl.
Either way, I find time to food prep and meal prep.
I can help you incorporate meal prep too. I’ve done the dirty work for you and made the Ultimate Healthy Meal Prep Checklist!
But first, why should you meal prep?!
Over the years meal prep has helped me:
- stay on track in terms of healthy eating on a daily basis
- lose body fat and build muscle
- eat healthy food while I was pregnant
- lose the pregnancy weight and fit in my pre-pregnancy clothes again
- have energy to balance work, family and a social life
Healthy eating can be difficult, but it gets easier if you keep healthy foods on hand that are ready-to-eat. By preparing healthy foods during meal prep, you are more likely to eat those healthy foods throughout the week even if you are busy.
Now, your goals might be different than mine, but meal prep can help in many different ways.
Meal prep can save you time, save you money and simply make it easier to live a healthy lifestyle.
So, how do you meal prep?
I’m so glad you asked. I’ve put together the Ultimate Healthy Meal Prep Checklist, complete with a printable worksheet to help you through the process.
STEP 1: LOOK AT YOUR SCHEDULE
Before going TOO crazy in the kitchen, take a minute to look at your upcoming schedule. Make sure to look at what you have going on the next week, but also what plans you have the day you are going to cook.
Start with the day-to-day.
Go through your day-to-day schedule so you know what meals you need to prepare. Think about a few things…
Do you have any lunch meetings planned?
Do your kids have a late night practice that leaves you with very little time to cook dinner?
Are your mornings hectic and on-the-go? Or do you find time to cook a little something before starting the day?
Consider all of these things when meal planning and food prepping. Go through each day of the week and each meal on that particular day.
If you are brand new or even somewhat new to meal prep, then I suggest getting an actual calendar out and looking at the days of the week.
Mark each day with the meals you need to plan for.
You might need breakfast, lunch and two snacks on Monday, but then need breakfast, no lunch, two snacks and dinner on Wednesday.
Do this for each day of the week, then count how many breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks you’ll need to prepare. You might have time to cook breakfast each morning, so that could be zero for the whole week. Some weeks you might need 5 lunches, while other weeks you might need 2. One snack per day might be enough or you might need two each weekday.
Next, find out what your prep-day schedule looks like.
Pick one day per week to food prep. My prep-day is Sunday, because I don’t work Sundays and I want meals ready for Monday-Friday.
You might want to enjoy your weekend, then meal prep on Monday. It is entirely up to you.
Once you’ve picked that prep day, look at your schedule for that day.
How much time do you have to dedicate to meal prep?
Do you have a chunk of time early in the morning? Will you have to wait until later in the evening?
Do you have a full day with very little time to meal prep for the week?
Honestly, some Sundays I have 3-4 hours available to prep while others I have 30 minutes to get everything done!
No matter what amount of time you have, there are meals and snacks that you can prepare and pack for the week.
STEP TWO: DECIDE HOW TO COOK YOUR MEALS
Once you’ve figured out how many meals/snacks your need for the week and how much time you have to dedicate to cooking, then you need decide how to cook these meals!
Your cooking method will change dramatically based on the amount of time you have to cook on your prep-day.
If you only have 30 minutes total prep time, then you won’t want to plan to roast vegetables or bake chicken. Sure you could probably fit one of those tasks in those 30 minutes, but you’d be rushed and stressed trying to get it done quickly.
During those 30 minutes you could throw together a no-cook meal (like my no-cook meal prep chicken burrito bowls) for lunches and still have time to pack some snacks and prepare some fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you have a few minutes here and there throughout prep-day, then maybe slow cooker meal is your best option. Take 5 minutes to throw it together, let it cook for several hours, then take 10-15 minutes when it is done to pack it up for the week. Easy peasy.
If your prep-day is wide open, then your options are endless in terms of cooking technique. You can grill, roast, sauté or bake any meals or snacks you would like!
STEP THREE: THINK ABOUT CUISINE
FINALLY we are getting to the fun stuff. You know, the actual food stuff!
So, what do you want to eat?
I find it easiest to pick what type of cuisine I am craving.
Do I want Mexican food? Asian food? Mediterranean, Tex-Mex, Italian, American.
Don’t overthink it. Typically the first thing that comes to mind is what you want the most.
If you choose Mexican, then start thinking about what you could make. Tacos, enchiladas, burritos, healthy burrito bowls, taco salad, etc.
Write down some of these ideas. If you start making a list and realize you want something else, then switch gears.
It is important to make foods you like or else you won’t eat them. There is no point in taking the time to meal prep to eat healthy if you don’t end up eating the meals!
Again, don’t overthink it.
STEP FOUR: FIND HEALTHY RECIPES
Did you think I was never going to get to the recipe part?!?
Trust me, the first three steps help you narrow down your recipe search. This is especially helpful if you are crunched for time and don’t have endless amounts of time on your prep-day.
My favorite places to find healthy recipes are:
- healthy cookbooks
- fellow food blogger websites
I do use Instagram for healthy meal inspiration, but not for actual recipes. For example, I’ll scroll through and get ideas for different grain bowls or yogurt bowls. Some of the people follow post simple snack options and quick meal ideas. I rarely use Instagram for my recipe search.
Search engines, such as Google and Bing are other options for finding recipes online.
When you search for recipes on Pinterest or other search engines, then make sure to use your choices from Step 2 & Step 3.
For example, use terms like “slow cooker pasta recipe” so that you get slow cooker recipes that are Italian. Another choice could be “Instant Pot Greek chicken” so that you get an easy Mediterranean chicken recipe.
Look at several recipes if you have to in order to find the one you want.
When browsing recipes make sure to look at:
- total time to prepare
- list of ingredients to make sure you have access to them
- the recipe “notes” section for any additional tips for preparation
Once you’ve selected the recipes, then make sure to print a copy or bookmark the page of the recipe you wish to make. You never want to commit to a recipe and then lose the instructions before actually making it!
Remember: any recipe can be a meal prep recipe! Some might hold up better throughout the week than others, but any recipe you find can be used for meal prep.
STEP FIVE: MAKE A GROCERY LIST
Making a grocery shopping list is very important!
I hate when I forget my list at home or think I’ll remember everything I need, then get home to food prep and realize I forgot one key ingredient!
Go through each meal and snack and look at all the ingredients that are listed. Check your pantry and refrigerator for ingredients you might already have on hand. Write down all the ones you need and don’t already have.
Make sure to write down the quantity of certain foods. Go recipe by recipe while you make your list. You might need 4 eggs for one recipe, but 12 in another so make sure you write down to buy 18-24 eggs.
Don’t get too panicky about buying proteins like chicken, pork, beef, etc because you can always freeze extra!
STEP SIX: SHOP FOR FOOD
Once you’ve picked recipes and made a grocery shopping list, it is time to actually shop!
Personally, I like to grocery shop the day before prep-day. I am more likely to have an hour one day and an hour the next day free to shop and prep, opposed to having one day with 2-3 free hours.
I have been in a pinch and bought food two days before prep-day, but obviously produce isn’t as fresh if you buy it too many days in advance.
STEP SEVEN: COOK FOOD
Now you are making some headway. You’ve been scheduling and planning and now it is GO TIME.
You are going to start preparing all your meals and snacks using the cooking methods you picked in Step 2.
Feel free to split cooking tasks up throughout the day as well. I might roast chicken in the morning while I have spare time, then put together yogurt parfaits in the afternoon.
If you are roasting or baking foods in the oven, then try to make the best use of that cook time. While those foods are cooking you can throw together snacks, chop/slice fresh fruits & veggies, etc.
Don’t get TOO distracted during food prep though. You don’t want to burn or ruin anything!
If you have a family, then ask for a little help. My husband is gracious enough to help me grill some of my foods so that I can prepare a few other things in the kitchen.
Also, don’t be afraid to use convenient foods to “cook”. Frozen vegetables are a great thing to keep around for a healthy meal prep session. I’m also a big fan of the microwave packets of brown rice and other healthy grains!
If I am unsure about how long to cook something or can’t remember what the internal temperature is suppose to be for the meat I am cooking, then I head to the internet! I browse several different recipes and try to find reliable sources.
STEP EIGHT: PACK MEAL PREP CONTAINERS
You don’t have to buy actual meal prep containers, but they are handy! You can use any type of plastic storage container you would like.
I usually pack my meals into meal prep containers (these are my favorite) and the remaining food that I will use for dinners in regular food storage containers.
When I pack my meal prep containers, I usually lay out all the containers I need for lunches and I pack all of those. Then I will move on and do all breakfasts, then all snacks.
Separating them into meals like that helps me stay organized and efficient. If I start trying to pack too many different meals at once, then I get confused and it takes me longer.
STEP NINE: STORE MEAL PREP CONTAINERS
After preparing and packing all the food, allow it to cool. Allowing the food to cool will keep it from getting soggy throughout the week.
Once the food is cool, then put the containers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
I like to stack my containers so that one day’s worth of food is all together. You could also put all your lunches together, stack all your snacks together, etc.
My preference is to go by the day, so I can open the fridge, grab the entire stack, put it in my lunch box.
I clean my lunch box out at night, so that the containers can go through the dishwasher. Then I will take my empty lunch box over to the refrigerator and put my meals for the next day inside.
My mornings can get hectic in a hurry sometimes, so I like having it ready to grab-and-go.
Don’t be afraid to freeze any extra food that you aren’t sure you’ll get eaten. I sometimes batch cook chicken, meatballs or hamburgers, then freeze the extras that I don’t pack for that week!
You can pull those cooked items out later to use for last minute dinners or other meal prep sessions!
So that is meal prep planning in a nut shell! Easy peasy, right?!
Honestly it is pretty simple, once you get the hang of it.
Remember, plan plan plan. Take those extra minutes to really look at your schedule to see how many meals you need and how much time you will have to meal prep.
The more you plan, the more you will avoid uneaten food being wasted or having to go out to eat because you ran out of food.
Let’s recap the 9 steps:
- Look at your schedule
- Decide how to cook your meals
- Think about cuisine
- Find recipes
- Make a grocery list
- Shop for food
- Cook food
- Pack containers
- Store containers
Don’t forget to download the Healthy Meal Prep Checklist so you can reference it while you meal prep. In fact, print several copies so you can check them off one-by-one as you complete a task!
If you have any questions about the Ultimate Healthy Meal Prep Checklist, then please feel free to ask. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below!