There’s no one right way to meal prep correctly—it’s really more of a “do what works for you” kind of thing. But while no two methods look exactly alike, there are some tips everyone should know that make meal prepping about ten billion times less stressful.
Don’t take our word for it, though—let the real pros tell you. From registered dietitians to book authors and YouTubers, these meal prep experts share their favorite ways to keep the process simple and efficient.
Prepping several different foods can feel overwhelming if you’re not used to it. But instead of tackling the items on your to-do list one by one, Nikki Sharp, author of Meal Prep Your Way to Weight Loss, is all about multitasking so that you don’t feel like you’re spending your entire day in the kitchen.
“Start with what takes longest, such as roasting vegetables,” she says. “Pre-heat the oven, chop and season your veggies, and put them in the oven first. While those are cooking, move on to the stovetop, where you can take care of boiling eggs or making a batch of quinoa. Having a few things going at once cuts down time.”
Her other recommendation for making prep fly by? Put on your favorite playlist while doing it!
2. Know your problem area(s).
“You don't need to prep every single thing you’re going to eat all week—just focus on the meals you struggle most with,” says registered dietitian Lindsay Livingston. “If you don’t have trouble making dinner but struggle with breakfast or snacks, spend your time prepping things that will help make those times easier, like pancakes or an egg bake for breakfast, or some hard-boiled eggs, trail mix, and muffins for snacks,” she says.
3. Prep food groups.
Don’t love the idea of eating the same prepped meal every day of the week? Registered dietitian nutritionist Jenna Gorham recommends prepping formulas rather than full-blown recipes. “For some, it can be challenging to set aside time each week to prep meals and snacks for the week ahead,” she says. “Instead, prep ingredients that can be used in a variety of meals so you aren't stuck eating the same leftovers day after day.
Plan to have a grain, a lean protein, and sliced fruit and veggies on hand. Using these staples, you can combine the food groups to create a balanced plate.”
4. Account for snack time.
We’re often so busy making sure our meals are taken care of that we forget about the hours in-between, during which we’re bound to get hungry. Instead of undoing all your healthy meal prep effort by snacking on junk, registered dietitian Rachael Hartley suggests prepping items that can be used in both meals and snacks.
“I might roast or grill a batch of vegetables, which could be eaten as a snack along with hummus, tossed in a salad, or chopped up in tomato sauce for pasta,” she says. “Or, I might make a dip, like fruit salsa or baba ghanoush, which I can enjoy with chips or dollop on top of grilled fish or chicken.” It’s all about efficiency!
5. Make friends with your freezer.
“Know which foods you can freeze with ease,” Sharp advises. “These include Crock-Pot meals, cooked rice, pre-cooked chicken, and soups. In addition to making your life easier, freezing meals also prevents them from going bad and having to be thrown out, so you’re saving more money and being less wasteful at the same time.”
6. Use smart shortcuts.
For Brigitte Zeitlin, RD and owner of BZ Nutrition, meal prepping on a busy schedule means not being afraid to get by with assists. “Sometimes, I buy pre-cooked quinoa or pre-roasted veggies that are just ready to go to make my life—and dinnertime—a lot easier,” she says. “I’ll frequently buy a plain, pre-roasted whole chicken or 6-ounce cans of tuna fish from the supermarket to add to salads, stir-fries, or veggie bowls; I save some serious cook time, while still getting in my satiating protein.”
7. Be clever with containers.
From plastic grocery bags to plastic storage containers and single-use produce baggies, meal planning can lend itself to practices that are pretty rough on the environment—but it doesn’t have to.
“When it comes to prepping, I like to be as eco-friendly as possible,” says blogger and YouTuber Nikole Goncalves, founder of Health Nut Nutrition. “Use a combination of glass containers and straws, silicone storage bags and baking mats, and even beeswax wrappers, you name it. These reusable essentials are not only nontoxic, but they can be used over and over again and easily washed in the dishwasher, which is a bonus to you and to the planet.
8. Have herbs handy.
Part of healthy eating is using herbs to flavor your food. That’s all well and good, but not incredibly helpful when your basil is brown and wilted after just two days in your fridge. Goncalves’s best tip for keeping your herbs full of life? “Store them in a glass jar with a couple of inches of water—kind of like you’re putting fresh flowers into a vase—and then cover with a leftover plastic grocery or produce bag that you can reuse,” she says. “Change out the water every couple of days, and your parsley, mint, and cilantro will last for weeks.”
9. Stock up.
Ever have those weeks when a full grocery run just isn’t possible? Or that one night you thought you’d be out for dinner, you find yourself at home instead? At times like these, instead of resorting to takeout, Gorham makes sure to keep her freezer and pantry stocked.
“If I’m running low on fresh ingredients, I know I can always use frozen veggies or protein and whole grains and beans from the pantry,” she says. Stocking your cabinets with other staples like dried spices, condiments, broths, and oils also makes it a lot easier to whip up a tasty meal without much advance planning.