Scrambling to make dinner last minute? Ordering takeout because you didn’t plan ahead? It’s time to introduce you to a new teammate: meal prepping.
Meal prepping puts your game plan for the week (or month) into action ahead of time. And that’s a win on hectic days. Preparing ingredients, some dishes, or entire meals in advance doesn’t just lower stress. It may also help you:
- Save time and money
- Waste less food
- Eat a more nutritious and balanced diet
- Get to or stay at a healthy weight
- Manage diabetes or other conditions
Whatever your dietary needs, personal health goals, or preferences, meal prep can help you take charge in the kitchen – and at the table.
Have a Plan
Write out what dishes you’ll have each day (this is your meal plan). Consider leftover days and reoccurring themes, like Taco Tuesday or Fish Friday. Then double check what ingredients you already have and finalize your shopping list. Include clear storage bags and containers on it as needed.
Get to Work
While there’s no one best way to prep, these guidelines can get you started:
- Cook foods that take the longest first. This could be chicken or meat, quinoa, brown rice, dried beans, and vegetables.
- Clean and chop ingredients while other foods are boiling, roasting, or baking. Think salad greens and fresh fruit.
- Put food into containers, label, and store as needed. Include the date on each item. Place perishables in the fridge or opt for the freezer if they won’t be used within three to four days.
Cook Like a Pro
You’re likely to come up with your own best practices as you gain experience with meal planning and prepping. For now, consider these tried-and-true strategies:
- Buy extra when ingredients can double as a snack. Good options include celery, berries, unsalted nuts, and low-fat yogurt.
- Pick recipes with overlapping ingredients. Cook more than a meal’s worth at a time. For example, baked chicken can be a main dish and cut up for sandwiches or a casserole.
- Double the recipe. Serve some according to your meal plan. Depending on what it is, store the rest as an entrée, side dish or lunch portion. Even cooked taco meat and baked chicken breast can be frozen for later.
Preparing food in advance can help you make fewer last-minute decisions—and avoid the stress, minimize unhealthy eating and costs that often go with them.