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A Beginner's Guide to Meal Prepping for a Healthy Week

I bet I’m not the only one who struggles with a seemingly endless to-do list and a laundry basket that’s always full. Between working full time and a coaching business and managing a storefront and all the other things in life...


Even if you don’t have a crazy-busy schedule, you’ve probably experienced one of those evenings. You know, the one where you leave your workplace with a growling stomach and barely any energy to cook. 


On such occasions, the last thing you want is to spend two hours in the kitchen making your family dinner. Enter meal prepping. 


Meal Prepping is the practice of preparing ingredients, partially-cooked meals or entire recipes in advance. Not only does this save you time and money, but it also helps you make healthy meal decisions. Below is a step-by-step guide of how to meal prep for a healthy week!

 
girl smiling and practicing self care
 

Why Meal Prep?

Oh, I totally get why you're wondering "Why meal prep?" It's like, why spend a chunk of your Sunday chopping veggies and simmering sauces, right? But trust me, once you get into the groove of meal prepping, it's a game changer, especially for us busy bees trying to keep our wellness and nutrition in check. Let me break down the why's for you:

1. Saves Time: My favorite thing about meal prepping is the fact that it’s a massive time-saver. Sure, you’ll probably spend a few hours getting everything ready. But think about all the time you’ll save during the week. 


No more grocery errands in the middle of the week. No more wasting time racking your brain on what to cook. And no more lengthy cooking sessions. As soon as you walk through the door, you can have a home-cooked meal ready in minutes!

2. Healthy Eating Becomes a Breeze: Are you always thinking of what to cook at the last minute? Or, rushing to buy ingredients right before mealtimes? If so, there’s a good chance that you don’t make the healthiest food choices. You probably grab the closest thing you can get your hands on regardless of whether it’s healthy or not. 


With meal prepping, you plan your weekly menu ahead of time. This gives you adequate time to research healthy meals and buy everything you need in advance. 

3. Saves Energy: I’m sure we’ve all gone through this: you start your week on a high, set on having home-cooked meals everyday. But by the time Wednesday rolls around, you’re so tired of preparing meals from scratch that you can’t resist ordering take-out. 


Although takeout meals offer convenience, they’re high in fat, calories, sugar and all the other unhealthy nutrients you’re trying to eliminate from your diet. With meal prepping, you can enjoy home-cooked meals without all the added stress. This is because you’ll be using either pre-cooked meals or pre-prepped ingredients. 

4. Reduces Stress and Decision Fatigue: Ever get home and feel overwhelmed by the question, "What's for dinner?" Meal prepping takes that off your plate (pun intended!). Knowing your meals are ready and waiting can be a huge stress reliever after a long day.


5. Saves Money: Eating out or ordering takeout adds up quickly. With meal prepping, you buy in bulk, use ingredients efficiently, and avoid the extra cost of convenience foods or last-minute shopping trips.

6. Reduces Food Waste: By planning and prepping your meals, you’re more likely to use what you buy. This mindful approach to consuming what you have helps reduce food waste, which is both good for the planet and your wallet.

7. Customizable for Dietary Needs: If you have specific dietary preferences or needs, meal prepping ensures that what you need nutritionally is what you get on your plate. It's a personalized way of eating that caters to your unique body and lifestyle.

 

Getting Started with Meal Prepping

Step 1: Choose a Meal Prep Method

When the phrase meal prepping is mentioned, some people imagine spending countless hours just doing tons of cooking. But the truth is, this process can last a very short period depending on the technique you choose. There are several methods to pick from:


  1. Batch cooking/ freezing - this involves preparing several batches of a particular recipe. These batches are then divided and frozen for future meals. For instance, you can steam extra rice to be used in different recipes in the upcoming weeks. 

  2. Make-ahead meals - this technique is particularly fit for those who have limited wiggle room in their schedule. It involves making full-fledged dishes that only need to be reheated during mealtimes. 

  3. Prep once, cook all week - this is the approach that I feel most at home with. It entails preparing all the ingredients you need for different meals ahead of time. So when it’s finally time to cook, you’ll simply bring everything together. 

Step 2: Choose your Menu

Once you’ve picked a suitable prepping technique from the lot, it’s time to write down your plan. More specifically, create your weekly menu, ensuring that you’re choosing nutrient-rich dishes. 


For the most part, your menu should comprise recipes that you’re very familiar with. Of course, you can always tweak them a bit to make them healthier or tastier. But, if you’re going to reinvent the wheel, incorporate just one or two new recipes. This is to ensure that you don’t spend too much time on preparation and cooking. After all, you are trying to save time. 


Another tip that’s really worked for me is choosing recipes based on seasonal produce. Such ingredients are readily available at subsidized prices, and they often add a ton of flavor to my dishes. Think juicy tomatoes in summer, artichokes and watercress in spring or pumpkins in fall. 

Step 3: Take Stock / Make your Shopping list

With your weekly menu in hand, you know the exact ingredients you need to prepare each dish.  But before you hit the grocery store and start buying everything under the sun, take stock of what you have. Go through your fridge, pantry, cupboards and any other food storage areas, noting down items you’ve run out of. 


This not only makes your preparation easier but also helps you minimize food wastage. And with a whopping 43% of food wastage happening at the household level, you don’t want to be one of those people who’s always throwing out excess food.

Step 4: Schedule Your Prep Time

Sunday is a popular choice for meal prepping because it sets you up right before the week starts. It's like hitting the reset button for your nutrition! But hey, if Sunday doesn't jive with your schedule, no worries. Choose any day that fits best. Some people even split their prep into two sessions – maybe Sunday and Wednesday – to keep meals as fresh as possible.


Think about how much time you'll need. This depends on the complexity of your meals and how many you're preparing. If you're new to meal prepping, start with something simple to get a feel for how long it takes. You might need a couple of hours, or you could need a larger chunk of your day. The important thing is to block out this time and treat it like an important appointment – with yourself and your wellbeing!


Step 5: Meal Prep

And now to the fun part: it’s time to prepare your meals! Here are a few of my top tips to ensure this step goes as smoothly as possible:


  • Organizing Your Cooking Process: Be strategic. Start with foods that take the longest to cook, like roasting vegetables or simmering grains. While those are doing their thing, you can multitask with other prep work like chopping veggies or assembling salads. It's all about making the most of your time in the kitchen.

  • Staying Efficient and Energized: Prepping several meals at once can be tiring, so remember to take little breaks. Put on some music, podcast, or an audiobook to keep the vibe upbeat. Stay hydrated and maybe even have a snack on hand – meal prepping on an empty stomach can be a recipe for temptation!

  • Balancing Flexibility and Structure: While it's great to have a plan, be flexible enough to adapt as needed. Maybe you underestimated how long something would take, or perhaps you’re not in the mood to cook a particular dish. It’s okay to shift things around.

  • Mindful Cleanup: Incorporate cleaning as you go. It can be daunting to finish cooking and face a mountain of dishes. So, rinse and load the dishwasher or wash utensils and bowls as you finish using them. This way, you won't end your prep session with the daunting task of a big cleanup.

  • Enjoy the Process: Lastly, make it enjoyable! Meal prepping can become a fulfilling part of your routine. It's a chance to experiment with flavors, listen to your favorite tunes, and even involve family members or housemates. The more you personalize and enjoy the process, the more sustainable it becomes.

Step 6: Freezing and Storage

This step is all about ensuring your lovingly prepped meals stay fresh and delicious until you're ready to enjoy them. Here's a more detailed look:


Freezing Basics:

  1. Cool Before Freezing: It's crucial to let hot foods cool down to room temperature before freezing. This prevents moisture buildup which can lead to freezer burn.

  2. Airtight Containers: Use airtight containers or freezer bags to store your foods. This helps preserve the quality and prevents the food from absorbing odors from the freezer.

  3. Leave Space for Expansion: Liquids expand when frozen, so leave about an inch of space at the top of your container when freezing soups or stews.

  4. Casseroles: For casseroles, first cover them with wax paper to protect the surface, then wrap them tightly in aluminum foil. This double layer helps preserve the food's moisture and texture.

  5. Label Everything: Use labels to mark the contents and date of freezing on each container or bag. This helps you keep track of what you have and ensures you use foods within their optimal storage times.

Shelf Life Considerations:

  1. Refrigeration Time for Veggies: Chopped veggies like onions and peppers typically last for two to three days in the fridge. Denser veggies, like carrots and squash, can keep well for up to four days.

  2. Handling Greens and Lettuce: Wash and thoroughly dry greens and lettuce before storing. They can stay fresh for about a week when stored properly in the fridge, ideally in a produce drawer or a sealed container.

  3. Storing Cooked Grains and Meals: Cooked grains and meals containing proteins like meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood should be consumed within four days for best quality and safety.

Additional Storage Tips:

  1. Freezer Organization: Keep your freezer organized. Place newer items behind older ones to rotate stock and use the oldest items first.

  2. Thawing Safely: Plan ahead for thawing. Ideally, thaw frozen meals in the refrigerator overnight rather than at room temperature to ensure food safety.

  3. Avoid Refreezing: Once you've thawed a meal, avoid refreezing it as this can affect the texture and flavor, and potentially lead to food safety issues.

  4. Quick Freezing: For faster freezing and easier thawing, flatten items in ziplock bags before freezing. This also saves space in your freezer.

  5. Monitoring Freezer Temperature: Keep your freezer at the right temperature, ideally at 0°F (-18°C) or below, to ensure foods remain safely frozen.

 

The Bottom Line

It’s never too late to jump on the meal-prepping bandwagon. This practice not only saves you time and energy but also promotes healthier eating. Furthermore, there’s a variety of meal preparation techniques. This makes it easier to find one that suits your lifestyle and budgetary needs. 

 

Mastering meal prepping is all about embracing new habits, growth, and positive change. Every step you take towards better meal planning and healthier eating habits is a step worth celebrating. If you ever feel overwhelmed or curious, remember, you're not on this journey alone. We're all in this together, sharing tips, encouragement, and support as we strive for improved health and wellness through mindful eating.

Connect with me wherever you like to hangout!

Instagram: @bewellwithsteph_

 

Resources

1. 3-day Plant Based Meal Plan: FREE PDF download

 

Join our community of friends who are also on their nutrition journey!


Eat Well With Steph is a vibrant online wellness community that's all about elevating your health and happiness! Imagine being part of a supportive network, where your victories are celebrated, your challenges are understood, and your well-being is the top priority. Don't miss out on this incredible opportunity to embrace a happier and healthier life.


Discover how good it feels to fuel your body with healthy, delicious food.


 

Steph Genco, plant-based wellness & nutrition coach for women.

Not sure if working with a Wellness & Nutrition Coach is right for you? Book a FREE discovery call & let's chat about the areas you need support in, & I'll see if I can help.



PS: You are worthy of living and capable of creating a healthy lifestyle you love. 🤍

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