Meal prepping is a practice of preparing and cooking foods in advance. The foods are wholesome and nutritious meals. They are not ready to cook packets of foods sold at stores. How to meal prep begins with raw ingredients and you cook everything at your home, then refrigerate and stock the foods in distinctly different containers for consumption over days or weeks. Many people meal prep for the week. Some people who have sufficient experience prep for several weeks. Meal prep for beginners should initially be limited to a few days.
Why should I Meal Prep?
There are plenty of reasons. First, you get to cook healthy and nutritious meals as per your preferences using the ingredients you like. Second, you plan every meal or some meals in advance so you do not have to wonder what you shall have for dinner one evening or for breakfast the next morning. Third, easy meal prep saves time and effort. It takes a while and sufficient effort to prepare all the meals, but you do not have to compel yourself to cook on weekdays after you get back home, exhausted and uninterested in any chore. Fourth, you do not have to resort to unhealthy snacks and processed microwave meals. Many people do not have the energy or the motivation to cook twice or thrice a day so they choose the convenient option of fast foods and unhealthy packaged meals.
There are two other reasons why you should learn how to meal prep. One, you can ensure your entire family consumes nutritious meals. You can lose weight. There are many healthy meal prep ideas for weight loss. All your loved ones and you shall be much healthier and fitter with home cooked meals. Two, you can save a lot of money. It is no secret that cooking your own meals maximizes the return on investment. The sheer quantity of food you can cook at the same cost of one packaged meal will surprise you. Also, home cooked foods can be refrigerated, stored and reused more often than processed meals. The yield is significantly greater when you cook your own meals.
What is Meal Prepping?
There is more than one type or version of meal prepping. The basic concept remains the same. You shall be cooking meals in advance. But which meals you prepare, for how many days or how much in advance are specifics that you can decide for yourself. You can meal prep for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. You can meal prep only for breakfasts or dinners. Families with kids should consider prepping for lunchboxes. Singles or couples may only plan for breakfasts and dinners. You may meal prep for two to three days or up to a week. It is better to start with just two or three days at first. Train yourself, get familiar with the practice and then take up more daunting challenges.
Meal prepping can be approved in different ways. You may cook one large batch of a certain food and then store it in smaller portions to be eaten over a few days. You may cook many such large batches of foods, for breakfasts, lunches and dinners over two to three days. You can cook different meals in small portions to be eaten at specific times. You may also make snacks at home. A meal is a combination of different foods. It is not just one dish. But some meals can be about only one dish and not a two or three course option. You may also prepare all the ingredients, from washing and cleaning the raw foods to cutting, slicing and dicing them, perhaps marinating and curing some items as well. Then you can bring out all these prepped ingredients and cook a meal whenever you want. This also qualifies as meal prepping.
What do I Need to Get Started?
First, you need a plan. Decide how many meals you want to prepare for. Keep it simple for the first time. A comprehensive approach to how to meal prep for beginners can be simplified by determining the number of meals, the sizes of servings, when the foods shall be consumed and how they should be stored. Consider three days and then decide how many times you want to eat home cooked meals. Factor in the possibility of eating out or ordering in. Sometimes you may want a takeaway. You may have meetings or social commitments.
Before we talk about grocery shopping and healthy meal prep ideas for the week, we should talk about having the right kinds of storage containers. Unless you have meal prepped before, you are unlikely to have a sufficient number of suitable containers to store the cooked foods or even the ingredients. You need airtight containers. You can choose stainless steel containers and silicone bags. You will need both types actually. These are washable and reusable. You need microwavable containers. These should be free of BPA. Collapsible silicone containers and glassware are suitable options.
You need the containers to be freezer safe. Foods suffer freezer burn and there may be loss of nutrients as a result. Mason jars with wide mouths are a practical option. Do not fill the jars to the brim. Leave some space for the foods to expand when frozen. All containers should be leak proof. You will need a few containers with compartments inside. You may want to opt for containers of different colours so you can easily identify which meal is supposed to be consumed when.
Rules to Store Prepped Meals Safely
Meals refrigerated and stored for a few days should be safe. The foods should retain the nutrients and hence nutritional value. You should not let any frozen meal get thawed and then refrozen. You should bring a container out of the fridge only when it has to be thawed, reheated and consumed. Other containers should remain untouched. You should reheat the prepped meals at right temperatures.
The temperature inside the refrigerator should be regulated at 5°C. The temperature in the freezer should be -18°C or cooler. Meals, once cooked, should be refrigerated within the first two hours. Ingredients, if raw and cleaned, diced, sliced or prepped, should be refrigerated as soon as they are ready for storage. You should not refrigerate meals or foods when they are piping hot. Use shallow containers to keep cooked foods for a while so they cool quickly. Lukewarm cooked foods or meals can be refrigerated in appropriate containers.
Frozen ingredients should not be used in meal prepping. Only fresh raw foods should be used, including vegetables, fruits, grains, meats, poultry, fish, egg, milk, condiments, spices and sauces among others. Since you will be storing or refrigerating the prepped meals, you should avoid using materials that have already been stored, frozen or refrigerated for a long time. Every prepped meal should be reheated only once. You should not re-refrigerate, then re-thaw and re-reheat a prepped meal. Choose smaller portions to store to avoid food wastage.
How to Meal Prep for a Week?
First, you need to pick the healthiest and most nutritious ingredients. Second, you should choose healthy and nutritious recipes. Let us talk about the foods. The best fruits ; berries are apples, avocados, bananas, blueberries, oranges and strawberries. You may also choose to use grapes, cherries, kiwifruits, grapefruits, mangoes, lemons, olives, pears, peaches, raspberries, plums and pineapples. Go for eggs, fresh lean beef, chicken breasts and unprocessed lamb. Include nuts ; seeds such as almonds, chia seeds, coconuts, walnuts and macademia nuts. Peanuts are also healthy if you or anyone in your family is not allergic.
The best vegetables are asparagus, bell pepper, broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, kale, onions and tomatoes. You can use garlic and ginger if your palate does not dislike them. Other healthy vegetables are artichoke, celery, leek, mushroom, lettuce, cabbage, eggplant, radish, turnip, squash, zucchini, Swiss chard and Brussels sprouts. If you like fish and seafood, then your best options are sardine, salmon, shellfish, shrimp, trout and tuna. The best grains are brown rice, oat and quinoa.
Breads can be homemade. You can go for Ezekiel bread. Include legumes such as green beans, lentils and kidney beans. You may use dairy and cheese. Whole milk and yogurt are healthy options. Choose healthy oils and fats. You can use olive oil and coconut oil. Use of butter should be limited. Include potatoes, sweet potatoes, apple cider vinegar and dark chocolate in some recipes. All these foods can be used in dozens of distinct recipes for interesting and satiating meals.
Let us now highlight a few recipes. For breakfast, you can consider vegetarian black bean burrito, maple cinnamon oatmeal, whole wheat and cornmeal pancakes or bowls loaded with nutritious goodies of your choice. Lunch can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian wraps, fritters or different types of salads. Dinners can be as extensive as you want. Soups, baked dishes, different recipes including vegetables and meats, pastas and rice with gravies are healthy options. Avoid steaks when you are meal prepping. You can also make and store smoothies, protein bars, cheese dips and hummus. You can prep desserts such as biscotti, brownies and cookies.