Meal prepping can be scary. You’re probably picturing some gym buff or yoga instructor type and thinking this can’t be for me. But we’ll wager you’re a meal prepper and you didn’t know it. If you’ve ever saved leftovers, you’re halfway there!
Keep reading for our ultimate meal prep guide, including a meal plan template, grocery shopping list, and more.
What is it?
New to meal prepping? Don't overthink it. It is simply planning and preparing meals in advance. Typically, 3 days to a week’s worth of food at a time. Any longer and ingredients start to decay and lose flavor.
At Inka, we like to think of meal prepping as anything you do to make meal time easier, whether that be pre-chopping veggies and storing them in the fridge, or simply doubling your dinner recipe to eat the next day.
Meal prepping saves you time (compared to making every meal from scratch) and money (compared to eating out). It also makes it easier to eat healthier and reduce waste because it forces us to think ahead. No more letting food rot in the fridge or reaching for a sugary mid-afternoon snack.
The 5 Steps of Meal Prepping
No surprise, meal prep requires a lot of planning. Here are our tips to set your up for success in the kitchen:
1. Pick the Best Containers for Meal Prep.
Before you can even begin planning your meals, you need to make sure you're equipped with the tools to store them. The right food container will be the correct portion size, stack easily for storage in the fridge, look good, easy to clean, and come in enough sizes for your different needs.
Lucky for you, we've got Food Containers that do all of the above and more - perfectly portioned for any meal and 100% leak-proof. Eating healthier has never been easier.
2. Plan Your Meals
You’ll see the biggest difference if you start to prep for the meal that you typically order out or skip altogether. If lunch is your standing take-out order, start there. If breakfast gets ignored, overnight oats might be in your future. Once you master one, you can work toward planning your entire week of meals, breakfast through dinner!
When it comes to choosing which meals to make, you have a couple options. We love Pinterest for inspo, apps like NYT cooking, our very own meal prep recipes, or your own collection of recipes.
Choosing recipes with overlapping ingredients is key to reducing food waste. But don’t fall into the trap of limiting your ingredients too much - this can result in a lack of diverse nutrients. Look for 2-3 different protein sources, 2 carbs, and 4 types of produce to keep things interesting.
Pro tip: Consult your calendar and account for the times you’re likely to eat out. This will prevent you from overbuying.
3. Make a Grocery List with Strategic Ingredients
Meal prepping naturally limits the scope of what you might eat on any given day. Here’s a short list of the best types of food for meal prepping:
Keep in mind a few ingredient no-nos. Unless you’re cooking as you go, it’s wise to save your greens for a last-minute addition. And avoid softer fruits and veggies - or anything crunchy- as they’re prone to getting soggy in the fridge. Yuck!
Pro tip: Frozen veggies are a lifesaver. They have the same nutritional content as fresh, but much more flexibility for use in meals.
4. Use a Meal Prep Template
Start keeping track of what recipes you like and create a bank somewhere on your computer or in a notebook. Then use a weekly meal planner template like the one below to plan out exactly what you plan on eating throughout the week.
Click here to download our free meal planning template!
5. Choose Your Approach
Type 1: Batch Cooking
This is when you cook a large amount of food ahead of time, ready to heat and eat when you want during the week. If leftovers are your thing, batch cooking recipes are the way to go. Think turkey chili, curries, and sheet-pan meals that store well in the fridge or freezer.
Type 2: Individually Portioned Meals
This approach goes one step further to portioning out batch-cooked food, or raw meals into Containers for easy grab-and-go meals when you need them. It’s a bit more type A, but well worth the additional effort. A classic grain bowl formula - protein/legume + grain + veggie - is always a solid bet.
Type 3: Prepped Ingredients
This approach refers to chopping and prepping all ingredients in one go, but setting aside to be cooked or handled later. It’s the most literal interpretation of meal prepping and makes for faster cooking during the week. This is a great option if you hate the prep part, but enjoy cooking and being in the kitchen daily.
Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to do a little bit of everything! It’s totally acceptable to batch cook a soup, individually portion overnight oats for breakfast, and pre-cut veg to streamline dinner.
How to Avoid Food Fatigue
Get bored of eating the same thing everyday? Same here. Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can spice up your meal prep routine.
An easy hack is switching up your dressings, condiments, and spices. For example, using turmeric instead of cumin in a curry gives it a totally different flavor! If you opt for the prepped ingredients approach, choose ingredients you can make a variety of easy dishes with. Pre-chopped squash makes both a lovely side salad and curry, without adding a new item to your grocery list.
The great thing about meal prepping is that you’re in control. And you get out what you put in. Truth is, you are probably already
Words by Emilie Swan