A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Prepping
Meal prepping refers to the preparation of whole dishes or meals ahead of schedule.
Meal prepping is commonly practiced by busy people because it helps save a lot of time.
Pre-preparing your meals can also reduce your portion sizes and help you reach your goals nutritionally. This will help you avoid unhealthy options like takeout or TV dinners.
Meal prepping requires you to decide and plan your meals ahead of time, and this can help you make good and healthy choices over the long term.
There are many meal prep methods, and you are at liberty to choose what works for you.
This article explores the basic principles of meal prepping, and how you can go about it with ease.
Meal prepping methods
Well, spending an entire weekend in the kitchen preparing meals for the week ahead may be a very scary thought. Who wouldn’t want to have some fun time over the weekend?
But then, it is important to note that there are many ways to prep your meals. Meal prepping doesn’t necessarily mean spending an entire Sunday afternoon in the kitchen. You can find a meal prep style that fits your schedule.
Popular meal prepping techniques include:
- Ahead meals: Cook meals fully in advance. Such meals can be refrigerated and reheated whenever you want to eat. Ahead meals are best suited for dinnertime meals.
- Batch cooking: Batch cooking involves preparing large batches of a specific recipe, and then splitting it into portions. These portions are then frozen and eaten over a couple of months. Batch cooking works best for lunch or dinner options.
- Individually portioned meals: This involves preparing fresh meals and splitting them into grab-and-go portions. These portions are refrigerated and eaten over a week or so. Individually portioned meals are handy for quick lunches.
- Ready-to-cook ingredients: This simply involves preparing the cooking ingredients ahead of time as a way of saving cooking time in the kitchen.
Your preferred cooking method depends on your daily routine and your goals.
For instance, preparing breakfasts ahead of time might work best if you want to cut down on your morning routine. On the other hand, preserving batch-cooked meals in your freezer is best for people who do not have much time on their hands in the evenings.
You can mix and match the different meal prepping methods depending on your schedule and circumstances. Begin by choosing the method that appeals most to you, then experiment with the others gradually to determine your most preferred method.
How to pick the right variety and number of meals
Very few things are as tricky as determining the number of meals to make, and the components of each meal.
The best way to handle this is by deciding what meals you like best and the prepping method that fits your lifestyle.
Thereafter, you browse through your calendar to decide how many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you’ll be needing for the upcoming week.
Also, don’t forget to account for eat-outs, for example, at client dinners, dates, or at brunch with friends.
When choosing your meals, start with recipes that you’re familiar with. This will ease the transition into meal planning.
Oh! And here’s something important you should know – avoid picking a single recipe for the whole week. It can be very boring, you know, and might cause a deficiency in certain nutrients.
You’re better off picking meals that contain a variety of protein-rich foods and veggies, plus a range of complex carbs like quinoa, brown rice, or sweet potatoes. You can also spice things up by integrating a vegan or vegetarian meal into the mix.
Tips to streamline cooking times
Not everyone is enthusiastic about spending hours in the kitchen. Of course, this is natural since the primary incentive for meal prepping is reduced cooking time.
The tips below will help you to cut down on cooking time.
Create a consistent schedule and stick to it
Meal prepping works perfectly when you create a schedule and stick to it. The basis for forming a good routine is knowing your shopping times and meal prepping times.
For example, you might shop for groceries and prep your meals on Sunday mornings, then you can use Monday evenings to prepare lunches for the rest of the week.
You are in charge of your schedule so you must create one that will fit into your weekly routine. Note that picking a specific time and sticking to it throughout the week will make things simpler, and create space for other activities.
Pick the right recipes
Nothing increases efficiency in the kitchen than picking the right combination of recipes.
To make things easier, and to save time, select recipes that will require varying cooking methods. If you select a recipe or recipe that requires the same cooking appliance, let’s say the oven, you won’t be able to prepare many meals at once.
This is very important, especially when picking make-ahead meals. It is also important for batch cooking.
As a rule of thumb, you should stick to one oven meal and no more than two stovetop meals simultaneously – for instance, one soup, a stir-fry, and loaded baked potatoes.
Then, you can top up with meals that don’t require cooking, such as salads or sandwiches.
Organize prep and cook times
Creating an organized work schedule will save you plenty of time in the kitchen.
To organize your prep and cook times effectively, begin with the recipe that takes the most time to cook. In most cases, it could be the oven meal or the soup. Focus on others once the meal is underway.
Cold meals should be handled last since they are easy to prepare and can be made while others are cooking.
To save extra time, you can double-check all ingredients for all recipes before you begin cooking. So, for instance, if there’s a need for julienned peppers or diced onions for two recipes, you can chop for the two recipes at once.
You can also ease your workflow by using automated gadgets like a slow cooker or rice cooker.
Make a shopping list
Let’s admit it – grocery shopping is a huge time waster.
To reduce the time spent shopping at the grocery store, create and maintain a detailed shopping list. You can organize the list by grocery department.
By doing this, you can save yourself the stress of doubling back to a previously visited section.
As much as you can, limit grocery shopping to once per week. You can also hire a grocery delivery service. Both are great ways to minimize the time spent shopping.
Safe ways to cook, store, and reheat your foods
Food safety is a very important but often overlooked component of meal prepping.
Below are government-approved safety guidelines:
- Cook and preserve foods at proper temperatures. Ensure that your refrigerator is kept at 400F (that is 50C) or below. Your freezer should be maintained at 00F (-180C).
- Cool your foods quickly. Ensure that all foods are refrigerated within two hours of cooking or purchase. Spread your food in shallow containers then place it in your refrigerators for quick cooling.
- Always be mindful of storage times. Fresh fish, poultry, and meat should be cooked within two days of purchase. Red meat should be cooked within 3 – 5 days. Before cooking, these foodstuffs should be placed on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator.
- Cook your foods at the right temperatures. Cook meats until they reach an internal temperature of 750C (1650F). At this temperature, most bacteria are killed.
- Thawing should be done safely. Thaw frozen meals or foods in your refrigerator instead of your countertop. To hasten the thawing, submerge the foods in cold tap water, and change the water every 30 minutes.
- Reheating should be done only once. The more times you reheat and cool food, the higher your risk of poisoning. This explains why you should not reheat defrosted food more than once.
- Foods should be reheated at the right temperature. Reheat all meals to 750C (1650F) before serving. Reheat and serve all frozen meals within 24 hours of defrosting.
- Eat your foods within the right period. All frozen meals should be eaten within 3 – 6 months while refrigerated meals should be eaten within 3 – 4 days.
Ifiokobong Ene is a Medical Physiologist, and a freelance medical writer. Ifiok brings his years of medical research experience to help consistently create high-quality, and engaging articles and products that uphold the highest medical standards. He is dedicated to making health and wellness information available, actionable, and understandable so that readers can make the best decisions about their health.