#childsafety | How To Meal Prep — Tips For Meal Planning, Per A Dietitian

If the idea of meal prepping seems intimidating, you’re not alone. While planning out an entire week’s worth of dishes might sound like something best left to Instagram influencers, trust, it’s a technique that can makes anyone’s life a bit easier.

Meal prepping is a great way to stay on top of your health and fitness goals, explains Kelly Jones, RD, sports dietician and owner of Student Athlete Nutrition. “Everyone can benefit from meal prepping,” she says.

Think of it as an easy way to take control of your meals without the constant question of what to make for dinner nagging at you. And, it might actually save you some work in the long run (more on that later).

“You don’t have to have these lofty goals. You don’t have to have a super crazy schedule,” Jones explains. “You can just be someone who’s looking to do a little bit in advance or take advantage of extra time on the weekend (or whatever day of the week you might have free) to set yourself up for more success later on.”

Now, there’s just the matter of where to start. For someone who’s never meal-prepped, seeing pictures of endless containers ready to be filled might make your head spin. But, breathe. It’s easier than you imagine.

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Fortunately, all the answers to your questions about how to meal prep are right here, so you can make those dreams of a Pinterest-worthy fridge filled with easy, ready-to-eat dinners a reality.

Here’s everything you need to know about meal prepping, from how to get started to which foods should earn a spot in your meal plan:

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What is meal prepping?

It’s pretty simple: “Meal prep can be any level of preparation that you do in advance for the week, so that you can make meals and eating snacks easier,” Jones explains.

And, there’s more than one meal prep method, according to Good Housekeeping. Some popular techniques include:

  • Ingredient prepping, or washing, peeling, dicing, roasting, or getting your ingredients ready in some other way to be made into meals.
  • Batch cooking, or making a large batch of something delicious that can be frozen in individual portions or saved another way to eat later (think soups, chilis, etc.).
  • Make-ahead meals, or cooking entire meals and dividing them into containers that you can grab and reheat easily whenever you’re hungry (think protein + rice, for example).
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      Why should I meal prep?

      There are a lot of reasons to meal prep, but they can also vary based on what your goals are, Jones says. Maybe you’re missing some nutrients in your diet, or you’re trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, or you’re trying not to overdo it on carbs. In that case, meal prepping helps you keep better track of what you’re eating, making it easier to hit and modify your nutritional goals accordingly.

      Or, maybe you’re not eating enough throughout the day, Jones adds. “Having something prepped in advance can ensure that you’re taking that time to pause during the day,” Jones explains. Basically, “it’s just a way to ensure that you’re staying energized throughout the day.”

      It can also help alleviate some of the pressure of making cooking decisions on the fly, and realizing you’re missing an ingredient that you now have to run to the grocery store for. Whether you’re a parent or the only roommate who knows how to cook, preparing ingredients or cooking meals in advance can help ease some of that stress by forcing you to create an action plan well in advance.

      What kind of foods can I use to meal prep?

      meal prep fresh juicy fruits and vegetables, products in a reusable shopping bag a girl or woman takes or lays out products from a string bag made from recycled materials on a green pastel background vegetarianism, veganism no plastic

      Aleksandr ZubkovGetty Images

      Some foods were made to be meal prepped, while others just aren’t. Jones recommends thinking ahead about how far in advance you’re planning to eat whatever it is you’re cooking. “You want to try to target some of those meat or animal heavy products earlier in the week,” she suggests. “For later in the week, you could prep grains in advance.” (She recommends bulgar, farro, or rice.)

      A good rule of thumb? Fish keeps for two days, while meats like chicken or beef will keep for three. Plant-based options (like tofu) might even still be okay on day four, Jones says.

      It’s also all about nutrient density. Larger veggies can lose their nutrients if they stay chopped up for too long, so consider investing in miniature versions of your faves that will last longer, she explains. For example, buy miniature bell peppers instead of larger ones, so they’ll retain all of that sweet, sweet vitamin C.

      Here’s a list of foods that all make great options for meal prepping:

      • Frozen vegetables like sweet potatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower
      • Mushrooms
      • Tofu
      • Eggs
      • Canned or dried beans
      • Oats
      • Fruits, like berries and bananas
      • Whole grains, like quinoa, farro, and bulgar
      • Pasta
      • Fish, like salmon or tilapia
      • Meats, like chicken or steak

        So, how do I meal prep?

        Invest in some good food storage containers.

        Grab some airtight containers that are flat enough to fit in your fridge. There are sets for every meal prep schedule, like this one that comes with dividers and compartments for sides or toppings (no soggy croutons here!).

        Or, spring for a color-coded set so you can plan out each day to perfection. And, if you’re really feeling ambitious, this 24-piece set has every size of container you’ll ever need.

        Set aside time to prep on the same day each week.

        It doesn’t have to be a weekend, Jones advises. You can meal prep the same day you go grocery shopping, or just whenever you have time. But by building it into your schedule, it’ll feel less like a hassle and more like a part of your routine.

        Plan out your menu in advance.

        Not only does this give you something to look forward to every day, but it will help you plan (and budget for) every trip to the grocery store. Round up all of your favorite recipes, or try some new ones. Either way, future you will thank you!

        Let your kitchen gadgets do the work.

        Meal prepping doesn’t require any fancy equipment, Jones explains, but you do need the basics. A cutting board and a knife are essentials, as are at least two pots and pans. A baking sheet is also great to have on hand, as is a muffin tin (egg bites, anyone?)

        Beyond that, Jones recommends investing in a slow cooker. “A lot of people just want to walk in their house at the end of the day and have food ready,” she says,.”Slow cookers are really great for both that and for overnight recipes for breakfast.”

        Another kitchen gadget that’s great to hand on hand: A food processor that can double as a blender. “Whether you’re making energy bites or your very own hummus, “You can get a lot of versatility out of it,” Jones adds.

        Variety is important.

        Make sure you’re not over-prepping, Jones warns. Those meal plans that suggest eating the same dish for a month? They’re not worth it, in the long run.

        “That might sound easy, but you really end up limiting yourself in nutrients,” Jones says. “One of the most important things is to get a variety of foods or variety of colors in our diet.” That doesn’t mean you should prep a different meal for every day of the week, but try playing around with the foods you’re already making.

        For example, if you’re an oatmeal fan, Jones recommends changing up your toppings every day. Or, if you’re into eggs, try pairing them with a different veggie every morning.

        What mistakes should I avoid when meal prepping?

        meal prep cropped shot of woman carrying shopping basket and shopping groceries in supermarket

        Oscar Wong

        Make sure you prep enough food for the week.

        Friday is arguably one of the best days of the week—so you wouldn’t want to ruin it by not having enough lunch or dinner. Consider buying slightly more groceries than you think you need for the first week or two, until you figure out how much you need to prep to make it through the whole week. (You can always freeze anything you don’t use!)

        Don’t skip over food safety.

        While almost any meal can be prepped in advance, food safety is critical, Jones says. After cooking an ingredient or meal, make sure to transfer it to a smaller container with an airtight lid. Although throwing the entire pot into the fridge might seem easy, you’re creating an environment for bacteria and microbes to thrive in, she explains.

        “A lot of people think that when it comes to food safety, you’re just trying to prevent the illnesses where you’re throwing up and have a fever and chills,” Jones adds. “But even cold-like symptoms can be symptoms of food poisoning.”

        You can also label meals or ingredients with an expiration date using a permanent marker and a piece of masking tape. This way, you won’t accidentally dive into a dinner of week-old fish.

        Make sure each meal is balanced.

        Ideally, each meal that you prep should be about half fruits or vegetables, a quarter protein, and a quarter whole grains, according to Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

        The specific number of servings you need depends on your daily calorie needs. But those guidelines translate to around six servings of grains, four servings each of fruits and veggies, and four to six one-ounce servings of meat or fish every day. Dairy, nuts, and fats are also important to consider, per the Mayo Clinic.

        Remember that you can freeze prepped meals for later.

        And, Jones says, keep in mind that even if you don’t end up sticking to your meal prep schedule for the week, you can always freeze pre-prepped meals for later. “Then you have something even more quickly next time you need it,” she explains. “Eliminating the food waste can really help you in the long run.”

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