Meal prepping has been gaining popularity for years. The idea of pre-cooking meals in advance has changed the landscape of the multi-tasking family.
Preparing for the week with perfectly portioned containers and neat little condiment cups can be pretty exhilarating when you consider how much time you are freeing up and how smoothly your week will run as a result.
But, if you give it some real thought, meal prepping can also seem completely overwhelming and time-consuming.
And if we’re being honest, it absolutely CAN be just that. Add frustrating, difficult and stressful to the list. But the reality is, it does not have to be. Removing the stress from this task by ignoring the pictures of perfection you come across on Pinterest and focusing on simple, healthy meals, will make this process easier and more manageable.
Here are our five best tips for meal prepping successfully and easily.
1. Plan Meals That Utilize Similar Ingredients
If you’re like me, and many people today, you are not a huge fan of grocery shopping and definitely not a fan of spending tons of money in the process.
Meal prepping sometimes gets a bad reputation for being expensive.
It does not need to be.
If you take the time to consider your meals for the upcoming week, make it a point to select items that use some of the same ingredients. For example, a tuna salad atop baby spinach for lunch is great, but often, there’s leftover spinach that will go to waste.
Instead of allowing that to happen, use that extra spinach in pre-measured breakfast smoothies for the week. Small steps like this will help keep that grocery bill in check and avoid tossing good food into the trash.
2. Make the Crock Pot Your Best Friend
Meal prepping that requires fully cooking several meals in one day is the very definition of overwhelming.
Leaning on the crock pot as the source for half (or more) of your planned meals for the upcoming week can be a legitimate time saver.
Because prepping crockpot meals requires absolutely no cooking!
All that needs to be done is simply separating and seasoning. For example, pulled BBQ chicken sandwiches in the crock pot means placing raw chicken breast in a plastic resealable baggy with your favorite BBQ sauce and seasoning and simply tossing it in the freezer.
The morning you plan to have it for dinner, just grab it from the freezer and place it in the crockpot on low (8-10 hours). When you get home later that evening, you will be greeted with the sweet aroma of deliciousness as you walk into the door. That’s a great feeling.
3. Repeat Meals Throughout the Week
It may sound boring but decreasing your variety of food options in a week is a great way to lessen your time in the kitchen.
Some people are totally fine with having the same dinner five days a week to achieve this. I am not, but hey, whatever floats your boat.
I prefer to prepare three dinners for the week, but only one lunch and one breakfast option. This way, I get to enjoy variety in dinner but to keep my prep time down, I repeat the same breakfast and lunch all week. This may not be your thing. So, try multiple options to determine what works best for your lifestyle/schedule. Once you identify your “sweet spot,” stick with it. Your small sacrifice will yield more than positive results.
4. Replace Fresh With Frozen
Listen, fresh fruits and veggies are always the best options. But when you’re trying to keep costs low and time free, purchasing frozen veggies in bulk that can be used throughout the month for multiple meals, is absolutely the way to go.
Most grocery stores sell large packages of frozen veggies that are good for months in the freezer. By digging into that stash on a weekly basis, the savings on fresh are huge. If you’re anything like me, you hate the idea of fresh veggies and fruit going bad in your refrigerator. Buying frozen 100% solves this problem.
The nutrition benefits are nearly identical between fresh and frozen veggies, so you won’t miss out on any significant amount of nutrients. Consider giving this tip a try during your next shopping trip. Your wallet will most definitely thank you later.
5. Solicit Help
This may mean your spouse or partner, your children or even friends. Make meal prepping a fun group experience. Get everyone in the house involved. Even the smallest member of your family can contribute in some way.
As an example, when preparing my kids’ lunches, I often let them pick out their snacks for the week or I also allow them to do some safe chopping (of cucumbers, sandwiches, etc.) with my favorite kid knife set. They feel included and empowered and I feel relieved.
Including friends can be trickier but maybe meal prepping alone is a bit mundane for you. If so, maybe link up with a good friend, in a sizable kitchen, and do it together.
Make a date of it and encourage one another along the way. If working on your separate meals together does not work, consider a sort of co-op. You can prep with your friend’s help for two weeks this weekend and next weekend, you offer your friend some assistance with their two-week meal prep. You will feel good about yourself helping a friend and pleased when it’s your turn to receive that same help.
Hopefully, these tips simplify meal prep for you. Whatever nuggets you walk away with, just be sure to make meal prepping work for you. No one person’s methods will work for everyone.
If the process is not somewhat simple and slightly enjoyable, it will be nearly impossible to stick with. So, get creative with meal prepping and maximize your benefits. This activity requires some planning but when executed thoughtfully, the rewards will far outweigh the sacrifice.