Where does the time go? We’ve all had those days—you get home from work, start prepping dinner, finally get a meal on the table, and then it’s time for cleanup. Once the dishwasher’s finally running, you’re pooped, and suddenly all that sounds good is snoozing.
Eating homemade meals is always satisfying, but when you’re juggling a busy schedule, sometimes the work to get there is just one chore you’re not up for.
Enter meal prepping, a kitchen hack that will help you rethink the way you prepare your meals. Meal prep works around your schedule, so you can make weeknights yours again (how’s a Netflix binge on a Tuesday sound?). And meal prep isn’t just for dinner—it also can make on-the-go breakfasts and healthy work lunches a breeze.
Prepping a week’s worth of meals in an afternoon sounds intimidating, but you can make meal prep work for you—it’s easier and more affordable than you think. Go ahead and put on your apron, take a deep breath, and get ready to surprise yourself with this easy meal prep guide for beginners.
WHAT IS MEAL PREP AND WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Meal prep is exactly what it sounds like: preparing your food ahead of time in batches, whether you’re portioning out individual servings to get through the week or whipping up large batches to freeze for later. It's a great way to get a head start on a busy week and save time in the kitchen. Plus, it helps you save money by reducing food waste in addition to letting you take control over portions and ingredients.
Meal prep is not a one-size-fits-all practice. It’s different for everyone—and that’s part of what makes it so great! You can shake up the recipes from week to week, and customize your plans based on the week, ingredients, dietary needs, and how much free time you have. There are several types of meal prep options all focused on making mealtime less stressful—you can choose which makes the most sense for you.
Individual Dinners for One
This is the most common type of meal prep. You can start your pressure cooker to create the basics for recipes like flavorful Burrito Chicken Bowls or a satisfying Vegetarian Quinoa Bake. Try topping them both with a few cooked Gardein™ Crispy Chicken Tenders for a delicious vegan alternative, plus fresh cilantro or a dollop of salsa for an extra punch of flavor. Just portion it all up into single-serve containers and zesty, Southwest-inspired goodness is a fork away every day of the week.
Who doesn’t appreciate a good time-saving tip or two? If you don’t want to go full-on with meal prep, dip your toes in and start with just prepping the basics for weeknight cooking ahead of time. Marinate meats in Healthy Choice® Power Dressings for tender, punchy protein ready to go any time. You also can mix spices and pre-chop veggies ahead of time to seriously cut down on the time it takes to throw a meal together.
Make-Ahead Family Meals
With the right planning, you can super-prep your way to filling, fabulous family meals for the whole week in just one day. These Slow Cooker Korean BBQ Pork Bowls make easy work of meal prep. Let tender pork shoulder simmer for a few hours in the slow cooker, and in the meantime, chop some fresh veggies like carrots and green onions and store those separately. You could make regular white rice, but how about saving even more time with a bag of nutritious Birds Eye® Steamfresh Original Riced Cauliflower? Toss the pork and veggie mix in tortillas or on buns one night if you’re looking for a little variety.
Freezing big batches of recipe favorites is as cost-effective as it is time-saving, especially since you can make the most of ingredients near the end of their life—save limp produce from the trash and nobody will be the wiser! Soup recipes make this tactic easier than ever—how about a Spicy Beef & Bean Chili, whipped up with a few cans of ROT*EL® Original and Ranch Style® Beans? Portion it out and store in your freezer or fridge for convenient chow-downs. Try it on baked potatoes one night and over spaghetti or with hot dogs the next—suddenly it feels like a brand-new meal!
WHAT TYPES OF FOODS ARE BEST FOR MEAL PREP?
Almost everything you’d use to whip up the same meals you’re making now. One of the best things about meal prep is that almost all your favorite foods are game, with just a few exceptions. Cut fruit, soft lettuces, and some crunchier items like crackers may wilt or get soft in the fridge, so save those for the day of or night before—and definitely skip the reheated fish. But cooked meats, casseroles, and pre-cooked veggies like Birds Eye Steamfresh Single and Mixed Vegetables (roasted in the oven with a little seasoning) hold up well and taste great even after a few days in the refrigerator. Even dessert is game! Try pre-slicing your homemade chocolatey Brownie Crust Cheesecake for portion control throughout the week or add a little color to every day with a batch of our Instagram-worthy Birthday Cake Cookies.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO GET STARTED?
You’re on board and ready to take the first step to meal prep—great! First, it’s time to put on your planning hat. Decide what you’re craving this week and take stock of what you might need to prepare it. The more organized you are now, the easier meal prep will be later on. If you can, pick meals that share at least a few common ingredients—your grocery bill will thank you. Think dried beans, rice, proteins, and fresh veggies. There are lots of ways to mix it up! Both this veggie-packed Sesame Stir Fry and these Easy Chicken Fajitas make the most of fresh red peppers, chicken breast, and onions. Once you have your ingredients, all you need is time and inspiration. Turn on your favorite podcast or crank the tunes and get to work in the kitchen inspired by all the time you’ll be saving yourself for the rest of the week.
Of course, all the food you prep has to be stored. It’s a good idea to invest in quality food storage containers in a variety of sizes. Microwave-safe glassware is usually a smart choice, or get creative and go the zero-waste route by using emptied food containers like Vlasic® pickle jars! Good-quality plastic food containers will also get the job done.
Developing a meal prep strategy is only a matter of rolling up your sleeves and getting started. You will learn as you go, and your stomach will thank you. Before you know it, you’ll get into a meal prep rhythm that might easily become one of the favorite parts of your weekly routine. You’ll love seeing a week full of meals ready and waiting, but the real reward may be more time with family and friends. ❤️