What is it?
Meal prepping is preparing all or some of your meals in advance. This means you can plan ahead, cook multiple meals at once to be more efficient, choose healthy ingredients tailored to your needs and save time during the week by having meals ready to go. In my experience, I’ve also found these other benefits:
- If I cook a meal each night, I find that I tend to snack on things while I’m cooking
- When you prepare meals ahead of time, I’m much better at sticking to specific portion sizes appropriate for my nutrition plan
- Cooking dinner only takes 3 mins (heating up in the microwave) which means I can fit in a workout after work and still have a great meal at a reasonable time
What isn’t so great about it?
Yeah, there are definite downsides:
- Firstly, you’re cooking things twice. First when you prep it and then again when you heat it up. So the number one downside is that you’re limited in the things you can make to things that will reheat well. So, things like rice, chicken and pasta work well but things like fish you have to be careful with.
- Cooking all your meals at once is more efficient, but you’ll still have to dedicate a good chunk of time to it, something like 1/2 a day, usually a Sunday
- Not great for people that like a lot of variety, you’ll most likely have the same meal multiple times in a week
- You’ll have lots of containers and lids to deal with
I’m in, how do I do this?
Assuming you’re using this as part of your nutrition strategy, the first part is figuring out what you’re trying to get from these meals. I start by figuring out my average goal calories per day and the intended macro split. I have the same breakfast (overnight soaked oats) and lunch (turkey sandwich, fruit, vegetables and raw nuts) every day, so the dinner meal is what I flex to fit the rest of my nutrition. That could be a change in calories or macro mix, but generally I have a rough idea of the meal composition; something like 650 calories (60 grams protein, 80 grams carbs, 10 grams fat) might be the goal.
The next step is to find meals that look tasty to you and can be designed to fit your nutrition goals. Loads of places for that. My Instagram feed is all cycling or heathy food blogs (food bloggers are all about meal prepping!) and I get really good inspiration there. There are great recipe book lists already on this forum, but if you’re looking for a start, I like these:
If you were just looking for one to get started, I would say Fit Men Cook is where to start since its focussed just on meal prepping recipes, rather that just fitness cooking in general.
In general I think about my meals in 3’s. A robust base (brown rice, quinoa, pasta, or cauliflower rice looking for a low calorie substitute), some kind of protein (usually chicken, beef or legumes) and vegetables. That could be split up separately rice + beef + vegetables or in some kind of all-mixed-together-slow-cooker-concoction. The point is to plan out what meals you’re going to make, have a list of ingredients for the portions you’re making and do the shopping in one go. I usually shop on Saturday and cook on Sunday. I make 2 or 3 different meals for the week, for my wife and I. So, 3 meals of 4 portions will give us 6 nights of evening meals with 3 different meals that we have twice each.
The next step is to cook is all up. To save time, think about the cooking process and how to be time efficient. Having multiple meals use the same base ingredient allows you to double up. For instance grilled chicken might go into taco’s as well as with asian vegetables and brown rice. Cooked quinoa might be the base for a stir fry and for slow cooked beef. You can cook a double batch at the same time. You should also think cooking things at the same time; rice on the stove top, chicken in the oven, slow cooker going, while you’re chopping your vegetables. Saving time is the goal. It’s a good idea to choose meals that will use different cooking methods so that you can multitask more easily; 1 in the slow cooker, 1 in the oven, 1 on the stovetop. Since you know you’ll be reheating things again, it’s ok to undercook things a little. I’m not talking about about raw chicken (safety first!) but slightly crunchy rice or pasta is ok, it’ll cook further later.
So now you have your 3 meals done. This is where meal prep containers come in. You can use anything, most grocery stores sell packs of the Glad plastic containers. They’re fine, but glass containers are really so much better. While most will stack (choose ones that stack) they will take up more room than plastic. They’re better for the environment, but most importantly they will heat your food up better and won’t deform in the microwave or oven. They can also be used to cook in the oven, I’ve made shepherds pie and lasagne right in the meal prep container. These are the ones that I have and I think they’re great.
So put your meals together in the containers in the right portions. If you’re trying to be strict with calories, you might choose to weigh out your food into the containers to get it spot on. A really common meal for me might be brown rice with a slow cooked chicken casserole with some vegetables. What I’ll do is cook up the rice and chicken and then when I put it in the container, I’ll have rice on the bottom on one half, put the chicken right on top of it and then fit the other half of the container with frozen vegetables. If you cook vegetables in the prepping, the second cooking will give you texture like wet toilet paper. Not good. When you reheat the chicken and rice, the vegetables will cook perfectly with it.
Storage and eating
Almost there, now we have (in my case) 12 containers of 3 different meals. I’ll usually pick 4 and put them in the fridge, that’s tonight and tomorrow’s meals. The rest go in the freezer. You’ll end up with something like this:
At meal time, it’s as simple as:
- About an hour before you want to eat, take the meal out of the fridge and put it on the kitchen bench to come to room temperature so that it reheats more evenly.
- Take a meal out of the freezer and put it in the fridge for tomorrow.
- Time to eat, microwave as needed (about 3 mins)
- Give the meal a stir and transfer to a bowl (usually)
- Container is dishwasher safe
Keeping track of the good meals
Sometimes meals look amazing in a book or on the internet but just don’t taste the way you imagined. Others can be hits and surprise favorites. I use Paprika to store recipes in and then when we eat them we’ll give it a rating out of 5 to remember if we should make it again at a later date. I have hundreds of recipes in there and in the past year I’ve not yet made the same thing twice.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Instant Pot Coconut Tandoori Chicken
- Sesame Beef Stir-fry
- Slow Cooker Short Rib Ragu Over Pappardelle
- Slow-Cooker Coconut Ginger Chicken & Vegetables
- Zucchini Lasagne
- Arroz Con Pollo, Lightened Up
- Bean and Chorizo Soup
- Bison Roast & Mashed Parsnips
- Cajun Chicken with Coriander and Lime Rice
- Garlic Lime Chicken Tenders and Quinoa
- Italian Sausage Vegetable Skillet
- Slow Cooker Coconut Quinoa Curry
- Vegan Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells
- 30 Min Portobello Mushroom Stir-fry
- Baked Chicken Breasts with Lemon & Veggies
- Slow Cooker Pot Roast
What are your tips? Want to share your good meal-prep recipes?