If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I live by Sunday meal prep. I started meal prepping my senior year of college when I no longer had a meal plan on campus and have been going strong ever since. With rent, student loan payments, and other expenses, my budget does not allow me to buy many meals, so I have relied on my Sunday meal prep ritual to fuel me throughout the week.
I’m always receiving questions from my friends, coworkers, and on Instagram about meal-prepping, so I decided to share my step-by-step guide to meal prepping. Obviously, everyone’s meal prep routines will look a bit different, but I hope the below will help jump start your own meal-prep routine or answer any of those lingering questions you’ve had for the list making, tupperware hoarding people like me 😉
Step 1: Look Ahead
We all have different schedules that are constantly changing week to week. Before you even think about stepping into the grocery store, take a look at your week ahead to determine how many meals you will need. Client lunch meeting on Tuesday? Dinner and drinks with friends on Thursday? A reoccurring Wednesday dinner date with your S/O? Take all of your week’s plans into consideration and then outline which days you will need to prepare lunch and dinner for (omitting breakfast from this guide because it’s typically less of a hassle and easier to prep).
Step 2: Choosing Your Meals
Now it’s time to decide what you want to eat. Every week, I make a salad for lunch and some type of vegetable/protein/grain mix for dinner. You might want to prep sandwiches or wraps for lunch and pasta for dinner. This is all up to you (obviously!), but I’ll use my own prep as an example.
First, I search Pinterest for a salad recipe to make for the week. I type in “vegan salad,” “healthy salad recipes,” “filling vegan lunches” and other keywords to bring up countless delicious options. Once I choose a recipe, I simply write down all the ingredients I don’t already have in my kitchen on my grocery list. For those with a smaller budget (me!), remember that it’s totally fine not to follow a recipe 100%. If a salad calls for several ingredients to make a fancy dressing, I often ignore it and dress the salad with extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar instead. Feel free to switch up the recipe to make it work for your budget and taste. To get started, check out some of my favorite lunches to meal prep in this post or try this super easy and healthy taco salad I made over the summer.
Personally, I can eat the same lunch all week and not get bored, but I know for many, fear of boredom is a major reason not to meal prep. If this is a concern of yours, I encourage you to just try meal prepping a lunch to eat all week. If by Friday, you can’t take another bite without gagging, at least you gave it a try! But you also may find that your world didn’t end after eating the same lunch all week 😉 If you truly can’t stomach the thought of 5 days of the same meal, you can always choose to meal prep two different lunch options and switch between the two throughout the week.
Next, it’s time to think about dinner. For most of us, dinners are eaten at home, so they require less thought and planning. I often don’t look up specific dinner recipes (to be honest, I’m exhausted after searching for my lunch of the week!), but be sure I have frozen vegetables, cans of beans, healthy grains, veggie burgers, and other easy things to whip up when I get home from work. If you prefer more extravagant meals for dinner, you can always search for a dinner recipe just like lunch!
Step 3: The Grocery Store
By now, your grocery list is started with the ingredients you need for your lunches and essentials for dinner. To fill in what’s missing, think through your week and everything you consume – from the almond milk you put in your coffee to the carrots and hummus you have for a daily snack. Add in these items to complete your list.
I know it’s tempting not to make a grocery list, especially if you’re only shopping for yourself, but making and sticking to your grocery list is crucial for meal prep. The whole point of prepping meals is to save money and to eliminate wasting food. If you make a list and don’t follow it while shopping or totally wing it at the grocery store, you are defeating the hard planning work you completed above. It’s not always going to be easy, but once you prove to yourself that you can avoid the temptation of filling your basket on a whim, it will become a habit (and you’ll be amazed how your grocery bill decreases!).
Step 4: Prep Your Meals
You’re back from the grocery store with all of the items on your list and you have your recipe pulled up on your phone – you’re ready to prep! Before I break out my cutting board and pans, I take a second to think through the recipe. For example, if I’m cooking quinoa, I know the process will take at least 30 minutes, so I start boiling water before I chop my veggies. Look at every step of the recipe and come up with the most efficient plan for tackling it. This step definitely takes the most effort (it is the prep step after all!), so mentally prepare to put in some time and energy. Meal prepping can take up to an hour or more (depending on your recipe!), but one hour spent in the kitchen is more than worth having delicious meals to eat all week. Keep this in mind if you start to break a sweat over the stove 😉
Step 5: Pack Your Meals
Once the chopping, stirring, and cooking is finally complete, you may be tempted to just throw everything you just prepared into your largest container and take a nap. But the last step of meal prep is insanely easy and super important: Divide your masterpiece into one-meal size containers. You are a lot less likely to abandon your prepping efforts if enjoying the fruits of your labor is as easy as grabbing a container from the fridge on your way off to work or class.
Step 6: ENJOY!
The best step of all. Save money. Save time. Feel accomplished.
Was this meal prep guide helpful? Let me know! And if you have any questions, leave a comment below or send me a DM on Instagram!
Photos courtesy of GreenHealthyCooking.com / JulianneandCompany.com / DoctorOz.com / EatingBirdFood.com / Fooduzzi.com