The Do’s And Don’ts Of Successful Meal Prepping

Meal prepping allows us to cook healthy meals ahead of time so we’re free and gobble them up when we’re rushed. It encourages us to dive into home cooked meals instead of eating out. Although crafting all your dishes beforehand may seem daunting, you can tackle it easily by learning what to do and what not to do. Do you know which foods to freeze, how many servings to prep, or how to create a capsule pantry? Learn the best do’s and don’ts for meal prepping to make your life healthier!

DO Find Ingredient Overlaps

Najmieh Batmanglij - Washington, DC
Matt McClain / The Washington Post via Getty Images
Matt McClain / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Certain ingredients can contribute to several different meals. For example, avocado can be spread on toast, then chopped and added to a salad. Rice provides the base for your curry dish and later becomes a side for your chicken and veggies.

Sharing ingredients makes shopping more relaxed and less expensive. Adaptable foods can also force you to get more creative with your recipes. What if you add avocado to your burrito recipe as well? Boom, you found another overlap ingredient.

DON’T Attempt Over-Complicated Recipes

Bhel Puri. simple recipe but quite delicious treat meal prep
Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post via Getty Images
Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post via Getty Images

Oftentimes, people prep all their week’s meals on the same day. You don’t want an over-complicated or unfamiliar recipe to take up the entire day. Even worse, you may not actually cook the meals if you fear that they’ll take forever or end up being too difficult.

Keep your meals simple. Aim for one protein and one carb. Cling to a couple of spices or spice blends that you can mix and match. This will assure that your meals end up being successfully tasty.

DO Make Meals That You Can Eat Cold

Green Plate Special  sustainable lunch food prep
Gabe Souza / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Gabe Souza / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Meal prepping allows you to eat healthily while on the go. So you’ll want to cook meals that you can see yourself eating cold, on the bus, in the office, or at an appointment. Even if there’s a communal microwave at your office, you may not want to rely on it in case it breaks or causes the kitchen to smell.

When you prepare your meals, make sure you cook the meat all the way through and choose vegetables that won’t sog the entire dish. The last thing you want to do is abandon your meal for takeout.

DON’T Deal With Food That Doesn’t Reheat Well

merchant.shrimp Shrimp with Broccoli
Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Not every dish tastes the same after reheating. Some fish can feel odd and rubbery after reheating. Broccoli stinks up the entire kitchen after just ten seconds in the microwave. You can step around this problem by eating the food cold, as long as they taste good cold.

If you still want to reuse these ingredients, you’ll want to conjure meals that mask their rubbery dryness. Tacos and enchiladas can obscure weird textures well. Mixing the foods with soups and sauces can also revive the leftovers.

DO Use The Freezer Whenever You Can

Gifty Barlea and Sunday Seaway store the trays in a freezer at the Liberian International Christian College School of Agriculture
CARIELLE DOE / AFP / Getty Images
CARIELLE DOE / AFP / Getty Images

When stocking your future meals, freezer foods make life much easier. Some food withstands the freezer better than others. Veggie-based dishes and meats can be frozen and microwaved. Soups, smoothies, and broths can be stored in ice cube trays.

Precooked meals, such as the orange chicken you find at Trader Joe’s, can stay in the freezer for months. If you run out of food, you can always fall back on those. When your meals are already made, however, you’ll be less likely to call in takeout.

DON’T Freeze The Wrong Foods

Yogurt Panna Cotta With Berry Sauce Photographed at The Washington Post via Getty Images in Washington DC Meal prep freezer safe foods
Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post via Getty Images; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post via Getty Images; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post via Getty Images

You can freeze some dishes and then heat them up again, such as sauces and soups. Do not, however, freeze ingredients that can’t survive the freezer process. These no-go’s include watery veggies and fruits, roasted vegetables, uncooked mushrooms, uncooked potatoes, and yogurts (except coconut yogurt).

Foods you CAN freeze include berries, breakfast sandwiches, pasta sauce, chicken, cooked rice and beans, soups, curries, and chicken. Make sure you freeze these foods in good quality freezer bags, glass containers or plastic wrap.

DO Prep According To Your Schedule

meal prep a lot of containers
Pinterest / 40 Aprons | Whole30 And Paleo Recipes
Pinterest / 40 Aprons | Whole30 And Paleo Recipes

You won’t know how much to make if you don’t have a clear layout of your week’s schedule. If you have a dinner date on Wednesday night, make one less dinner. If your office usually heads to the food court on Fridays, assume that you’ll join them.

Studies explain that those who write down their goals are more likely to follow them. So if you write in your calendar that you’re eating tacos on Tuesday and saving the pasta for Thursday, you’ll encounter less stress and indecision in the coming week.

DON’T Start Before Reviewing Your Kitchen

Pantry in the Todorov family kitchen
John McDonnell / The Washington Post via Getty Images
John McDonnell / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Always double-check your freezer, fridge, and pantry before heading to the grocery store or heating up the stove. You may have frozen chicken that you can toss into this week’s meal. Or, you might have run entirely out of the pasta noodles you need.

We can’t plan our week’s menu if we don’t know what we already have. Once you see what your kitchen holds, you can write a list of ingredients that makes your grocery trip ten times easier.

DO Prep About Five Days Worth Of Food

Meal prep two containers
Twitter / @crowdcowusa
Twitter / @crowdcowusa

Most cooked meals keep in the fridge for three to five days. To ensure that your meals remain tasty and safe to eat, you’ll want to prep about five days’ worth of food tops. For those who work full time, this accounts for your entire week.

You will need about one or two days to food shop and prep your meals anyway, so five pre-made meals should be enough. If you want more than five days’ worth, consider storing frozen meals.

DON’T View Meal Prep As A Chore

children's cooking school in the FEZ Berlin teams with TV and professional cooks and conjure up healthy menus
Ralf Hirschberger / picture alliance via Getty Images
Ralf Hirschberger / picture alliance via Getty Images

Psychology asserts that how we perceive activities affects how often we do them. If you find yourself dreading meal prepping, reframe your thoughts to view it as an opportunity. Invite a friend over while you do it, or put on your favorite show to associate our cooking time with fun.

On the flipside, if you miss a date or don’t cook as much as you wanted to, don’t consider that as a failure. Meal prepping is not a jail cell. You’re allowed to do it less than perfectly or miss a day.

DO Multitask While Cooking

Stirring the meat in the frying pan. School homework on independence. Cooking meal prep
Roberto Machado Noa / LightRocket via Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa / LightRocket via Getty Images

When cooking a lot of food at once, it’s best to multitask. You can bake your chicken, salmon, and potatoes in the oven at the same time. While you wait for the oven to ding, you can cook rice or roasted veggies on the stove.

Multitasking will reduce your time prepping and keep you busy in the kitchen. Make the meal prep more fun by listening to a podcast or your favorite music while you work.

DON’T Cram Your Meal Prep Time

BThe chef Luiz Filipe de Azevedo E Souza of Team Brazil cooking at Bocuse dOr Grand Finale
Robert Szaniszló / NurPhoto via Getty Images
Robert Szaniszló / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Carve out a couple of hours in a day to meal prep. Do not try to squeeze it into thirty minutes or before you go to work. If you rush yourself, your meals may turn out less desirable, or you may not cook them at all.

If you need to, you can cut your food planning in half–prep the salads on one night and the meat on another. Schedule times that will allow you to relax and enjoy cooking.

DO Create A Capsule Pantry

capsule pantry
Pinterest / Jen Pinkston – The Effortless Chic
Pinterest / Jen Pinkston – The Effortless Chic

A capsule pantry contains a limited number of items that can be combined in several exciting ways. In other words, a capsule pantry contains mostly overlapping ingredients. Before you shop, consider which cooking essentials you need for most of your meals.

It may help you to detail your “essential six”–your favorite sauces, proteins, veggies, fruits, grains, and toppings/extras. Map out what you eat most often based on the essential six, and you’ll fill a pantry with food that you’re guaranteed to add to several meals.

DON’T Overspend

Grocery delivery service Amazon Fresh
Monika Skolimowska / picture alliance via Getty Images
Monika Skolimowska / picture alliance via Getty Images

If you don’t plot your week’s meals beforehand, you risk buying too much. Assume that you will eat exactly the amount of meals you plan out. This will lower your grocery costs and the time you spend making the food.

When you predict your future meals, be realistic about how much you usually eat. For your first week or two, you may want to stick to dishes that you’ve eaten before since you know they’ll fill you up. You can also buy some snacks to eat in between meals.

DO Assemble A Balanced Meal

balanced meal
Pinterest / Dizzy Pig BBQ Company
Pinterest / Dizzy Pig BBQ Company

According to exercise physiologist Jim White, R.D.N., eating too much of one food can mess up your whole day. If you consume too few carbohydrates, you’ll most likely feel tired. If you consume too many carbs and not enough protein, you won’t remain full until dinnertime.

When you make your meals, aim for each serving to include a protein, carb, veggies or fruit, and healthy fats. Eating a balanced diet will make you stay fuller for longer and satisfy your palette with plenty of tastes and textures.

DON’T Combine Everything At Once

organized food storage
Reddit / u/TechnicalRelic
Reddit / u/TechnicalRelic

If you’re worried about sauces sagging all your meals, or chicken juice contaminating your rice, keep each food group in a separate container. As a general rule, meats stay together, whereas veggies and grains can be combined. Sauces and dressings remain in their own containers.

You can assemble your entire meal just a minute before eating or taking it with you. If you suspect that you won’t have time to put your meal together the day of, buy containers with dividers, or keep the sauce/dressing separate.

DO Keep Backup Meals On Hand

healthy snacks to keep on hand food prep tips
Pinterest
Pinterest

If our food plans fall apart one week (it happens to the best of us), we can easily slip back into the fast food trench. Keep some long-lasting foods on hand just in case you need a quick meal or a midnight snack. Eating frozen meals at home is better than eating out.

Some great go-to’s include oatmeal, brown rice, frozen fruits for smoothies, protein powders, and canned soups. Foods that lasts for a long time in the cabinet and fridge make the least expensive backup options.

DON’T Cook The Same Dishes Every Week

Cooking a crepe A competitor attends the contest of the best crepe maker of Brittany at the Apprentice training center in Saint-Jouan-des-Guérets cooking tips meal prep
DAMIEN MEYER / AFP / Getty Images
DAMIEN MEYER / AFP / Getty Images

Eating the same thing every day can make us lose our appetite quickly. Mixing up meals just a little bit will work wonders for our taste buds. Use a different spice rub every week, or steam different vegetables for different meals.

Keeping your food groups in separate containers can allow you to mix and match your meals every week. If you prep two different salads, you can dish out one for lunch and one for dinner. This easy technique can encourage you to experiment with your meals.

DO Store Food in Glass Or Plastic Containers

Well organized fridge - glass containers meal prep do's and dont's
Pinterest / Shoko
Pinterest / Shoko

Glass and plastic containers come with airtight lids to keep food fresh for longer. They make safer and more convenient options than ziplock bags or bowls. Whether you choose glass or plastic is entirely up to you.

Contrary to popular belief, not all plastic containers are harmful. The potentially dangerous chemical in plastic bins, BPA (Bisphenol A) doesn’t typically leak into food unless you heat the container to 700 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re concerned about BPA, you can buy BPA free plastic containers.

DON’T Pack Over-sized Containers

A worker moves crates of tangerines food packaging
SEBASTIEN SALOM-GOMIS / AFP / Getty Images
SEBASTIEN SALOM-GOMIS / AFP / Getty Images

If you bring a large container of food to work, you’re more likely to eat the entire thing, says Keri Gans R.D., author of The Small Change Diet. Over-sized portions can make you gain weight, which defeats the goal of meal prepping–to eat healthier.

The ideal container size for one meal is 20-25 ounces, though this can vary depending on your diet and the dish. You may want to buy portioned-controlled containers for easy prepping, some of which have sections that allow you to divide your dish easily.