Meal prepping is all the rage of late, and for good reason: It saves time and money, while helping you stick to your clean eating plan and stave off hanger. Yet, if you’ve thought about embracing this healthy eating habit, only to be derailed once you realize the time and effort — not to mention all the plastic containers — involved, we don’t blame you.
Luckily, meal prepping doesn’t have to be a daylong logistical nightmare, full of dirty dishes, spilled quinoa and mismatched food storage containers. (Not to mention less-than-appealing leftovers.) Want to prep like the best of them? Follow these meal prep tips from some of the best think-ahead health gurus we know.
20 Meal Prep Tips Worth Stealing
1. Invest in the right containers.
“Proper food storage containers [allow you to] re-heat your meals and eat from them — and they last forever. I purchase glass containers that allow me to portion-size my meals easily. Additionally, I have varying shapes and sizes of containers for salads and snacks like yogurt and fruit, and zip-lock bags for dry snacks.” — Erin Romeo, @foodprepprincess
2. Get in on the mason jar trend.
“I’m all about canning jars for meal prepping! They work for salads, soup, oatmeal, smoothies — almost anything. They are dishwasher- and microwave-safe, water-tight and sturdy as can be. I use plastic caps on mine, which are easier to clean and keep track of than the standard two-part preserving lids.” — Cassie Johnston, Back to Her Roots
3. Make sure your lids match.
“Buy the same brand of containers. [It] may seem trivial, but it will save time when trying to package your meals up. Matching lids can be a pain if you have three different types of containers.”— Allie Whitesides, former Daily Burn Fitness/Nutrition Coach
4. Nail down a system for collecting new recipes.
“I’ll often screenshot recipes I find online throughout the week on my phone so I have a bunch of healthy recipe ideas saved to my camera roll to choose from when it’s time to sit down and do some meal planning. When I have a little more time, I love sitting down with a few cookbooks and a cup of coffee on Sunday mornings to search for recipe inspiration.” — Julie Fagan, Peanut Butter Fingers
6. Go crazy with the spices.
“[One of my] secrets is to prep things that I like to eat, and add spices and flavors…If you don’t like what you’re eating, your diet plan will not be sustainable.” — Tina Chow, @fitchickscook
7. Make a detailed shopping list.
“I like to keep things simple… I use the “Notes” app on my iPhone to keep a running list of ingredients I need. As soon as I notice I am running out of a staple ingredient like dried rice or chopped garlic, I’ll put it right on the list so that I remember to buy it at next week’s grocery trip…I try to keep my list in order of where I’ll find in in the grocery store — produce, meat, dairy — so that my trip to the store is quick and efficient. ” — Stephanie Troxell, MS, RD, former Daily Burn Fitness/Nutrition Coach
8. Make your kitchen a meal prepping machine.
“I pull in a foldable table, a cart [and] get my second toaster oven and other appliances out from the closet. I get equipped with my apron, I put on my headphones, and I try to…meal prep for the week faster than I did last week. Within four to five hours, I can prepare food for six days… This would be impossible if I didn’t employ the strategy of turning my kitchen into a factory when meal prep time comes around.” — Jon Call, Acrobolix, @jujimufu
9. Stock up on meal prep staples.
“I keep my pantry and freezer stocked with quick go-to items. Here’s what I always try to have on hand. Freezer: frozen fruits and veggies (less expensive and lasts much longer), frozen brown rice or quinoa (quicker cooking and no pan to wash!), frozen shrimp or salmon (defrosts quickly). Pantry: Plain oatmeal, beans, diced tomatoes, salsa, chicken or veggie broth.” — former Allie Whitesides, Daily Burn Fitness/Nutrition Coach
10. Pretty up your meals.
“It’s one thing to have a delicious meal; it’s another to have a ‘good looking,’ delicious meal. Many times people will prepare a meal, or two, or five, but the reality is that by the third day or so that meal might not look that appealing anymore. For me, the kitchen tool that has helped change this is the cast iron grill pan. Whether you’re cooking chicken, steak, burgers, or even a sandwich, pressing it on to that pan to create grill marks makes a world of difference. Best part about it is, it can be used indoors and you’ll still get the beautiful grill marks without having to go outside and turn on the grill when it’s 10 below. Try it!” — Alex Torres, @mealprepmondays
11. Utilize the weekend.
“Get your meal prepping done during the weekend so you’ve got meals for the beginning of [each] week. This has helped me in getting organized!” — Jenny Flake, Picky Palate
12. Set a timer (and stick to it).
“Meal prepping can seem so overwhelming, and if you aren’t careful, you can spend a whole day prepping food. I’m a believer that you should keep your meal-prep sessions short. I set a timer for two hours on Sunday mornings. I get done as much as I can in those two hours, and then I go enjoy my weekend happy that I’ve prepared myself for the upcoming week. You’d be amazed at what you can get done in that time!” — Cassie Johnston, Back to Her Roots
13. Learn to multitask.
“When people are first starting to food prep, they tend to focus on doing one thing at a time, which is fine, but it often takes a lot longer for them to get their food prep done and it can be discouraging. Once you’ve done it a few times and start to get comfortable, using multiple parts of your kitchen at once is a game changer. I almost always have something baking in the oven, something cooking on the stove, something in the crockpot and am working on something at the counter all at the same time. This allows you to get more done in a shorter period of time!” — Lindsay Livingston, RD, The Lean Green Bean
14. Put technology to work for you.
“I use an app such as MyFitnessPal, [which makes] it really easy to record recipes and meals so that I can recall them and reuse them again in future meal preps. I can just [modify] a few ingredients and I have a new recipe with all the macros, etcetera, already calculated.”— Jo, @welovecleanfood
15. Bust out your slow cooker.
16. Implement time-saving strategies.
“I try to keep a few home-made frozen meals on hand at all times in case I’m having a really busy week and won’t have time to cook. Something like soup or vegetable chili will freeze and reheat really well, and saves a lot of time on really busy days.” — Stephanie Troxell, MS, RD, former Daily Burn Fitness/Nutrition Coach
17. Cut corners.
“Buy veggies pre-cut. Even though it costs a bit more at first, you may find you waste less and spend less time in the kitchen.” — Allie Whitesides, Daily Burn Fitness/Nutrition Coach
18. Shake things up.
“Eat different meals at different times every day! Some people get frustrated and think that they have to eat the same thing every day, all day. This is hardly the case! Think outside of the box. Your traditional breakfast or early day meal does NOT always have to be eggs and oatmeal… Plan your meals according to your personal goals.” — Nicole Mcleod, CFT and Ron Sudol, CFT, @Nmcleoddd
19. Savor your kitchen time.
“Like most Americans, I spend most of my work day at my desk. I try to think of my time spent cooking as a way to relax and get out from behind a screen for a bit. I know we’re all busy and have a lot of demands pulling it us in a lot of directions, but I try to enjoy my time spent cooking… it’s my “me time”.” — Stephanie Troxell, MS, RD, former Daily Burn Fitness/Nutrition Coach
20. Embrace your freedom.
“Meal prepping isn’t just about eating healthy or improving the look of your body; it’s about freedom. When you meal prep for days in advance, you are free from having to make any sort of decision regarding what to eat for that time. You don’t have to determine where or when you’ll get food, you just have it. This saves psychic resources that can be put towards doing other things that are important to you, like focusing on a relationship, a career, your work or training. You no longer have to make decisions about food or focus on it; it’s been taken care of, now work and play and be free of the burden of hunger and the decision making process that comes with it!” — Jon Call, Acrobolix, @jujimufu
Originally published February 2016. Updated November 2017.