When it comes to healthy eating, preparation is the key to success. (Those Boy Scouts are onto something.) In fact, one study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine suggests that spending time on preparing and cooking meals at home is linked with better dietary habits. But if you love the convenience of prepackaged foods and restaurant meals, it might be hard to go cold turkey on your take-out routine.
Luckily, planning and preparing your meals ahead of time will make healthy choices a no-brainer. Instead of running to the deli for a cold cut calorie bomb, you’ll have a home cooked feast on hand that can be heated up faster than you can walk two blocks. (Leaving you with more time to squeeze in your daily workout!) And hey, you’ll save money while you’re at it.
Plus, if you’re intimidated by cooking, there are tons of sneaky tricks that can help make assembling delicious meals a cinch. From easy breakfast options to methods for whipping up meals in bulk, we’ve got expert tips to set yourself up for a fuss-free and healthy week. Whip out your favorite plastic container (we’re loving these leak-proof options) and get started.
12 Meal Prep Ideas to Try Now
1. Season meat three ways using just one pan.
If you’re sticking to lean meats like chicken, chowing down on the same flavors can get tedious after a while. Save time without boring your taste buds by preparing two or three variations of chicken at once, using aluminum foil dividers in your pan. Sriracha, BBQ, honey mustard — you can have it all. Three birds, one pan! Photo and recipe: Kevin / Fit Men Cook
2. Hard-boil eggs in the oven — not in a pot.
An excellent source of protein, vitamins A and B and healthy fat, eggs should be a staple snack for any health fiend. The problem: You can usually only fit up to five eggs in a pot. To make a delicious dozen in one go, bake your eggs in muffin tins for just 30 minutes. Ta-da! You’ll get a perfectly hard-boiled batch. Pro tip: Do a small test run first to ensure your oven doesn’t run too hot or too cold before cooking a full pan of eggs. Photo and recipe: Lindsay / The Lean Green Blog
3. Freeze blended smoothies in muffin tins.
Never have the time to measure out a million fixings for a morning sip? Save time by buying the ingredients in bulk, blending your favorite beverage, and then freezing the mixture in muffin tins. Next time you need a shake, stat, toss two or three “smoothie cups” in a blender for a quick and easy breakfast. Pro tip: Upgrade to a high-powered blender (we see you Ninja Pro!) to blend frozen foods with ease. Photo and recipe: Matt / Muffin Tin Mania
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4. Chop or spiralize raw vegetables in advance.
Too hangry to make dinner at the end of a long day? Cut veggies in bulk ahead of time to avoid wasting precious minutes chopping on busy weeknights. You can make this step a breeze with a simple Spiralizer (around $30 apiece). Zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) and butternut squash noodles will stay fresh in the fridge for 3-5 days, and chopped vegetables like carrots, onion and pepper will last a week when refrigerated properly in a sealed plastic bag or container. Photo and tip: Ali / Inspiralized
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5. Roast different vegetables with same cooking time.
Roasting vegetables is a great way to bring out their natural sweetness, but waiting 30 to 40 minutes for each pan of nutrient-rich goodness to cook can be time-consuming. To prep a large batch of veggies, try pairing them based on roasting time. Fast-cooking vegetables that can bake in the same pan include asparagus, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes; slow-roasting vegetables include carrots, cauliflower, onions, potatoes and parsnips. Photo: Jenny / Picky Palate
6. Make portions crystal clear.
Guard against overeating by portioning your nuts, pretzels, veggies or favorite nibbles into plastic baggies or portable jars. It’s easy to mindlessly munch when you’ve got an entire bag sitting in front of you, but having just enough ready to go for lunch or a snack will keep you from going overboard. The jars pictured above are the Blender Bottle Go Stack Twist ‘N Lock ($11 for a set of four).
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7. Customize healthy oatmeal jars.
Fiber-rich foods like oatmeal are ideal for keeping you satiated until lunchtime, but most packets have lots of added sugar and unnatural preservatives. If you DIY and use portable glass jars, you’ll control exactly what and how much you’re eating. From “monkey mix” to “raspberries and dark chocolate,” these genius flavor combinations will keep your taste buds happy, too. Photo and recipe: Rachel / Clean Food Crush
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8. Bag up smoothie ingredients.
Ever put a little of this, a little of that in your blender and end up with a supersized smoothie? Save yourself from unnecessary calories by pre-assembling and freezing the ingredients. By measuring out your berries, yogurt (frozen in an ice cube tray) and greens ahead of time, your shake will be perfectly portioned, every time. Photo and recipe: Rachel / The Chic Site
9. Use muffin tins for smarter breakfast frittatas.
You could enjoy a fancy frittata every morning of the week, and only turn your stove on once. The secret? Make-ahead egg muffins! Make several of these recipes in advance (you can store in the fridge for up to five days) so you don’t get bored throughout the week. Wrap them in a paper towel to microwave them so they won’t dry out. Photo and recipe: Kendra Montgomery / Full Fork Ahead
10. Always roll with some protein-rich snacks.
Protein is essential for muscle recovery after a tough workout and it also keeps hunger at bay — making it an A+ choice for snacks. Instead of reaching for a packaged protein bar that could have more than 400 calories and 28 grams of sugar, try making your own energy balls. Whip up a batch and store them in the fridge for up to six days. Photo and recipe: Lee Hersh / Life by Daily Burn
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Kabobs aren’t just for street meat. Weighing your chicken (or salmon or beef) and putting it on wooden skewers can help you control how much you’re eating in one sitting. (Four ounces of chicken has approximately 36 grams of protein, and six ounces of salmon has 34 grams of protein.) Cook up a batch and save some skewers for the rest of the week. If you’re using wooden ones, remember to soak them in water so they won’t catch fire in your grill or oven. Photo and recipe: Emily Miller / Life by Daily Burn
Think salad from home is a no-go because it always gets soggy? Think again. Using a glass jar will save your veggies from getting mucky before lunchtime. Put your dressing at the bottom of the jar, layer sturdier produce like cucumbers and peppers. Then save any leafy greens or grains (we’re loving quinoa) up top. Put a paper towel square at the top to absorb moisture if you’re storing the salad for multiple days. Or, opt for a salad jar like this one — complete with a separate dressing compartment — for a mess-free solution.
Want more meal prep tips and tricks? Check out Laura Prepon’s Stash Plan for ideas to build your own stash of healthy favorites at home. According to Prepon, it’s all about building “kitchen confidence.”
Originally published January 2015. Updated August 28, 2016.
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