5 Tips to Start Meal Prepping
With the new school year right around the corner, it’s almost time for busy parents to start thinking about how they’re going to handle school lunches and busy weeknight dinners. One solution? Meal prepping.
If you’ve been thinking of going this route, we have five tips to help you get started. Read them over to get a better sense of whether meal prepping is a feasible solution for your family.
Meal prepping for beginners: 5 tips
1. Invest in high-quality food storage containers.
When you’re first starting out on your meal prep journey, it’s a good idea to invest in some high-quality food storage containers. Put simply, using the right container can make all the difference between a fabulous or lackluster meal. Not to mention that is also an important factor in food safety. With that in mind, if you think that meal prepping is going to be a regular part of your routine, it’s best to start fresh with the right containers.
As you’re shopping for containers, you’re going to want to look for a few factors. At base, you’re going to want to make sure that they are tight. However, in addition, it’s a good idea to look for containers that are microwave, dishwasher, and freezer-safe. That way, freezing and reheating the meal will be easier on you, as well as cleaning.
Finally, if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like your food to touch, it’s also a good idea to look for divided containers. Even if you don’t mind your food mixing, using divided containers can help the food stay fresh longer.
2. Start out simple.
Next, do your best to keep things simple, especially as you are first starting out. Instead of attempting to meal prep every morsel of food that you eat in a week, start by prepping just one meal. Pick the meal that you dislike preparing the most and try meal prepping for a week or two. If you find that you like it, you can always add additional meals and snacks at a later date.
Along the same lines, be sure to pick a meal that is easy to prep as well. While the typical setup for meal prepping is a starch, a vegetable, a protein, and toppings, you can really offer that however you see fit. If you’re going low carb, you can swap out the starch for another vegetable or make it vegetarian by adding a legume instead of a protein. However, your first recipes should be easy to prepare.
3. Take time to prepare for your meal prep.
Once you have a recipe in hand, the next step is to go grocery shopping. You can make this easier on yourself by making a list of all the groceries that you need specifically for the meal prep recipe. Then, shop for those when you do your weekly grocery run. To make things even simpler for yourself, look into getting veggies and fruits that are pre-cut and washed from your local grocer.
Then, once the grocery shopping is done, the next step is to make time in your schedule to meal prep. Since you’re cooking a large batch of food and waiting for it to cool down before you store it away, you’ll likely need a couple of hours to complete this task. Be sure to block time off in your calendar so that you don’t get busy and end up foregoing your meal prep entirely.
4. Don’t forget to add variety.
One of the questions that people most often asked when they start meal prepping is, “How can I expect myself to eat the same food day after day? Won’t it get boring after a while?” The truth is, eating the same food can get boring. However, there are ways that you can add variety to the mix.
One way is to rely on sauces and toppings to spice things up. For example, if you’re eating a chicken breast, rice, and veggies. You could cook one chicken breast in taco seasoning and top it with sour cream and salsa for a Mexican take on the meal. Alternatively, you could coat another chicken breast in soy sauce or teriyaki sauce and use wasabi as a topping.
Another way to add variety is to use your freezer to your advantage. In this scenario, you freeze some of your extra meals instead of eating them throughout the week. Then, once you have a couple meals at your disposal, you can pick and choose from your freezer meals to add variety to your meal prep regimen.
5. Follow food safety guidelines.
Last but not least, if you’re going to meal prep, you need to know about food safety. In general, food will last in the refrigerator for anywhere between three to five days. That number jumps up to anywhere between one and three months if you put it in the freezer. However, it’s important to note that these numbers are just guidelines. There is no hard-and-fast rule for how long food will last, so it’s important to use your best judgment.
If you want a better idea of how long food will last, FoodSafety.gov has a handy cold food storage chart that you can reference at any time.