Good news, you can still eat healthy this week.
For those of us trying to eat a little healthier, save money, or cut back on time spent in the kitchen, meal prepping is key. Some dedicated people will hunker down in the kitchen for a few hours, break out their meal prep tools, cook a few big-batch meals, and eat well all week long. But for us mere mortals, that doesn’t always happen.
Sometimes the kids need to go to soccer practice, or your husband has the flu, or your girlfriend drags you to that birthday party you really don’t want to go to. And other times you just want to sit on the couch, queue up Netflix, and not move for the whole weekend (we don’t judge!).
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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The downside? Meal prep can easily get lost in the shuffle, and it can be hard to get back into the healthy eating groove when you’re wondering how to source your next nutritious meal. I’ll set the scene: It’s 1 p.m., your stomach is growling, and you forgot to make a lunch...so you start thinking about swinging through the drive-thru to order a not-so-great-for-you meal. (You have no choice, right?)
But, hope is not lost. These tips will help you get back on the healthy eating horse and crush your goals for the week...even if you forgot to plan ahead.
Keep a Desk Stash
My most forgotten-about meal is breakfast, so I always keep a canister of quick-cooking oats at my desk, along with a box of light brown sugar, peanut butter, and a few apples (yes, seriously). I know it sounds crazy, but in the morning, all I need to do is add hot water, mix in some nut butter, and chop up an apple. It tastes great, it’s nutritious, and I know I won’t be tempted to swing through the drive-thru for a bagel on my way to work. (If you'd rather just buy packets of instant oatmeal, we found the tastiest healthy ones).
Cheat a Little
Those big trays of pre-cut veggies might be a little pricier than if you’d bought whole vegetables and cut them yourself, but they’re incredibly convenient and make for a healthy snack option.
Bagged salad kits are another great no-cook, grab-and-go meal option from the grocery store. If you’re really short on time, you can buy a few and keep them in the fridge at work for easy lunches. Add a can of salmon to make it a complete meal (just don’t blame us if your coworkers hate you for the smell).
Jazz up Leftovers
Keep flavor-boosting ingredients, like a block of Parmesan or feta, lemons or limes, spices, vinegars, ginger, garlic, or Sriracha on-hand to liven up any dish. That way, even if you haven’t had time to put much thought into meal prep, you can toss whatever veggies, grains, or proteins you do have together and liven it up. Bonus? You can take the same leftover protein (say, baked chicken breasts) and switch it up a dozen different ways with spices and sauces so you don’t hit the mid-week meal prep slump.
Have Pantry Staples
Our editors swear by keeping a few staples in their kitchen for easy assembly meals. Their favorites? A bag of apples, nuts, eggs, frozen English muffins, frozen veggies, carrots, hummus, pasta, and sauce. These ingredients will last a while in your fridge or pantry, and they’re great for throwing in your bag when you don’t have time to put a meal together. For example: Make a snack meal out of apples, nuts, hummus, and veggies; breakfast from a frozen English muffin and eggs; or dinner out of pasta, jarred sauce, and frozen veggies. It may not be “meal prep” in the traditional sense, but it gets the job done!
Make Extra Dinner
If you really can’t find time to meal prep, that’s ok! When you’re buying ingredients for tonight’s dinner, buy two or three times your normal amount and make enough for lunches during the week. It’s never too late to get back on track.
20 Meals at Costco for $150 – Meal Plan #2 with Printables
What better way to help you survive and thrive the busyness of life than with a 20 Meals for $150 plan that is made up of all delicious dinner and lunch options!
Half of the meals available in this plan can be added to the freezer and the remaining can be made the week that you purchase all the ingredients!
When you first start meal planning, don’t feel like you have to prep all of your meals for the entire week. Instead decide which meals you want to tackle. You might try only prepping two or three days of meals at a time. Or you could try prepping one meal, like breakfast or lunch, for the entire week.
Meal prep is supposed to make your life easier, so do whatever you feel will work best for you. I personally like to prep all of my lunches for the week on Sunday. That way when I’m in a hurry in the morning I can just grab and go.
Benefits of Meal Planning
You can benefit from using a meal plan in a number of ways. Using a meal plan saves you money and time, and you eat better, healthier foods when you plan your meals ahead of time. Here’s the full list of benefits:
- Saves Money. Armed with a plan and a list, you only need to make one trip to the store each week, thus eliminating the opportunities for impulse purchases. You also save money by taking advantage of weekly sales to tailor your menu, avoiding duplicate purchases, and reducing the urge to order take-out.
- Saves Time. You have to spend about 30 minutes to plan a week’s worth of meals. When you plan your meals, you can efficiently shop for groceries using your list, and you only have to shop once a week. You can spend dinner time preparing and enjoying your meal, instead of standing in front of the refrigerator waiting for a dinner idea to magically pop into your head.
- Helps You Eat Healthier. By planning three meals a day, seven days a week, you can avoid visiting the drive-thru in the morning, abstain from a lunch hour vending machine frenzy, and resist the temptation to order from a pricey take-out dinner menu. Before I planned our weekly menu, my husband and I ate a lot of frozen pizzas and packaged frozen skillet meals loaded with sodium, or we dined at restaurants. We now plan ahead and enjoy more home-cooked meals made with fresh foods.
- Helps Reduce Food Waste. Before I started planning my meals, I often opened a cupboard only to find three loaves of bread, two bottles of minced garlic, and an extra jar of mayonnaise. I didn’t check my pantry’s inventory before I went shopping, and I routinely picked up more bread, spices, and condiments at the store. Many times, the loaves of bread spoiled before I could put them in the freezer, and the spices and condiments passed their expiration dates before we could use them. Now I create my shopping list after looking at what I already have in the kitchen. A meal plan can also help you finish leftovers, because a refrigerator full of forgotten food wastes money.
- Helps Reduce Your Stress. No more worries about what to have for dinner you now have a plan. You’ll know when to pull food out of the freezer, avoid the mad rush through the grocery store at six o’clock, and most importantly, reduce the amount of money you spend.
Now that you have a handle on why you should create a meal plan, let’s explore how you can successfully integrate meal planning into your life.
Meal Prepping For Beginners
In this meal prepping for beginner's guide, you will learn what meal prepping is the benefits you get from meal-prepping, plus some tips to make it easier for you.
Let's begin by defining what meal prepping is-and what it isn't.
Meal prepping is setting aside some time to plan and prepare meals and snacks in for the coming week. The intention is to make your life easier, help you eat clean, and to ensure portion control. Often the goal is to help you reach your health and weight-loss goals.
What we eat and how we eat it is a hot health topic these days. More folks are realizing that most chronic diseases are because of what and how they eat. People generally want to eat less meat and more fruits and vegetables and plant-based proteins.
Perhaps you are beginning a new healthy lifestyle and feeling overwhelmed on where to begin. Most of us have busy hectic daily lives so it can be challenging to cook healthy meals day after day. Some can't handle the thought of preparing meals for every day of the week, so they rely on take-out food and restaurants.
It may sound easy to set new healthy lifestyle goals, but following through and staying on course can be tricky. Meal prepping can help you stay on track and reach your goals.
Let’s take a close look at why you should consider meal prepping.
With meal prepping, it's all about what works best for you. Your main goal is to save time and make healthy meals available to eat when you are hungry. Some people like to prepare all three meals, others just want to know healthy food is ready and waiting for them when they get home.
The Benefits of Meal Prepping
1. You Will Save Money
If you plan in advance, it doesn't have to be expensive to eat healthy. There's a few tips that will save you money… Like buying your food in bulk, and taking advantage of your freezer.
When you know how to plan for exactly what you will need, you won't have to run to the market multiple times each week. Meal planning and prepping will save you from wandering the aisles, buying stuff you didn't plan for.
2. Meal-prepping Helps You to Lose Weight
If your intension is to take off some weight, it will be so much easier if you plan your meals in advance. Each week you will know exactly what you are eating and how much. When you have control over what you are eating each day, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to lose weight.
3. Grocery Shopping Becomes Easier
When you plan what foods you'll eat throughout the week, grocery shopping becomes a whole lot easier.
Your shopping list will tell you what you need so you know exactly where to go to get the foods required for your meals, saving you time and energy. (Especially if you are familiar with your market).
4. It Helps You With Portion Control
Using special sized containters will help you from eating more than your body needs. Practicing portion control will teach you about balance and monitoring yourself.
5. Less Food Will Go To Waste
No one likes to waste food by tossing it out before getting the chance to eat it. Meal prepping will help you to make use of what you buy at the market.
We all know how awful we feel when we toss out food that went bad before we had a chance to eat it. Meal prepping encourages you only buy the ingredients and foods you will use for the next week. It's not likely you'll have a lot of leftovers, especially if you become an expert meal planner.
6. You'll Save Time
Of course, you will need a block of time to plan and prepare your meals for the following week… But just think of all the time you will save during the week!
No more last minute wondering what to cook and then the irritation of not being able to decide or find the right ingredients. This is what leads to unhealthy choices or worse yet, eating out or getting take-out. When you meal plan for the week, you can feel good about coming home to a healthy, home prepared meal.
7. You are Making an Investment in Your Health
Meal prepping is wonderful because you prepare ahead of the time what you will be putting into your body. This means you will eat cleaner. You won't be eating processed, sugary, deep-fried, high-preservative, chemical and hormone laden foods. You'll notice when you eat clean, nutritious foods, you waste line will get smaller. This will be aside from all the benefits to all your organs and body tissues.
8. You will Strengthen Your Willpower
As you get into the grove of consistently eating clean and healthy, you'll begin to notice you won't crave foods that are not good for you. Ayurveda teaches, when you are healthy, you crave healthy foods. When you are unhealthy you crave unhealthy foods.
Getting into a routine is vital to eating healthy. The longer you stick with it, the easier it becomes to eat well. In fact, junk foods won't even appeal to you any more.
9. You'll Feel Less Stress
Stress causes digestive and sleep problems. It also affects your immune system. It can be pretty stressful to return home from work know you have a million other things to do, but need to prepare a meal. This won't happen with meal prepping! You will say bye-bye to wondering what to eat. You just take out your ready healthy meals and you're all set!
10. You'll Have More Variety
When you plan your meals ahead, it's so easy to select from all the different food groups to make sure you're getting the right nutrition. You make sure you have included protein, fats, vegetables, fruits and grains. You can be creative on how you mix them.
4 Simple Tips to Get You Meal Prepping
1. Get a Selection of Meal-prep Containers
You'll need to invest in some high-quality containers. Ideally they would be glass or plastic. But, remember that if you choose plastic, you want to select containers that are BPA-free. BPA stands for bisphenol A, an industrial chemical used to make some resins and plastics 50 years back. It’s found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins so you don’t want those poisons entering your body. Also, buy containers that are the same size so you can easily stack them.
2. Decide What Recipes You are Going Make for the Following Week
That requires planning. You don’t want to go to the market trying to remember what you need and then just making do when you have to make your meals.
Meal prepping requires you knowing what you are going to cook and when. Write down each meal you are planning to make. Then break it into what ingredients you'll need till the following week, when you'll begin prepping again. My advice is to incorporate variety into your meals. This way you won't be bored eating the same foods every day.
3. Allot Yourself Meal Prepping Time
If you are new at meal prepping, prep for a few days ahead, even a week is great. You can set aside an entire day of prepping for the next week or so. I find that Sunday is a very good day for meal prepping.
4. Do Partial Meal Prepping
Even though you might be meal prepping for the entire week, it doesn’t mean you need to completely prepare every part of a meal.
For example, you could prep your chicken by marinating it, freezing it and defrosting when you are ready to eat it.
Even though you might still decide to cook your veggies on the actual night of your meals, you will still have saved yourself a lot of prep time just by doing the chicken beforehand.
If you like your veggies fresh, you could just portion them out, wash them, and put them in containers ready for steaming later on. Although, when it comes to preparing carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, or pasta, it's best to cook these beforehand as they can take more time to prepare.
Prepping For 3 Main Meals and Snacks
If you don't have to rush off to work early, you could always poach eggs and toast, fresh. If you want to be even more organized, you can put all your ingredients in a container. This way it will be all ready to pull out each morning ready to use. For instance, if you desire spinach or mushrooms with your egg, you could chop them up ahead of time.
If you are going to prep for the week in advance, it may be efficient to get all the ingredients near each other in the fridge or put them in containers. This way you can just pull them out, unprepared, until the day you plan to eat them.
Tuna and many vegetables are all better fresh. For instance, it's a good idea to prepare cucumbers on the day you want to eat them. It saves time and stress if you know exactly where to find the cucumber because you've prepared your lists and know which container they are in.
Keep in mind that it's not always possible to prepare every single meal. You will learn to adapt meal prepping to your needs and times depending on how busy you are.
When it comes to dinner, and let’s say, chicken, for example, it might be a good idea to cook the chicken ahead of time, reheating it as needed. You could portion out the legumes and veggies that you need, not putting them together until the night you eat them, so that nothing goes soggy.
You can portion out berries, nuts and seeds, and place them in separate containers. You could also have your yogurt in containers so they are ready to easily access during the week.
Celery sticks, a few carrots or an apple with some hummus in another small container are ideal if you are in a hurry in the morning – if you haven’t got time to chop them up.
Here's six easy meal prep ideas to get you started.
Don’t Forget to Make Your Food Flavorful
Clean eating does not have to be boring. You can experiment with spices, homemade marinades, and dressings. Liven up your vegetables with olive oil dressing and lemon. Incorporate as much variety of vegetables, fruits, proteins, and carbohydrates.
You prepare ingredients too when it comes to meal prepping! This may include peeling carrots, chopping onions, preparing beets, cleaning beans, washing fruits, etc. Just prepping ingredients like this will save you a lot of time.
Do only what feels comfortable. This is about makeing your life easier and your health requirements. Even a little bit of meal prepping is better than no prepping at all. You will feel much better about preparing your food for a few days ahead. It will give you the feeling of having more control of your life in terms of your health and time.
Say goodbye to those moments of staring blankly into the cupboard or fridge, wondering what will be for dinner. Say goodbye to take out food and throwing ingredients away that have gone bad before you could use them.
Set a Time for Prepping Your Meals
The best time to do your prepping is when you have the most amount of time. It could be a Saturday, or on a Sunday. Sunday is quite nice because then you prep for the following week. Find out what works best for you. It might mean cooking meals the night before or cooking all the meals you have prepared for the week in your time allotted. Just figure out how to best organize your schedule, and then make it a habit that’s important.
In Time, it All Comes Together
It doesn’t matter what your personal health issues are. All goals need planning, dedication, and consistency.
The results will come all in good time, which means you shouldn’t throw in the towel if it looks like things aren’t working out as you planned. Rather work out what the problem areas are, adapt to them or fix them, adjusting along the way, to end up with a smooth schedule that of a pro!
It might need a bit of creativity and some effort, but nothing will beat the satisfied feeling, the reward of opening up your fridge and seeing all your delicious foods, organized and prepared. It guarantees to make your week much easier, but also ensures good health and vitality.
Look at it this way – meal prep = money and time freedom. Take that first step by doing your body and life a huge favor so that you can reap the benefits.
How many times have you been in the middle of cooking a recipe, only to realize: You forgot to prep something in advance. Or, you don’t have the right tool for the job. It might seem obvious, but it’s truly shocking just how much time you can save by simply reading a recipe upfront.
I learned about this helpful tip when I went to culinary school, and it really makes a difference: Keep a bowl by your work station for scraps. This way, instead of wasting time going back and forth to the garbage or compost, you can just get rid of your scraps all at once.
9 Ways to Make Meal Planning Easier
So, now you know how to meal plan. Here are nine ways to make this meal planning business way easier so you can start saving way more money on food. Every. Single. Month.
Don&rsquot forget about your leftovers.
Once you make a meal, don't forget about it in the fridge until it becomes a moldy science experiment. That wastes food and money. And it&rsquos gross. As you&rsquore putting away the leftovers from dinner, don&rsquot throw the whole casserole dish in the fridge. Portion it out in reusable containers so you&rsquove got lunch for a day or two.
Another tip is to use leftover ingredients again. Take the leftover chicken from salsa chicken rice bowl night and make chicken and cheese quesadillas later in the week. Or you can put a leftovers night on the calendar&mdashwhere everyone eats what&rsquos already been made. And don&rsquot forget your freezer: Save half of that lasagna you didn&rsquot finish, freeze it, and put it in your meal plan in a couple weeks.
Remembering the leftovers saves time and money&mdashtwo of our favorite things to save.
Keep basic breakfast, lunch and snack items on rotation in your grocery list.
We&rsquove said it before&mdasha meal plan isn&rsquot just for dinner. Make sure you have what you need to cover all the food you need to eat that week. Stock up on fruit, veggies, nuts, cereal bars, milk, juice, sandwich stuff&mdashwhatever you and yours like to eat at all the other mealtimes of the day!
Stock your pantry, fridge and freezer with staples.
When rice, steam-in-the-bag veggies, pasta, spices, sauces or other staples that won&rsquot go bad go on sale, buy more than what you&rsquoll use just that week. Stock up on these to use throughout the month.
Keep a running list of favorite meals.
If you try a new budget-friendly meal and everyone raves about it, save that recipe! Either put it in an old-fashioned recipe book or save it online. When you&rsquore feeling stuck one week as you stare down the calendar, pull out one of these tested-and-approved meals and put it back in action.
Inspire the planning process with themed nights.
Inspiration for what to cook every night, every week, every month&mdashmeal making can start to feel a little stale. If you need a good starting point when you&rsquore staring down the meal planning calendar, think themes. Taco Tuesday. Backyard BBQ. Breakfast for Dinner (aka Brinner). Finger Food Night. You don&rsquot have to dress up or decorate (though you could), but a theme can help you build the night&rsquos menu.
Order your groceries online.
Have you looked into buying your groceries online? Now you can fill your virtual shopping cart from anywhere. Check into your options like delivery or pickup. Some stores charge an extra fee for these services&mdashbut don&rsquot let that stop you from using them. Maybe you&rsquore the kind of shopper who gets sidetracked in the actual store, tempted by those snack items at the end of the aisle. You&rsquoll probably save more in the long run with this option, even if there is a fee.
Online ordering is also great because you can shop while you&rsquore actually looking at everything you have&mdashin real time. This way you don&rsquot buy a ninth can of black beans because you forget you&rsquove already got eight at home.
The best budget-saving part of online grocery shopping is that you can easily watch what you&rsquore spending. Before you check out, you can delete some items or look for cheaper options. You&rsquoll never have a surprising total in the end.
Add meal prep to your to-do list.
Maybe you don&rsquot love chopping veggies or putting lunch items into those segmented boxes for the whole week&mdashbut that kind of meal prep saves you so much money! Just put it on your to-do list. Then make it fun by turning up some of your favorite tunes or having someone help out. Listen, it&rsquos worth the short time investment to chop and portion your own food rather than pay someone else to do it!
Double recipes whenever possible.
Let&rsquos say you&rsquore buying all the ingredients for chili anyway&mdashbecause ground beef and beans are on sale this week. This is the perfect time to double that recipe, freeze half, and enjoy the rest a couple weeks later. Think ahead, and your future self will thank you.
Don&rsquot complicate dinner.
You can have a delightful dinner without sticking to the old standard of meat and three. Switching things up can be both simpler and cheaper. Make a great soup in the slow cooker and serve it with a salad. And what about all that leftover lettuce? How about adding beans, salsa, cheese and chips for a meatless taco salad later in the week?
Don&rsquot be afraid of simple suppers! They can taste just as fantastic and be just as healthy as a complicated dinner&mdashall while reducing stress and spending.
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Step #4 Start your menu
Now that you have everything you need let’s get your menu set up. This part is pretty simple actually. Start with the first day and check your calendar. Remember we want to match our meals to our schedules. If you know Tuesdays are your crazy busy nights, I would suggest a crock pot meal. All you need to do is set the table and you are good to go!
My crock pot is one of the most used appliances in my home. I love having dinner cooked for me with little cleanup after. Dust that crock pot off and put it to work!
Tip: If you know you will have to eat on the run, choose a dinner that you can pack into containers to eat in the car. Cheese/meat/crackers/fruit are a great dinner time meal with little mess. These can easily be eaten on the go and will keep your kiddos from yelling for fast food.
If you have nights that are a bit more laid back, you may want to plan larger meals. This is a great way fill up a week quickly with leftovers. If Sundays are a quiet day in your house, then a roasted chicken may be perfect for you giving 1-3 leftover meals you can whip up later in the week. Chicken fajitas, chicken stir-fry, and chicken tacos are all great spinoffs that your family may love.
Continue making your menu based off of your calendar. You can do a weekly or monthly menu whatever you feel will work best.
10 Steps to Freezer Meal Prep
- Print recipes and shopping list:Meal prep #1 – Click here to print recipes + shopping List. Meal prep #2 – For now, you have to print recipes one by one below – click here to jump there. Meal prep #3 – watch video on Youtube with shopping list and recipes in description.
- Gather ingredients: Gather meat, vegetables, cans and sauce jars, and grains on a counter. No spices yet. Label gallon size Ziploc bags with instructions.
- Prep meat, veggies and cans: Cut meat, peel vegetables (do not chop yet) and open cans.
- Start assembling: Fill each bag with meat first and stand up right.
- Chop vegetables: Chop basic veggies like carrots, celery, onion, garlic, potato etc. for each recipe individually. Then place on top of meat (if any) in each bag. It helps to keep measuring simple. Meatless recipes assembly begins now.
- Add dry ingredients: Measure and add grains, beans and any other dry ingredients.
- Add liquids: Add liquids from cans and jars except water or broth like diced tomatoes or tomato sauce, coconut milk, tomato paste and hot sauce.
- Add spices: Pull out spices, measure and add to each bag.
- Prepare for freezing: Let out as much air as possible and seal tightly each bag.
- Freeze: Stand bags upright and and freeze like that. Round shape is the best. I usually tie 2 corners with a rubber band or a big clip to shape the bag.
3. Cut Recipes in Half
Sure, most entrées are meant to serve four people (or more). The good news? With some very simple math, you can easily divide those recipes in half. Depending on what you&rsquore making, you might need to adjust the cooking time (smaller portions usually need less time to cook), but if you use your best chef senses (i.e., smell, sight, sizzling), you&rsquoll be fine.