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Meal Prep 101

by Katie Frizzell

Always wanted to be a meal prepper, but never got around to doing it? What supplies do you need? What are some good recipes? Learn the basics so you can get started meal prepping healthy, delicious meals and become a meal prep pro!

The first thing we need to ask ourselves is, “Why meal prep?” Meal prepping saves us time. By spending a little time preparing meals at the beginning of the week, we will spend less time cooking during the busy work and school week. Meal prepping also helps us to eat healthier. With pre-portioned meals made of healthy choices, we are more able to follow healthy guidelines and stay on track.

The next thing to address is deciding what kind of prepper you will be. There are three main types of preppers:

  • Full-On Prepper – prepares every breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner for every day of the week for every family member.
  • Partial Prepper – prepares the same as the Full-On prepper but does it for only 3-4 days at a time, having 2 prep days a week - OR - they prepare only certain meals, such as breakfasts and lunches, but cook other meals how they normally would.
  • Ingredients Prepper – prepares just the ingredients ahead of time and cooks all the meals how they normally would, but saves time because of pre-cut, pre-measured ingredients.

The next step is to pick a prep day. If your weekdays are really busy, then a weekend day might be for you. Many people aim for Saturday or Sunday afternoons.

Next, you will want to make a meal plan. To make one, write down what you’re planning to eat for all your meals for the entire week. This will help you know what you’re going to have so you don’t have to stress about deciding what to make. It will also help know what to buy when you go grocery shopping. Before meal planning and grocery shopping it is important to take an inventory of what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. See if you can make some of those ingredients work instead of buying new things. You may have to alter your recipes to do this, but it can utilize what you already have and save you from buying more ingredients you don’t need.

Before grocery shopping check out some of my blog posts about saving money on groceries and grocery shopping more efficiently.

Once you know what kind of prepper you are, pick a prep day, have a meal plan, and have your groceries, it’s time to prep! It is important to set aside adequate time and space to prep. Set the mood and make it fun by listening to music, a podcast, or watching videos. If you have someone to help you prep, that’s awesome, but if your family members are more likely to be a distraction, maybe make the kitchen off limits during prep time.

Tips and Tricks for a Better Meal Prep Experience:

  • It may be difficult at first and take a little more time than you thought, but with practice you will become a pro in no time, so don’t give up.
  • Prepare like things together: chop all the vegetables, prepare all the meat, measure all the ingredients.
  • Don’t try too many new recipes at once. Try just 1-2 and keep the rest of the meals your favorite recipes you are already comfortable doing.
  • Get all your appliances going at once to get everything cooked in the shortest amount of time.
  • You don’t have to cook everything. Choose some cold foods like salads, fruit, and chopped veggies and dip.
  • Let food you do cook cool before putting the lid on and putting them in the fridge. This will prevent the food from sweating and turning soggy.
  • For recipes, you can use any of your favorite recipes you already know how to make, but you can always find new recipes online. I share new healthy recipes on my Pinterest page, so be sure to follow me there.

Nutrition Tips for Healthy Meal Preps:

  • Follow the MyPlate method: make half your plate fruits and vegetables, have one serving of lean protein, one serving of a grain, whole grain, or starchy vegetable, and one serving of low-fat dairy.
  • Make sure to measure serving sizes so that they are the correct portion for you. Use a food scale or measuring utensils to do this. Over consuming healthy food is still bad for you.
  • Make sure to get enough protein, especially at breakfast and snacks. Often, people choose high carb/high sugar breakfasts and snacks and then they end up hungry before it’s time for the next meal. Getting enough protein can help you stay fuller longer.

Containers:

You don’t have to spend a ton of money on fancy meal prep containers. Whatever you have at home will probably work. Reusable food containers (like the ones butter and sour cream come in) and plastic baggies are staples in my house. You can also purchase some food saver containers and ones designed for meal prep such as the three compartment containers, two compartment containers, single item containers, and even small ones made for snacks, dips, and salad dressing. As long as it keeps your food safe and fresh, the container doesn’t have to be fancy.

My Current Favorite Meal Prep Recipes:

Energy Bites

Yield: 10 bites | Serving size: 2 bites

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 c nut butter (I use peanut butter)
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ c quick oats
  • 2 T mini chocolate chips
  • 2 T chopped nuts (I use pecans)

Directions:

  1. Stir together the nut butter, honey, vanilla, and salt until blended.
  2. Stir in the oats.
  3. Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts.
  4. Use a tablespoon to scoop up servings. Roll into a ball shape. You should get 10 energy bites total.
  5. Chill in fridge until you are ready to eat. Enjoy them as a quick snack.

Veggie Power Bowl

Yield: Makes one bowl (multiply recipe for number of times you want) | Serving: one bowl

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 c prepared brown rice or quinoa
  • 1 c roasted veggies of choice (sweet potato, broccoli, squash, eggplant, etc.)
  • 1/3 c canned black beans, no salt added
  • 4 oz baked chicken breast
  • 1 c sautéed leafy greens (spinach or kale)
  • Fajita or taco spice blend
  • 2 T of hummus
  • Hot sauce or salsa

Directions:

  1. Cook rice or quinoa according to package directions.
  2. To cook chicken, season both sides with the some of the spice blend and bake in the oven on 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Make sure the internal temperature reads 165 degrees to know it is done.
  3. To roast veggies, cut all veggies up to about the same size and place on a sheet pan that has been foiled and sprayed with cooking spray. Season with spice blend. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-30 minutes or until the veggies are tender (insert a fork and see if it comes out easy). TIP: You can do the chicken and veggies at the same time!
  4. Sautée the leafy greens in a pan with a little oil. It only takes a few minutes for them to wilt down.
  5. To build the bowl: put in the rice, the sautéed greens, the beans, the veggies and chicken, and top with the hummus and hot sauce or salsa. TIP: don’t put on the hummus and salsa until you are ready to eat the meal!
  6. Store in the fridge for up to 7 days. Enjoy as a lunch or dinner.

Pumpkin Lasagna Rolls

Yield: 4 servings | Serving size: 2 rolls

Ingredients:

  • 8 lasagna noodles, cooked al dente according to package directions
  • 1 c part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 c canned pumpkin puree (make sure it is plain with nothing added)
  • ½ c shredded mozzarella
  • 1 c marinara sauce (I just buy it premade in the jar)
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Sprinkle of garlic powder

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. To prepare the pan, spray a 9x9 casserole pan with cooking spray and spoon in a thin layer of marinara sauce, spreading to cover the entire bottom.
  3. Mix the pumpkin, ricotta, nutmeg, and garlic powder in a separate bowl.
  4. Once the noodles are cooked and cooled so they can be held/touched, lay them out on a cutting board that is covered in paper towel. Pat the tops dry with another paper towel.
  5. Spoon ricotta mixture onto each noodle (about 2-3 Tbsp per noodle)
  6. Spread the mixture so it covers the whole noodle and roll them up tightly. Place in the pan.
  7. Once all the rolls are in the pan, top with marinara and sprinkle with the cheese.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve with a vegetable of choice or a side salad.
  9. These make a good lunch or dinner. They will keep for 7 days in the fridge.

To get my favorite breakfast meal prep, checkout this blog post: Better Breakfasts.

I hope you have found this information on meal prepping to be helpful and hopefully you have learned something new. By following these tips, you can become a pro prepper in no time!

Stay savvy,

Katie

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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