If you need some healthy meal prep ideas for the week and tips to help you make it happen, pull up a chair, and grab a pen and pad- you’ll want to take notes!
When it comes to meal prepping, most people picture a full-blown 5 recipe cooking session that destroys the kitchen and takes up half your Sunday.
But if there’s anything that I’ve learned from creating healthy meal plans for thousands of MOMables customers for more than a decade is that having a plan and the right recipes is EVERYTHING.
And, you don’t have to cook all 5 meals at once. I promise!
Why I Meal Prep
The time spent chopping, mixing, and preparing foods ahead of time will save you at least 5 hours on those busy and crazy weeknights.
So instead of rushing home to cook dinner at 6 o’clock or worse, going through the drive-thru because you have nothing prepared; dinner was taken care of 2 days ago, and all you need to do is warm it up or assemble!
Plus, pre-packing lunches days ahead opens up more time in your morning or evening schedule to devote somewhere else, for me that’s a hot bath in the evening.
So are those few hours devoted to prepping meals on the weekend worth the work? A THOUSAND TIMES, YES!
How to Start Meal Prepping
Start with a plan! Wherever you are starting at, take some time to select the amount and type of meals you want to make. From there create a shopping list (or you could get a meal plan to do both for you). Once you know what to cook, grab the ingredients, bring them home and prep away! Let’s break our meal prep process down bit by bit:
1. Get a Meal Schedule
You can start with 2 or 3 days worth of meals and be work up to 5, whatever you feel most comfortable with.
I recommend planning your meals around what you already have in your fridge and pantry, but more on this later.
After you select the recipes you’d like to make, choose the day you plan to serve those meals. Usually, I plan for Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday meals, this way we can do a leftover night on Wednesdays and Fridays #nofoodgetsleftbehind. Weekends are usually an open door for family events or whatever we’re in the mood for.
2. Check the Pantry
Once you know the recipes, create a shopping list but not without checking the pantry first!
Most of us have at least 2 to 3 meals worth of food in our fridge and pantry, so if you find a pound of beef, a couple of cans of tomatoes, and some pasta- you’re all set for the American Goulash or halfway to a pot of homemade Taco Soup.
3. Grocery shop
Self-explanatory. Whether you order it online to pick it up, have your food delivered, or hit three stores over the weekend… everyone has to buy food at some point.
4. Break it Down
From here you’ll need to break each recipe down into small tasks such as boiling pasta, cooking rice, cleaning, chopping, and marinating your meats are all things that can easily be done days ahead and refrigerated for when ready to use.
This step is optional, but cooking 1 to 2 meals ahead of time goes a long way during busy weeknights. Most fully cooked meals will last 2-3 days in the fridge so plan to eat those dishes at the beginning of the week.
Creating Your Meal Prep Schedule for the Week
Having a plan can help tackle meal prep and save lots of cooking time throughout the week. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re looking for insight on how to create a meal schedule, and it’s easy!
Select 2 or 3 meals in which you plan to cook ahead, this could be lunch, dinner, or both. I recommend making recipes you are comfortable with and can last 2 to 3 days in the fridge, I’ll list examples below this section.
But before we move on, I want to give an example of what I mean, in picture form, using the meal map and meal prep guide from one of the MOMables Weekly Dinner Meal Plans, so check those out below to get an idea of what selecting meals and breaking it down looks like:
Also, if you don’t have them already, invest in some quality meal prep containers! They’re total life-savers and make packing all that hard-earned food to the office possible.
Fun and cute doesn’t always mean best, trust me, I’ve learned the hard way! It’s best to choose practical containers that will hold up well and can fit a reasonable amount of food.
That being said, you can also keep in mind what kind of meals like you like to eat.
Thanks to the multiple compartments these are great for bento/bistro-style lunches with multiple wet and dry ingredients like crackers, fruit, deli meats, and sliced veggies.
These are ideal for those rice, chicken, and vegetable meals or a sandwich and sliced fruit.
Prep Naturals Glass Meal Prep
And if you’re a glass dish lover, these come in handy and the lock-lid offers extra protection against leaks and spills.
Healthy Meal Prep Recipes
Now! On to the good part- the meal prep recipes! I’m including ideas you can meal prep for dinner as well as breakfast and lunches that can be made and packed ahead of time. All meals are good for up to 3 days in the fridge and most are freezer-friendly, I’ll let you know which ones aren’t.
Meal Prep Ideas for Breakfast
Recipe: Pancakes & Waffles
If you already make these for Saturdays and Sundays, go ahead and double the batch, and freeze the extra. The morning you plan to eat, remove them from the freezer, and toast in the oven.
Recipe: Banana Split Overnight Oats
We have several recipes for these oats, and true to their name, they can be made the night before and set soak into a creamy bowl of oats. If you’re new to these start off with the Bananas foster, Apple Pie, or Peaches and Cream. Also, don’t freeze these, enjoying them the morning after they soak is best.
Recipe: Blueberry Oatmeal Bake
This is an easy, recipe that the whole family will love. To make it I measure out the dry ingredients and place those inside my 9×9 dish. In my blender jar, I combine all the wet ingredients and place that in the refrigerator. In the morning, I combine the two, add the blueberries and bake!
Recipe: Egg McMuffins
If you have English muffins, eggs, ham, and cheese- there is no need to drive-thru the golden arches, these breakfast sandwiches are super easy and made for your freezer.
Meal Prep Ideas for Lunch
Just a quick note: I don’t recommend freezing any salads, pasta, fresh vegetables, or the mini quiches. Basically, you can freeze the chicken power bowls and that’s it. More lunch meal prep ideas here.
Recipe: Cali Lunch Box
What I love is that there’s nothing to heat up, assemble, or put together. It’s a healthy grab-and-go option for when I just want to get out the door fast and I can easily pack it ahead of time.
Recipe: Cobb Pasta Salad
A FAVORITE make-ahead lunch is this pasta salad! Chopped deli meat, tomato, and avocado tossed with Ranch dressing and pasta- it’s super easy and tastes even better the next day. If you do pack this ahead, plan to eat it early in the week, this doesn’t do well after 2 days.
Recipe: Chicken & Hummus Bistro Box
For all of you bistro box lovers, this is an easy to assemble the meal and requires minimal cooking. I like to make these with leftovers from the Chicken Flatbread Bar, that way the chicken is already cooked, and items like cucumber, feta, and pita are already onhand.
Recipe: Recipe: Spinach & Bacon Mini Quiches
These can double as breakfast or lunch but they’re super easy to prepare in large batches and satisfy a multitude of tastes.
Meal Prep Ideas for Dinner
Recipe: Chicken Farro Bowls
While you cook the farro, marinate the chicken and chop the veggies, it’s multi-tasking at it’s best and dinner is semi-ready for later in the week.
Recipe: All American Beef Tacos
Cook the beef in taco seasoning, prep the taco toppings, and store everything in airtight containers for up to 2 days. When Taco Tuesday rolls around, reheat the meat, assemble the toppings, and get the party started.
Recipe: All Meat & Veggie Chili
The recipe that went viral and for good reason. IT’S. THE. BOMB! There’s also a slow-cooker version if you want to make it midweek, but I recommend doubling batching so you can enjoy it one night for dinner and use the leftovers for lunches.
Anything you don’t eat can be frozen into single-serve portions and stowed away for 2 months.
To reheat from frozen, remove the container from the freezer and defrost in the fridge overnight. Reheat in the microwave or transfer to a medium saucepan and heat on the stovetop.
Recipe: Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken
Cook this recipe ahead and use half to make tacos and the rest to top prebaked sweet potatoes, like this recipe. To prep ahead, combine all the ingredients in the slow cooker, cover with a lid, and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, set it to cook, and dinner is done!
Recipe: Asian Beef & Broccoli
Cook the rice, chop the broccoli and marinate the meat in the slow cooker. The next day, set the beef to cook and come dinner time, steam the broccoli, warm the rice, and dish up.
Frequently Asked Questions about Meal Prep
Before we wrap things up, let’s have a little Meal Prep Q&A!
How Far in Advance Can You Meal Prep?
Cooked food will last up to 3-5 days in the fridge and up to a month in the freezer, you can check specific times for different types of food here.
However, I recommend making enough food for 5 days, and freezing the meals you plan to eat later in the week. Anything you plan to eat within 3 days, you can store in the fridge.
E.g: If you prepare a large batch of chicken stir-fry with rice and Paleo chili to pack for lunches. After you divide the food between lunch containers, stow away 2 in the fridge and freeze the rest. When you finish the 2 in the fridge, remove 2 more containers from the freezer and defrost in the fridge overnight. Repeat the process as necessary.
Is it Safe to Reheat Food?
Yes!!! I like to store food in glass or BPA-free plastic containers for a quick and easy reheat in the microwave.
Does Meal Prepping save money?
Great question, and my answer is: it depends. If you usually eat out as a family several times a week, then a switch to homecooked meals and lunches will definitely save money.
But keep in mind, when you commit to meal prep, and go to you’re local grocery store with a shopping list in hand, you’re likely to spend more money. This isn’t being irresponsible, naturally, if you plan to eat out less, then you’ll need extra items to cook homemade meals, so those few extra dollars spent at the grocery store, save money in the long haul.
Can you Meal Prep for a Whole Week?
That’s the joy of meal prep, you can get a head start on all you’re meals which leaves you with more free time in the week.Print