I've been meal prepping for more than two years now, and I've found that the best lessons I've learned have come from tying on my apron, getting in the kitchen, and doing it week in and week out. When it comes to meal prep, experience really is the best teacher, and I've found my groove through lots of trial and error. Looking back on everything, here are some important lessons that I've learned along the way.
There isn't a magical formula for meal prep. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. It can be helpful to see what (and how) other people meal prep for inspiration, but at the end of the day it's all about figuring out a system that works for youthat meets your needs.
Just as different routines work for different people, they can also vary from week to week. While some weeks it's helpful to cook most meals for the week ahead of time, others might involve doing just one thing at a time — like making a batch of overnight oats, marinating chicken, or chopping vegetables. I've learned to embrace a changing schedule, because I know my meal prep needs will likely fluctuate from week to week.
We often talk about weekend or Sunday meal prep, but the truth is, meal prep can happen any time of the week. The key is finding the day that's easiest to block off a chunk of time — maybe that is Sunday, but maybe it's Tuesday or Wednesday. And maybe that day fluctuates from week to week, and that's also totally OK.
Meghan also recently taught me that meal prep doesn't necessarily have to happen all at once. As a mom of two with a busy schedule, she spreads a few short meal prep sessions over the course of a couple of days.
For me, this has been a total game-changer for a more efficient meal prep routine. And as someone who loves handwritten lists, I'm surprised I haven't been doing this all along. I start by making a written, ordered list of all the tasks I plan to accomplish during meal prep. It helps me identify which foods take the longest to cook and the ingredients I'll need. And, most of all, having a game plan keeps me organized and minimizes my time in the kitchen.
I finally got around to picking up some decent meal prep storage containers last month, and I really wish I invested in them long ago. Out of equal parts laziness and procrastination, I relied on a mish-mash of old, tattered containers, many of which did not contain lids.
Whether you meal prep a little or a lot, do yourself a favor and get some good containers. Bonus points if they're freezer-, microwave-, and oven-safe.
When I started meal prepping, it always came on the heels of meal planning. The two went hand-in-hand to me. And when I briefly fell off track with meal planning, meal prep went right along with it. The truth is, though, while the two can live together, they don't have to. You can meal prep without making a meal plan. (And vice versa!)
These days, even when I don't make a full meal plan, I always prep a bunch of versatile ingredients that can easily be turned into a bunch of different meals throughout the week.
Get a refresher: What's the Difference Between Meal Planning and Meal Prep?