Meal Prep 101

Why meal prep?
How to start
The big cook
Freezer-friendly foods
Storage
Reheating

Why meal prep?
Well, given that you are already here on this page, I’m assuming you have some interest in meal prepping. But in case you need some additional convincing about why prepping your own meals is better than eating out or picking up frozen meals from grocery store, here are some of the best meal prep benefits I’ve found:

  1. It’s cheaper. You can prep 20 dinners for around $100 total. That’s $5 per meal!
  2. You have complete control. Don’t like peppers? Don’t use them. Vegetarian? Sub meat with tofu. Love garlic? Load it on. It can be hard to find pre-made meals that cater to your exact liking. Cooking your own meals means you can eat whatever you want.
  3. You’ll waste less. Cooking for one is hard. When you don’t have a plan for the ingredients you buy at the grocery store, you can end up throwing away a lot of food and money. Knowing exactly what you’re doing with that half an avocado or pack of chicken breasts majorly reduces waste.
  4. It’s healthier. When you love food, portion control can be nearly impossible. A delicious pasta skillet meant for four is suddenly devoured in two (…or one…) sittings. Portioning out recipes and freezing them right away makes binging impossible.
  5. It saves time. Even though a big prep might take five or so hours, you are still saving time by cooking and cleaning in large batches rather than every night.
  6. Nothing is nicer than coming home from a long day and reheating something delicious. You are done in 5 minutes. Seriously.

How do I start?
Head over to the Prep Packages section for pre-curated sets of recipes. Each package contains five recipes that make four portions each (20 meals total). Assuming you eat out twice a week (dinner with a friend Tuesday and date night Friday, maybe?), that’s enough ready-to-eat meals to last you the entire month. Each package also has a grocery list with all the ingredients you’ll need to make the five recipes.

Making your own prep package is easy, too. Figure out how much you want to make of what and pull all the recipe ingredients into a grocery list.

How do I cook five recipes in one day?
There are a few ways to go about this, none of which is more right or wrong than the other. It all depends on how you like to cook.

  1. Option 1: Cook one recipe at a time. This might be good if you’re a beginner cook and don’t want to worry about dividing your attention among several recipes.
  2. Option 2: Prep everything, then cook. Chop all your vegetables, measure out ingredients, arrange everything by recipe, take a deep breath, then cook it all. The fancy French term for this is mise en place (“putting in place”), and tends to make the process feel a little more organized. And you get all the onion chopping out of the way at once. Downsides: More dishes, and you might have some idle time while you’re waiting for a burner to free up.
  3. Option 3: Just kind of go at it. This is what I normally end up doing. While one recipe is baking in the oven, you can be prepping another recipe and stirring a third on the stove. A little more experience in the kitchen is necessary for this approach.

General tips:

  1. Utilize your slow cooker. Designate your slow cooker for one recipe, throw everything in first, and then by the time you’re done cooking the other four meals, your fifth is done.
  2. Cook grains/roast things first. If you’re cooking multiple recipes at once, start by cooking grains (rice, quinoa, etc.) and roasting dense vegetables (sweet potatoes) first. Nothing throws your cooking grove off more than realizing you have to wait 40 minutes for rice to cook before you can finish the recipe.
  3. Clean as you go. Things are going to get messy. Cleaning as you go, or even stopping halfway through to do a kitchen reset will make the process feel a little less hectic and save you an anxiety attack at the end when your kitchen has transformed into a disaster zone.
  4. Freeze ASAP. The quicker your foods freeze, the smaller the ice crystals are that form on the food. And the smaller the ice crystals, the less damage it does to the food during the thawing process. Also try to limit the amount of air in your containers as much as possible.
  5. Have fun. Meal prepping can seem like a chore, but it doesn’t have to be. Put on music, catch up on TV shows, enjoy yourself. Cooking can be amazing “me” time.

What types of foods freeze well?
Pastas, grains, meats, soups, stews, high-fiber vegetables, and foods with low water content freeze very well.

What about foods that don’t freeze well?
Avoid freezing vegetables with high water content (lettuce, cucumbers), eggs, fruits, and salads.

What about raw ingredients?
In addition to cooked recipes, there are a lot of ingredients you can freeze and save for another meal prep batch. Freeze leftover raw meat (divide things like sausage and chicken breasts into individual bags so you can pull them out one at a time), cheese, and bread.

Where do I put all this food? 
I use these plastic guys for most meals and these other plastic containers for soups and higher volume meals. If you can afford it, I’d recommend glass containers, though. They’ll keep longer and you can reheat many of these meals right in the containers (yay less dishes). Then just stack everything in your freezer!

What about reheating?
Every Sunday (or whenever your week begins), remove five meals (one of each recipe) from the freezer and transfer to your fridge to defrost. The more time your food has to defrost, the better it will hold up. You might have to take Monday and Tuesday’s meals out of the fridge to defrost in your sink on those mornings. Each recipe on this site has recommendations for reheating, but the general rule of thumb is to reheat meals the same way they were cooked (skillets in a sauté pan, soups in a sauce pan, roasts in the oven/toaster oven, etc.). There is also always the microwave.

And you promise this is all worth it?
Definitely. Five or so hours on a Sunday for 20 stress-free weeknights is well-worth the time and effort it takes to meal prep.

Other questions?
Feel free to contact me!

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