Meal Prep the Right Way

Content by: Jamie Rinaldi, RD, MS in Applied Physiology & Nutrition

Wondering how to meal prep the right way? Confused about putting all the pieces together for healthy meals throughout the week? Read this article for tips on planning and preparing meals for a whole week. Download the infographic, save or share with others.

Meal Prep the Right Way
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Don't wait until the last minute to figure out what you are going to serve for dinner. This is what leads to less-than-ideal choices, like fast food, and waste, as the food in your kitchen goes bad. The following suggestions will help you more efficiently plan and prepare your food each week.

Follow these tips and you’ll be planning and prepping like a pro!

GATHER RECIPES
Spend some time browsing the internet for appetizing and nutritious recipes that will appeal to everyone in your household. Search by your preferred cooking methods and what cooking equipment you have (e.g. Instant Pot, air fryer, panini maker). Store recipes together in your Google Drive or Pinterest. Alternatively you can print them out and keep them in a folder or binder for easy access.

TAKE INVENTORY OF YOUR KITCHEN
Clean out and organize the refrigerator and your pantry. I'll bet you'll find some surprises! This is a good habit to practice at least monthly, so you know what's in your kitchen. Use items before they expire.

MAKE A GROCERY LIST
Check your grocery store circular for what’s on sale and write out your list. Use your meal schedule and recipes to determine what items you need to purchase, again keeping in mind what you already have. Organize your list based on where items are located in the supermarket, unless you want to spend hours shopping! Consider including some convenience items, like frozen produce and individually wrapped chicken breast fillets, to help shorten the time spent in the kitchen.

MAINTAIN A WELL-STOCKED KITCHEN
Ensure you always have the items that have long shelf lives and will be used frequently:
- Flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and baking soda
- Canned goods (beans, lentils, other vegetables, tomatoes, tuna)
- Whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, oats)
- Cooking spray, oils, and vinegars
- Honey and other sweeteners
- Nut butters
- Herbs and spices
- Bread crumbs

WRITE YOUR MEAL PLAN
Print out a blank calendar and detail your meal schedule for the week, keeping in mind the food you already have in the house. Review the recipes you will use to determine what other foods you need to obtain. Consider variety and nutrition when planning each day, your taste buds aren’t the only factor! It may help to assign a theme to each night for inspiration: Slow Cooker Sunday, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc.

MAKE PLANS FOR YOUR LEFTOVERS
It’s unlikely you will be without leftovers for an entire week. Anticipate food scraps and consider how you can repurpose them. You can transform those leftovers and freeze them for future consumption. Label and date them and keep a list of what you have.
Some ideas:
- Transforming leftover spaghetti into a pasta stir-fry or frittata.
- Using the remains of roast turkey or chicken for soup, chili, pot pies, or quesadillas.
- Making chowder with leftover seafood.
- Rolling uneaten pork or beef into tortillas for fajitas or tacos.
- Sautéing leftover rice with veggies and egg for a "fried" rice.

START YOUR FOOD PREPARATION
Starting from scratch on a daily basis is time-consuming and unnecessary. Wash and chop all your fresh produce as soon as you return from the grocery store. You may wish to even cook some of it prior to storing (roast a bunch of vegetables, for example). Store your prepared produce in air-tight containers in the refrigerator. You can also cook your proteins (poultry, fish, beef) and store them in airtight containers to grab throughout the week. Freeze whatever you won't be using within the next few days. If you're a fan of smoothies, you could prepare individual servings of ingredients (*like the fruit you just washed and chopped) in resealable plastic bags. When you're ready to make a smoothie, dump the bag of ingredients in the blender along with some almond milk, peanut butter, and ice, and you have a delicious meal ready in under a minute!