The term "meal prep" has become very trendy over the past few years, but it basically boils down to three components:
- Planning your meals for the entire week and selecting recipes for each
- Making a list of all groceries, and shopping for the appropriate quantities
- Preparing ingredients (such as chopping vegetables) for each meal in advance
Batch cooking, on the other hand, takes it a step further and includes preparing large quantities of a recipe – or a specific ingredient that will be used in multiple recipes such as rice – in advanced so you only need to heat and/or defrost before eating. The most efficient meal planning generally involves both meal prepping and some batch cooking, but it all depends on your selected recipes and needs.
Both meal prepping and batch cooking require a lot of planning and organization. Searching for recipes, scheduling meals, compiling a shopping list, and preparing a week's worth of food at once may seem overwhelming and time-consuming at first, but it will quickly get easier. Plus, you'll immediately find that the upfront time investment pays off as the week progresses.
Ready to give it a try? Follow these tips to set yourself up for success:
- Start small. While meal prepping and batch cooking can be used for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it's best to start with just one meal until you get the hang of it. Dinner is usually the easiest place to start – and since it usually involves more cooking, it's where you'll see the most reward for your efforts.
- Assemble storage supplies. Invest in clear storage containers that can hold portioned ingredients and cooked meals. Make sure they are freezer and microwave safe. Also make sure you have cling wrap, aluminum foil, and food storage bags available. Clear out space in your refrigerator and freezer. You'll need plenty of space for all of those storage containers!
- Look for recipes that share the same ingredients. If you can use the same ingredient in two or more recipes, you'll save more time and money. Grains, tomatoes, leafy greens, chicken, ground beef, and eggs are just a few examples of ingredients that can easily be used multiple times.
- Plan around the shelf life of ingredients. Ideally, you'll want to shop just once a week, so you'll need to plan carefully for perishable ingredients that won't be incorporated into frozen meals, such as produce for fresh salad. Plan meals that use more delicate produce for earlier in the week, while longer lasting items such as kale and cabbage can go into meals at the end of the week.
- Try recipes you can easily double or triple. If you're making a family favorite and you have enough room in the freezer, double or triple the recipe and enjoy the time-saving benefit for weeks to come. Just keep in mind that not all meals can be successfully without affecting the taste or texture. Look on Pinterest or Instagram for hundreds of batch cooking, freezer-friendly recipes.
- Label containers clearly. Include contents, heating instructions, and a "use by" date on each container. Keep an updated list of prepared meals to help with weekly planning.
This article first appeared in the September 2023 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.