Looking for some meal prep ideas to start 2020 off on the right foot? I’ve got you covered!
Of all the new year’s resolutions people set each year, some iteration of eating more healthfully pretty much always ranks among the top ten. There are lots of different strategies you can implement to clean up your diet, but one of the most effective, in my opinion, is meal prepping.
Now, when most people look up meal prep ideas, they get a bunch of heavily curated images of perfectly portioned food placed in individual, matching containers. It’s exhausting just to look at and enough to make anyone second-guess their meal prep goals.
The good news, though, is that your meal prep efforts don’t have to be Pinterest-worthy to be effective. Here are some realistic and practical meal prep ideas brought to you by a very casual, yet very successful and consistent, meal prepper — me. These are some things I do that make the process less annoying and totally worth it.
1. Cook Things I Like to Eat
When I first starting making healthy eating a priority, I made the mistake of trying to cook foods I didn’t really enjoy just because they were healthy. I made a lot of quinoa and brown rice that I pretended to enjoy while secretly wishing I was eating, well, pretty much anything else.
These days, when I meal prep, I only cook foods I know I like. I’m not opposed to trying new recipes, not at all. However, I don’t cook them in bulk until I know I like them (and know that they reheat well or last in the fridge).
Some of my favorites include Instant Pot chicken thighs, air-fried broccoli (or any air-fried vegetable, really), and jasmine rice. Those are staples that I make on an almost weekly basis because I know I’ll eat them.
2. Batch Cook
For myself, personally, I’m not a huge fan of doing a giant meal prep session once per week. I just have no desire to spend hours upon hours in the kitchen cooking everything I’m going to eat for the week. Instead, I prefer the batch cooking approach.
When I’m making something, I don’t just make one serving. I make enough for myself and my husband to eat for a few days at a time. I still consider this meal prepping, but it’s much more realistic for my schedule (and way less overwhelming) than trying to prep everything all at once.
This allows for more flexibility, too. I don’t have a week’s worth of food that I feel pressured to eat in the next seven days, so it’s easy for me to shift things around if we decide we want to eat out one night.
3. Focus on Ingredients, Not Recipes
When I mentioned my favorite things to meal prep above, you might have noticed that I didn’t list recipes like chicken enchiladas or lasagna. That’s because I don’t really like to make recipes. I prefer to prepare individual ingredients that I can mix and match based on what I’m feeling on a particular day.
If you like the recipe approach, go for it. It feels stifling for me, though — what happens if I make lasagna on Sunday and then don’t feel like eating lasagna again that week? I’ve got a whole pan in the fridge that I need to get through, and I’ll end up having to freeze it or throw it out if I don’t force myself to eat it. That’s definitely not sustainable for me.
4. Combine It with Something I Enjoy
Meal prepping doesn’t have to be this arduous chore that you dread every week. If you hate the idea of spending time in the kitchen prepping food, try pairing it with something that you don’t hate the idea of doing. I like to meal prep while I’m catching up on podcasts or episodes of The Real Housewives of [insert your favorite city here].
The time goes by super fast when I do this because I’m engrossed in whatever I’m listening to or watching, and I actually look forward to the food prep process because I get to do something else I like along with it.
5. Season Everything
For the love of God, season your food. If you meal prep bland-ass chicken and unsalted broccoli, yeah, you’re going to hate meal prepped food. Do yourself a favor and invest in some spices.
For chicken, I like to use salt, pepper, oregano, and poultry seasoning. For broccoli, I like good old-fashioned salt and pepper. Sweet potatoes taste delicious with rosemary (plus salt and pepper, obviously), and I love sprinkling some thyme on carrots before throwing them in the air fryer.
The right seasoning can make anything taste better, and you’ll be much more inclined to actually eat the food you cook.
I’ve already talked about multitasking when it comes to pairing meal prepping with something you enjoy more than meal prepping. I also want to talk about multitasking by preparing multiple ingredients at the same time.
If at all possible, try to shrink your prep time by cooking several things at once. Have your Instant Pot or slow cooker cooking chicken while you have vegetables roasting in the oven or cook something else on the stove.
If you’re working in a small kitchen, or don’t have a lot of cooking equipment, this might not be possible, but do your best to combine tasks whenever you can.
7. Ease Into It
Having a huge list of food you want to prep can be intimidating or anxiety-inducing for some people.
If you feel daunted by meal prepping and have a hard time getting started, don’t sabotage yourself by biting off more than you can chew. Ease into the meal prep game with just one or two ingredients. Throw some chicken in the Instant Pot or slow cooker or chop up some vegetables and roast them in the oven.
Even if you only do a couple of things, you’re still way ahead of where you would be if you hadn’t done anything at all, and your future meals will be much easier to throw together.
8. Clean As I Go
Another common complaint I hear about meal prepping is the number of dishes that get dirty in the meal prep process. It’s true that meal prepping can be less-than-ideal for your kitchen sink or dishwasher.
To combat this, I try to clean as I go. I don’t actually scrub every single dish as soon as I’m done using it, but I try to at least rinse things off and put them in the dishwasher when I can so there’s less clutter and less of a pile for me to deal with when I’m finished cooking.
9. Think About Future Me
Finally, on days when I’m not feeling super motivated to meal prep, I think about future me.
As I’ve talked about in the past, I’m a Gretchen Rubin Obliger, and I’m much more likely to do something if I feel accountable to someone else.
For me, the future version of myself is a great accountability partner. I know that future me will be happy with past me for taking the time to prepare food so that, when I’m hungry, I can eat without having to take the time to cook a meal from scratch. I remind myself that I’ll feel better eating whole, unprocessed foods that I cooked myself than I will if I were to swing by In-n-Out and grab a hamburger.
I recognize that this won’t work for everyone, but it’s worth giving a try. Even if you’re not motivated by making life easier for future you, you might find that you’re motivated by something else. Figure out what that is for you and remind yourself of it when you’re thinking about skipping meal prep for the week.
Try These Meal Prep Ideas Today
There you have it — nine of my favorite meal prep ideas. If you have a goal of meal prepping this year, or if you just want to start cooking more food at home and eating out less, these tips can help. Give them a try today and let me know if they help!
What’s your favorite meal prep strategy? Comment down below and let me know!