In the current day and age, eating nutritious meals every day has become a challenge. Most of us haven’t had a consistent eating schedule since when we started living away from home. And this gets reflected in our health, general energy levels, and mental capacities. Since eating healthy is important for a well-balanced life, how do you manage it with a schedule that leaves you with no motivation to cook?
Meal prep to the rescue!
Meal prep is a way to organize daily cooking. It refers to planning and preparing for your meals in advance. So, when the time comes, instead of stressing about what to eat, and scrounging through your fridge and pantries for leftovers, you can treat yourself to a nutritious meal that you had prepared way ahead of time.
To prep your meals for the week, you must set out a few hours on the first couple of days of the week to plan your schedule. This is to decide the recipes you would like to have, purchase ingredients and to cut/marinate/boil/roast/cook them. You can then store these prepped ingredients or cooked food in your refrigerator, which later can be heated and had at different meal times over the course of the week.
Although meal prep involves a good deal of time, effort and organization; it is easier once you get the hang of it. Also, the outcome is stress-free nutritious meals every day, which is a rewarding experience.
We’d like to help you get the hang of meal prep. In this guide, we will discuss meal prepping in detail covering when and why you should do it, how to go about it and a few bonus tips for novice meal preppers.
Why is Meal Prep Important?
Meal prep uses tactical cooking to ease the process of eating regular nutritious meals. Here, you plan your meals according to your taste and health goals. You prepare them so that, when the time comes, it takes only a few minutes for delicious and hearty food to be ready. This greatly reduces the need or temptation for ordering takeouts; thus, helping you achieve your health goals.
For any student or young professional, meal prepping has several other benefits.
It saves time and reduces stress around eating
When meal prepping, you do not have to deal with the stressful question of “What to eat?” You do not have to brace yourself for cooking after a long day at work. You can simply follow the laid-out schedule and whip up a satisfying meal on the daily. So, even though meal prepping requires you to take a few hours out every week, it helps you organize your life efficiently.
It reduces food wastage
Overbuying and overcooking are two major reasons for food wastage. Since meal prep involves planning, purchasing and preparing ingredients, it allows you to take charge of portion control while shopping for groceries and cooking, thus reducing food wastage.
Even if you store cooked meals for the week, you will know how much the food will last you. Thus, you can plan your meals accordingly, reducing overall food wastage.
It helps you stick to a budget
Now that you are no longer eating out as much as you used to and ensuring that less food gets wasted, you save a good deal of money.
Moreover, meal prepping involves planning and preparing meals over the coming week. So, you need ingredients in bulk, which is often cheaper and more economically sustainable in the long run. More so, when you get the hang of which ingredients last you how long and which of these are the most versatile. Accordingly, you can strategize a realistic food budget that you can stick to.
It helps you achieve your nutritional goals
Meal prep is your window to plan meals based on your nutritional goals.
Want to lose weight? Plan your meals accordingly. Want to bulk up? Plan your meals accordingly. Want to go vegan? The very same mantra. Meal prepping is essentially a valuable experience to learn more about food and nutrition, and after having mastered it, you’ll find it way easier to stick to, or switch to any diet of your choice, or needs.
Who is Meal Prepping for?
If you are anyone who is struggling to eat healthy on a budget, meal prepping is for you.
Usually, college students and young professionals who are living alone do not get enough time or motivation to cook. So, this way of judicious cooking allows them to eat healthy food while saving a great deal of time and energy.
As an efficient and budget-friendly method, meal prep is also a great way for busy parents to plan out their eating schedule. It lets them feed healthy food to their kids and gives them an opportunity to bond over meals, instead of being tired and irritable because of the last-moment cooking stress that they had to undergo, making for a stressful dinner-table environment.
How can Nymble help in Meal Prepping?
You can even go a step further to relieve all kinds of stress from your kitchen environment. How is that? – By getting a private cooking robot to take care of your everyday eating. Kitchen technology has made significant strides over the years to simplify various cooking processes. We at Nymble, recognized the need to automate the process of cooking in itself, since people are busier than ever before, and often resort to an unhealthy diet in the process. But at the same time, we chose to empower users to make their own decisions; by providing a step-by-step prep guide, customizing, curating, tracking and reviewing all meals made by the cooking robot. You can access 500+ ready-to-eat recipes, spanning every cuisine and diet, and essentially exercise control over your daily meals unlike ever envisioned before.
How to Meal Prep?
If you have refrigerated a night’s dinner to eat the next day, for lunch, congratulations! You have successfully meal-prepped.
Meal prepping isn’t hard. It just needs to align with your requirements and be done in a strategic way. We have laid out a few essential steps for you to begin meal prepping and to carry it out successfully.
Define the best meal prep method for yourself
Meal prepping can be done in two ways:
Preparing ready-to-cook ingredients
This involves portioning and preparing ingredients beforehand so that you can toss them during mealtimes and whip up a quick meal. This process involves cutting and storing the vegetables, marinating proteins, mixing spices and preparing sauces.
Cooking meals in batches
This method requires you to go an extra step and cook meals beforehand. You then store them in the refrigerator or freeze them to reheat during mealtimes.
Another thing you can do is store half and fully-cooked food in meal-sized containers so that you can heat them in the oven whenever needed and go about your life as usual.
To determine which meal prep method suits you, consider your taste. If you prefer easy fixes and taste and variety is of little concern, pre-cooked meals would be ideal.
However, if you would prefer fresh meals every day, it is better for you to prep ingredients and cook during mealtimes. This is considered a better way of meal prep also because some pre-cooked meals may lose their nutritional value due to over-freezing.
Plan your meals
Now that you know the way you would like to meal prep, go through the recipe books and decide what to cook over the next week.
Consider your nutritional goals and taste preferences but also make sure to pick out the dishes for which can be prepped before time. For instance, a recipe that requires freshly cut vegetables can’t be completely prepped.
Also, make sure to pick simple recipes with overlapping ingredients so that purchasing, storing, and cooking become less complex. The best way to ensure the taste is to pick out the few recipes you like and then rotate them each week.
Lay down the ingredients and shop accordingly
Now that you have your meals planned, list the ingredients you need and head out to the nearest supermarket.
We also recommended outlining the substitutes for these ingredients in case they are not available. This way, since you have everything figured out, you won’t get distracted by wayward items and shopping will be a less time-consuming affair.
You can also go the extra mile and plan your shopping list according to the supermarket’s layout. Thus, everything you want to buy from a specific section is listed orderly, making the trip efficient.
Prepare and store
Now that you have all the ingredients at home, start preparing them!
Put aside the proteins for marination; soak up the beans; boil your pasta; prepare rice and whole grains the way you like; and then start chopping those greens into right-sized chunks. Make sure to portion everything right.
Once done, store all the prepped ingredients in the right containers. For instance, it’s better to store vegetables and fruits in airtight containers. Boiled grains, rice and pasta are better stored in glass vessels. In fact, you can put all the ingredients required for a meal into one container so that, while cooking, you have everything assembled in one place.
While preparing ingredients, you must also make dips and pickles. They are an easy way to add flavors to meals. Just make sure to date them while storing so that you know till when they are consumable.
Lastly, compartmentalize and organize the fridge and pantry. Be clear about what goes in the refrigerator and what stays out.
Cook and store
If you would like to prepare pre-cooked food for the following week, start with the items that take the longest to cook. For instance, brown rice takes time to get fully cooked so put it to boil and then go about cutting and sautéing the veggies.
Once cooked, make sure to store them in airtight containers and put them in the refrigerator. Label and date them to be mindful of till when they are fit for eating. Most recipes should not be eaten for more than 3-4 days so you might have to pre-cook twice a week.
Which foods work well with meal prepping and which do not?
Since the aim behind meal prepping is to save time and energy, you have to be mindful of what kind of food items to include. In fact, meal prepping, especially when you eat pre-cooked meals, reduces variety to a considerable extent.
So, before you start prepping your meals, let’s talk about the kinds of ingredients that go well with meal prep.
Be it fresh, leafy, starchy or frozen, vegetables can be easily diced and stored in airtight containers for three to seven days. Spinach, broccoli, kale, asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, bell peppers and cucumbers offer a good mix for stir-frying, topping and snacking.
Unlike vegetables, fruits like berries and bananas get spoiled easily and must be eaten within one to three days of purchase. Others like apples, pomegranates and citrus ones last for a few weeks once cut and stored properly. However, since fruits lose their nutritional value with each passing day, we strongly advise you to finish them in the upcoming week and get fresh ones for the next.
Whole grains and rice
You can not only stock up on quinoa, rice and oats but also soak or boil them so that they are ready for your next meal.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds fulfill your nutritional requirements with little effort so always keep them handy. Top them in your breakfast bowl or keep them in portion-sized tiffin for snacking when outside.
Marinated tofu, meat, and seafood can stay in the fridge for over 3-4 days, but frozen proteins can easily last you for the week. So, keep some seasoned proteins to toss in the oven for your next dinner. And while we are at it, why not pair it with part-skim cheese or Greek yogurt to make a protein-rich meal? Similarly, cooked food like lasagna and stew must also be frozen if needed to be consumed for a longer period.
Spices and seasonings are the essences of meal prep. They are the easiest, quickest and most versatile way to add flavor to a meal.
Now, if you would rather store pre-cooked food for the coming week, explore the type of foods which would be compatible for different meals of the day.
For breakfast, you can keep smoothies, pudding and oats in meal-sized jars to grab and go on fast-paced work mornings. Baked pancakes and roasted vegetables also go well with breakfast.
One-pot meals like pasta, stew, chicken bowls, bean noodles and rice bowls go well for lunches and dinners. They are easy to cook and readily heated.
One helpful storage tip here is to label and date each container in your refrigerator. That way, you will know when to consume what ingredients and dishes. You can go a step further by organizing the containers in order of their contents’ preparation date.
How to be consistent with Meal Prep?
Meal prep requires time and effort. Just like every other good habit, one may struggle in the beginning. So, we have a few tips to help ease the transition from indiscriminate eating to meal prep.
Instead of planning every meal, start by prepping for 2-4 recipes a week. Choose the food you like, shop its ingredients, and prep and store them for mealtimes. Practice this for a few weeks and then outstanding results will make you want to scale up.
While starting on your meal prep journey, define your weakest points. Do you rush to the office/college without breakfast every morning? Do you face the challenge of not having anything to eat after a long day? Do you want to carry lunch so that you can stop eating out?
After you have defined your weakness, start working from there. This will motivate you to stick to a workable meal prep plan.
Use recipes with overlapping ingredients when you start to scale up
Once you start planning more meals each week, focus on the recipes that have overlapping ingredients. This will make shopping and preparing ingredients more efficient and effortless.
What Items (Tools and Appliances) Do You Need for Meal Prep?
Meal prep requires an initial investment in prepping materials, cooking vessels, and storage containers.
Firstly, get sharp knives and a cutting board. They ease the arduous process of vegetable cutting, saving a good deal of prep time. Then, consider buying a large pressure cooker and saucepan; and even a baking tray if you plan on making pre-cooked meals.
Now comes the time to focus on storage. For this, you need air-tight containers of different sizes for fruits and vegetables. Try getting transparent ones that you can label with dates. This way, you will have an idea of when to prepare which dishes.
Shelf-stable items like grains, nuts and seeds can be purchased in bulk; thus, they require bigger vessels.
While figuring out what works best for you, experiment with compartmentalized containers, zip-lock bags and mason jars. You can also invest in good snack boxes to keep meal-sized portions ready.
How can Nymble help?
While meal prep streamlines the process of cooking, Nymble goes a step further by ‘doing’ the actual cooking. You just need to select the recipe and put the prepped ingredients in the right compartments. It will cook while you can commit to other chores. Not only does Nymble have 500+ nutritional recipes, from every cuisine, designed for many different diets; it also lets you customize, curate, review and track your own recipes. A highly efficient pre-cooking meal-prep plan, plus a private cooking robot in your kitchen, is indubitably the best cooking solution there is.
To conclude, with this expansive meal-prep guide, we will leave you with some pointers to gloss over that summarizes this article succinctly. Keep these tips in mind, you may even copy these to your notepads to serve as a reminder to get started on your meal-prep journey.
Meal Prep Tips for Beginners
Experimenting is the best way to find your meal prep style. Try preparing ingredients for a few meals and pre-cooking the others. Store some in large batches and some in meal-sized containers. Shift between breakfast and dinner. Try packing last night’s dinner for lunch. See what works best for you.
Stick to the basics
If you don’t have enough time or energy to prepare meals, go with the basics. Boil some brown rice, marinate some chicken and cut up the vegetables in stock. Toss them in the oven and you have a warm dinner for the next three nights.
Understand what you use the most and keep them at hand
See that you always have grains, nuts, seeds, and spices close by. Besides, figure out the ingredients you use the most such as cheese, butter, rice, vinegar, flour, avocado, broth, and so on, and stock them up. This will streamline shopping and give you a chance to save money.
Do not leave dips and sauces out of the equation
Quite a few dips and sauces will last you for more than a few weeks. Besides being a versatile way to add flavor to any food, they help ease cooking on lazy evenings.
Remember your nutritional goals
The crux here is to eat nutritious meals every day. So, ensure that even your one-pot meals are a good mix of proteins, vegetables and grains. If you follow a low-carb diet, replace grains with ample amounts of vegetables. Ensure that your meals are nutritionally balanced.
Keep a mix of home-cooked and packaged food
Packaged food forms a big part of our diet. While eating healthy requires you to cook as much at home as possible, it is better to have some packaged snacks and ready-to-eat food at hand. They offer a strong backup for the mistakes you will make as a new meal prepper.
Although meal prepping seems overwhelming at first, it is not at all difficult. In fact, once started, it gets easy and makes your life easier. So, skim through this guide again, set out a few hours and start prepping your first meal.