How to Meal Prep as a Beginner to Free Up Your Time

What would you do if you had 4 – 6 extra hours during the week to do whatever you wanted?

Would you start a new class? Maybe read a book? Would you finally visit that friend that’s been asking you to come over?

What if I told you that you could free up your time to do the things you enjoy the most and eat healthier at the same time?

In this post, you will learn how meal prepping can help you do exactly that!

Using these tips, you’ll be able to:

  • Meal prep with as little as 20 minutes (yes, that’s all you need),
  • Learn how to pick meal prep friendly recipes without being overwhelmed,
  • Meal prep in 5 simple steps,
  • Decrease your cooking time by up to 50%!

… And more!

Before we get started let’s discuss the two biggest myths around meal prepping.

Myth #1: Meal Prepping takes forever!

If you do a simple meal prepping search on google or social media, you will more likely see a picture that looks like the one above.

A neatly packed fridge with numerous meals for the week. All prepped into individual containers ready to use during the week.

And yes, depending on what you are cooking, this process can take a long time.

However, that is not what meal prepping is. You see, that picture above shows the final part of ONE of the many different types of meal prepping techniques you can use.

Meal prepping is any action you take to help you prepare your food in advance.

That’s it.

When you meal prep, YOU ARE IN CONTROL.

That’s right. You decide how much you want to meal prep depending on how much free time you have. There are a lot of meal prepping techniques to pick from and don’t worry we will get to the best ones for beginners later in this post.

Myth #2: I Don’t Have Enough Time to Meal Prep

This myth is the main reason why you have not reached your healthy eating goals and why you spend too much time in the kitchen trying to figure out what to eat.

Ever looked at a meal prep picture and thought to yourself,

“If only I had the time, I would give it a try.”

The truth is that you can start meal prepping with as little as 20 – 30 minutes. That’s the average time of an episode of your favorite show.

As a beginner, this is the best way to start. If you are anything like me, you have a favorite TV show or podcast, and I know you watch or listen to more than one episode at the time. This is an excellent way to repurpose your time. What a better way to meal prep while we do something you already enjoy.

Why Should You Meal Prep?

Meal prepping is the best way to eat healthier without feeling overwhelmed and deprived, and it is a time saver.

It will help you:

  • Decrease your cooking time by 50%. 6 HOURS. That’s how much time it takes me to cook during the entire week, in comparison to the near 10 – 12 hours before I began meal prepping.
  • Shorter trips to the grocery store. Instead of wasting hours at the grocery store buying things you don’t need, meal prepping will help you stay focused on only buy items needed for your prep. Most of my grocery trips are 30 minutes or less.
  • GET MORE FREE TIME! Using the extra 4 – 6 hours I’ve been able to spend more time with my husband, write more awesome content on the blog and I even enjoy more me time.

Learn How to Meal Prep in 5 Simple Steps

1. How to pick the best technique for you

As mentioned before there is an endless list of meal prepping techniques or methods to choose from. As a beginner, you should start with one of the following.

Snack Prep: This method is perfect for you if you have 20 minutes or less to prep. Make a list of your snacks (no more than 6) for the entire week. Then prep and pack them, so they are ready to eat. Pick snacks that travel well like fruits (bananas, oranges, strawberries, cherries, etc.), seed (peanuts, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds almonds, etc.) and vegetables (carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and edamame, etc.).

The Basics: If you have between 1 – 2 hours to prep this method is for you. Pick your recipes for the week, no more than 4 (that includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and prep the basic items. Cook your grains, marinate your protein and freeze your veggies. Then use the “Snack Prep” technique to prep your snacks!

Go all out: This method is perfect if you have 2 – 3 hours to meal prep and it takes more time because there are more pieces to the puzzle. First, you pick your recipes for your meals (no more than 4), then you cook your lunch and dinner for 3 – 4 days at the time. Then you use the “Snack Prep” technique to pick your snacks (no more than 6)

Tip: Pick the days and time you want to meal prep and plan your week around it. 

2. How to pick recipes that are meal prep friendly

To avoid being overwhelmed, pick recipes that are simple and easy to follow. The best recipes are those with less than 10 ingredients.

Pick recipes that use ingredients that you can reuse or that you might have at home. This will also help you cut back on the time you need at the grocery store and will save you money. Win and Win!

Here are some examples:

Overnight Oats

  • Oats (steel cut oats are good)
  • Milk (you can use almond, coconut or regular) and
  • Your favorite fruits (bananas, strawberries, peaches, and other naturally seedless fruits are good options).
  • You can also add chia seeds which are a great source of fiber and omega 3.
  • If you are a sugar addict like me, feel free to use dates or a little raw agave for sweetness (but you do not need it).

Quinoa Salad

  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa. Quinoa is a great grain to sub white or brown rice. It has a lighter feel and it is also a good source of protein.
  • Cooked black beans
  • Cooked corn
  • Chopped onions
  • Chopped bell peppers
  • A protein of your choice
  • Sea salt
  • A fresh lime

Fish and Broccoli

  • 2 oz of fish (wild caught salmon is my go to).
  • 1 cup of cooked broccoli
  • A pinch of sea salt for seasoning
  • Cilantro
  • Fresh crush peppers
  • ½ a fresh lime

Use these recipes to get your creative juices flowing and feel free to adjust them to your liking. Make sure you limit the amount of added sugar and salt you use especially if you want to lose that belly fat.

3. Make your shopping list and shop.

Once you have your recipes this step is very easy. Put all your ingredients on one list and put a star next to the ingredients you have at home. This will help you save time at the grocery store. If you want this work you have to stick to your list!

4. It’s Cooking Time

Once you have your ingredients, cook your food. If you are using meat as a protein, start by cleaning and marinating it. It will really make the flavors pop when is time to cook. Then start cooking the items that take the longest to cook, like grains. While those items cook move on to your veggies.

Tip: If you are only prepping, separate your fruits and veggies, clean them using apple cider vinegar, cut them and put them in the freezer.

5. Store and Repeat.

Once you are done prepping, store your food in the fridge using an airtight container. Most meals can stay fresh up to 5 days depending on what you are cooking. Highly recommend glass containers because they help keep the food fresh and you avoid any chemicals from leaking into your food.

The best part about meal prepping is that you can do as little or as much as you like and you can still enjoy the benefits of planning for the health you want.

Although I don’t always want to meal prep, I’ve learned that not doing it means eating unhealthy foods, spending more time in the kitchen and more money during the week. Meal prep is like wine, the more you do it, the better you will get at it.

So do not be discouraged if your fridge doesn’t look like the Instagram photos. This process is about you and what makes sense for where you are right now.

What matters most is that you start making small changes every day to help you get closer to your goals.

Your Turn

Meal prepping is such a big topic, and one post hardly scratches the surface. So now it’s your turn to let me know what to talk about next.

Do me a favor and answer this question in the comments.

What is a one burning question you have about meal prepping?

I’ll definitely use your questions to help develop more great resources for you in the future.

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Comments

  1. My concern is about food going off or not tasting ‘fresh’ 3, 4, 5 days after you’ve made and packed it. Can you make overnight oats with almond milk and fresh fruit on a Monday and them still be nice on a Friday?!

    • Hi Susie,

      Keeping the food fresh depends on what ingredients you use and where you store it. For the overnight oats, the best way to keep them fresh is to put the oats in an air tight container like mason jars, with no almond milk on the day you prep. Then add the base (almond milk) the night before you plan to eat it. If you add the oats and the almond milk it will last 2 days at best. But if you hold the milk you can still prep them and it will be very fresh when you eat it. For example, if you prep on Monday and want to eat the overnight oats on Tuesday then add the milk on Monday. But you want to eat them on Wednesday hold the milk until Tuesday.

      Let me know if you give them a try!

      • Great thank you. And with fish like salmon, do you cook that for the whole week at the start of the week?

        • Yes, I do. I am actually cooking some right now LOL. This will last you the whole week. Salmon is very low maintenance and it stays fresh. It is a great protein because it is light and you can add it to any meal! Do not forget to subscribe to the newsletter to get more tips delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up here –> https://iamhealthyfit.com/start-here/

  2. Once food has been cooked how long do you let it cool before freezing? Also if you prep uncooked food how long can you store it?

    • Hi Stacey,

      You should refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours (or within 1 hour if the temperature is over 90˚F according to foodsafety.gov.

      When dealing with uncooked foods, the answer depends on what you have. If it is vegetables and fruits those can last for months as long as they properly stored.

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