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10 Easy Meal Prep Tips from a Registered Dietitian

March 30, 2024

I’m a registered dietitian, and also the author of three best-selling meal prep cookbooks, one of which is for people living with diabetes. I learned how to meal prep from my grandmother, who used to stock the freezer for my grandfather before her annual month-long trip to see her sisters abroad. And let me tell you, my grandfather never ate better. From my childhood experience helping my grandmother, and then as an adult and single mother of three kids, I became the master of easy meal prep.

Between my cookbooks and personal experience, I’ve learned what works (and what doesn’t) when meal prepping. Here are my top tips for easy meal prep to streamline your time in the kitchen.

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1.       Start slow

Meal prepping isn’t a marathon cook-off where you make every single dish for every meal of the week. Leave that for the social media gurus. Start slow until you get the hang of meal prepping. Cook just a few dishes for the meals you really need. For example, if you find that you have no time at night to make dinner and you end up ordering in a lot, then choose dinner. Or, you may find that healthy lunches are the biggest challenge for you. Do what works best for you and your lifestyle. As you get the hang of it, you can add one or two more dishes, if you want to.

2.       Use a shopping list 

The point of meal prep is to save time, and that means not making multiple trips to the grocery store. Without a list you’ll surely forget something. It’s worth the investment of a few minutes to make a list before you go. Pro tip: Organize your shopping list according to the flow of the supermarket. This can speed up your shopping experience, and minimize the annoyance of having to circle back to the first aisle when you’re about to check out.

3.       Double check the pantry

Speaking of making your shopping list, make sure you check the pantry carefully, as well as the fridge and freezer. Meal prepping is supposed to help you keep food costs under control. Buying something you already have means spending money you don’t need to — plus, it also contributes to pantry clutter, which makes the whole process harder. How many times have you thought you were out of tomato sauce, for example, only to realize you already have two jars in the back of the pantry? 

4.       Easy meal prep can mean more than once/week 

I find that it’s tough for me to spend an entire Sunday in the kitchen, because my kids have many activities. If you find that your weekends are pretty booked, then you can prep for shorter sessions two days a week. Take a few hours over the weekend and then again on a lighter weeknight (for me that’s Wednesday). Meal prepping is supposed to make your life easier, so determine what works for you and your lifestyle.

5.       Don’t leave things for the last minute

Selecting recipes, grocery shopping, and cooking meals all take time. Don’t leave it all for one day — spread it out throughout a few days. If you’re meal prepping for a few hours on Sunday, then choose recipes and create your shopping list on Friday, go food shopping on Saturday, and cook on Sunday. That way, you’re not stuck for an entire day doing everything, and it allows time for those last-minute tasks and events that always come up on weekends.

6.       Portion your food before storing

Let’s say you make a batch of chili that should last for 8 meals. If you don’t portion it into containers, you know that eighth meal is going to be a much smaller portion than the others (if it’s even there at all). Take a moment to evenly portion food out into separate containers before refrigerating or freezing.

7.       Have enough containers on hand

Speaking of containers, purchase enough for the week, and keep additional containers for freezing extra food. Here’s what you want in your containers for easy meal prep:

  • Single or multi-compartments (or a combination), based on your preference
  • Stackable 
  • BPA-free 
  • Microwave safe 
  • Freezer safe 
  • Leak proof  

You may need to try a few brands before you find the one you love.

8.       Be mindful of storage times

An important part of meal prepping is planning how and when to use what you’ve made. In terms of food safety, you shouldn’t store cooked foods in the refrigerator for more than 4 days. If you want to prepare more food than you’ll use in that time (or you get overzealous and do it by accident), then freeze it; it’s good for up to 2 months. To reheat refrigerated food, microwave it for 1 to 2 minutes on high, stirring halfway through. (If your storage containers are not microwave-safe, transfer the food to a plate or bowl that is.) You can also reheat food on the stovetop or in the oven.

9.       Add defrosting to your easy meal prep

Having those extra meals in the freezer is a gift on busy weeknights. When planning your meals for the week, note when you’ll need to defrost them in order to do it safely. The day before you plan to eat the meal, transfer it to the refrigerator to defrost. The next day, you can reheat it using any of the methods listed above. It’s not safe to defrost at room temperature.

10.   Build a collection of recipes

Once you meal prep a dish you like, keep the recipe and build a collection you can easily rotate through. Once you cook a dish numerous times, it gets easier. Plus, once you’re familiar with a dish, you’ll feel more comfortable making substitutions, such as using a different vegetable or changing up a spice, based on what you have on hand.

Read next: 5 Must-Have Kitchen Tools for Healthy Meal Prep 


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