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Meal Prep Guide: How to Meal Prep for Beginners

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Are you one of those folks that constantly forget to eat? Or maybe you know you're supposed to eat, but you either a) didn't bring your food b) just decided to eat out because of whatever or c) weren't prepared? I've totally been there and I'm just gonna say that meal prep has saved my butt more times than I care to count.

When you prep your meals ahead of time you don't have to worry about what you're going to eat if you have all the ingredients or if you're going to eat at all!

You take the guesswork out of all of it.

But…

  • Maybe you're not sure how to get started.
  • You're confused.
  • You're not sure what to fix.
  • And you're not sure how much to fix.

We're going to go over all of that in this article :).

What is Meal Prepping?

image of two meal prep containers with chicken, rice, green beans, broccoli, and avocado

Meal prep is the act of preparing your meals ahead of time. Doesn't matter for how long, just as long as it's prepped ahead.

You can meal prep for lunch the next day, the next few days or all week. There's no right or wrong here.

Be careful though with how far out you make your meals. Most foods will only generally last up to 4 days cooked in the refrigerator. So, prepare for that and freeze any meals that are for later in the week.

Typically, you'll make a meal plan (however many meals you eat a day over a 7 day period) and map out what meals you'll be eating/making.

Then, one day a week – or two days or three days – you'll prepare all your meals for that timespan. This cuts down on how much you actually have to cook each week and saves you loads of time that you could be doing something else you love. Like maybe catching up on Game of Thrones (which I totally need to do *insert facepalm*).

Once your meals are prepped you get to pop them in the fridge and woohoo you're done for however long you prepped meals for!

You might also want like these posts:

How to Meal Prep For Beginners

two meal prep containers with chicken, coleslaw, and rice

Getting started with prepping your meals can be overwhelming. You have to figure out what you're going to eat, how many meals you're making and so much more.

Don't let the many questions get you down. Once you find your grove it gets easier to plan your meals. You'll be able to create your meal prep plan in a matter of minutes after you get started.

The key is knowing what meals you really like or want to try.

But, it's best to make a full plan rather than going at it half cocked. Believe me… I know.

Let's get started.

1 Create Your Meal Prep Plan

Here are some things you need to determine when you start making your plan.

How many meals will you eat daily?

Are you going to eat 3 meals a day, 4 meals, 5 or 6 meals?

How many meals will you prep vs how many will you make at home?

Once you know how many meals you're going to prep ahead you need to figure out how many meals you're going to prep. Will dinner always be made at home? What about breakfast?

Knowing these things will help you figure out what meals you have to prep ahead. You'll be able to figure out how many meal prep recipes you need to find or how many of each you'll use.

How many days will you prep ahead?

You can go about this one of two ways really. You can prep the entire weeks worth of meals/meats/veggies OR you can do a few days at a time (you choose how many).

Personally, I find that making 3-4 days at a time is best for me. Mostly because I don't want to freeze my meals. I'd rather have them all in the fridge rather than taking up precious space in the freezer.

This means I'm making enough food at least for 3-4 days of meals. And, for me, that's about 4 meals a day or 12-16 meals. I can fit about 3 stacked meal prep containers on a shelf height wise and can fit them two rows deep. So I only need about one shelf for 3-4 days.

What meals will you prep?

two meal prep containers with chicken, salad and avocados

Now's the fun part. You get to decide what you'll be eating during the week.

Keep this super simple. It will save you a headache.

If you're ok with eating meals on repeat then I would choose a few to batch prep for the week. I tend to choose 2-3 meals that I can prep a bunch of. This means meals that I can make cheaply, but still healthy.

My go-to's are chicken, ground beef/turkey, and shrimp.

Then for veggie sides, I usually choose asparagus, salad, and zucchini. And my carbs are typically rice… because, you know, rice is cheap and all that.

2 Create Your Shopping List

Now that you have your meals all planned out it's time to make your shopping list.

I usually break my list down by area of the grocery store. It's easier and I can hit the dry goods first rather than getting cold stuff and then dry goods.

So, my list is usually like this:

  1. Aisle foods
  2. Dairy/Eggs/Cheese
  3. Meats
  4. Veggies

This helps me because of the way our store is set up. I start in the aisles and then make my way to the back of the store then around to the front. I end at the front and can easily get to the register without making irrational purchases.

Anyway, I digress, look at your meals and tally up how much you'll need of each item.

Write it all down so you know what to get and you won't be tempted to get extras.

3 Figure Out What Day You'll Meal Prep

Generally speaking, people prep on Sunday. But, figure out what day would be best for you.

I don't have weekends off so I usually pick a random day after payday to go shopping and then prep the next day.

Maybe you're in a similar position? Or maybe you can shop on Saturday and prep on Sunday before your work week?

Whatever works best for you, choose a day and then shop appropriately.

4 Go Shopping for Your Food

You know your meal prep recipes, you've got your meal prep shopping list, and you know what day you're prepping!

Time to go shopping.

Get everything on your list and nothing more. This will help you keep on track.

5 Meal Prep Day

three meal prep containers with meat balls, brown rice and broccoli

So, prepping all your food in one day can be a bit of a cluster. Which is why you need to figure out what order you're cooking things in.

Batch Cook & Chop

It's good to batch cook different things like meats, root veggies, softer veggies, sauces, and so on.

You can cook meats and root veggies at the same time because they cook for roughly the same amount of time. Then, you can cook things on the stove top (like ground beef/turkey/chicken) while boiling noodles or making a sauce. On top of that, if you have a rice cooker you can be making your rice as well.

If you have an Instapot you can cook rice then clean it out and pressure cook chicken. Easy.

I like to chop all my veggies up in one sitting. So, onions, peppers, and carrots, potatoes, etc. I chop all at once and put them in separate dishes so I have them when I need them.

Having things separated out by meal type and ingredient type is super helpful.

Assemble Meal Prep Containers

Once you have all your ingredients cooked its time to assemble your meals.

You can either have single section dishes, two-section dishes or three section dishes. There are some other fancy types of dishes that are stainless steel, but I prefer the plastic ones or glass dishes because they stack well and, for the plastic ones, they store well using less space.

After you've assembled them you can just pop them in the fridge and you're good to go. If you prepped for the entire week then you should store 3-4 days worth of food in the freezer so it doesn't spoil.

Meal Prep Storage Containers

There are many, many different types of meal prep containers you can use. And, honestly, it will really depend on you and what you like.

For me, personally, I use a combination of the things right here. I bought the Isobag and some of the Iso meal prep containers. But, I also have some of the Freshware containers too. I like both types of containers, but I really love my bag. It's pricey and, yes, there are cheaper ones out there, but this one is made in the USA and keeps the food cold for 12 hours.

There are meal prep containers at Walmart you can use, but I never really liked them all that much. Maybe I'm just super picky though.

Here are some more options from Amazon that I've heard friends have used…

Whatever you choose, just make sure you're happy and that you'll be ok using them… well, forever. Ok, you might replace them at one point, but knowing what brand you like the most and what type makes it easy to reorder new ones :).

Weekday Meal Prep Template

I figured you might like to see what at least a meal prep for weekdays might look like so here you go. It does NOT include a shopping list. Mainly because this is an example and you may hate every meal on here, and I threw it together really quick.

It should give you an idea of how to build your own meal plan for your meal prep goals.

Also, decide whether you're going to take into account if you have family that you cook for! Will you cook the same meals for them that you make for yourself? If so, you might want to double the meals or something like that.

*note: click the links in the template to go to the recipe pages 🙂 Also… on mobile, twist your phone to view dinner meals

WeekdayBreakfastLunchDinner
MondayMake Ahead Breakfast BowlsLemon Roasted SalmonSpring Roll Bowl
TuesdayBanana and Chocolate Chip Baked Oatmeal CupsSpring Roll BowlLemon Roasted Salmon
WednesdayMake Ahead Breakfast BowlsLemon Roasted SalmonOn-The-Go Tuna Lettuce Wraps (2 Ways)
Thursday Banana and Chocolate Chip Baked Oatmeal CupsOn-The-Go Tuna Lettuce Wraps (2 Ways)Taco Bowls
FridayMake Ahead Breakfast BowlsTaco BowlsSpring Roll Bowl

How are you feeling about all this?

You ready to get started with your meal prep journey? Don't let it overwhelm you.

Once you get a system in place you'll be able to fly through meal prep days and relax the rest of the week. It's pretty amazing how much stress comes off your shoulders when you can reach in the fridge and reheat a meal.

No fuss or thinking about what you'll eat for an endless amount of time.

Don't forget to pin this post for later!

meal prep container with chicken, coleslaw and quinoa

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