In your dream world—you know, the one you where you quit your job and never have errands to run—you’d cook all your own meals. You’d never pick up jelly doughnuts on the way to work, eat that overpriced lunch salad that doesn’t even taste good, or order pizza because you’re too stressed to even think about dinner.
It’s time to turn dream into reality. And all you need are two powerful, life-changing little words: meal prep. Essentially, it’s the practice of spending a few hours each week making huge batches of whole grains, proteins, veggies, and snacks, ensuring that you’re prepared to fight fast-food temptation with tasty, clean, home-cooked meals all week long. (Lose up to 15 pounds WITHOUT dieting with Eat Clean to Get Lean, our 21-day clean-eating meal plan.)
You’ve probably seen it sweeping across social networks—and you definitely want to try it. How should you get started? We spoke with three meal-prepping pros for these 7 must-know starter secrets to homemade meals all week.
1. Keep it simple.
The biggest mental hurdle of meal prep: what to actually make. Meal prepping is already complex enough, so there’s no need to complicate matters with culinary wizardry, says Sean Peters, the meal-prep master behind the blog My Body My Kitchen. Using recipes that require a trip to a separate grocery store or time poring over a cookbook will only make you less likely to stick with your meal-prep plan. (Check out what the perfect day of clean eating looks like to help you get started.) Instead, opt for the simplest of dishes. To help you, we’ve included a list of ideas at the end of this article.
2. Start with what you hate.
Always pick up breakfast on the way to work? Never have enough energy to make dinner after a long day? Your problem meal should be the one you always prep, according to Tammy Kresge of Organize Yourself Skinny. Dedicating your prep time to the meal you’re least likely to cook during the week will actually make a dent in your expensive, unhealthy takeout consumption.
3. Do whatever you can.
Just because you don’t have to time to prep every meal each day of the week doesn’t mean you should throw your hands up and skip meal prep altogether. When time is limited, Kresge recommends putting together a few mason jar salads.
4. Divide and conquer.
Many meal-prep pros do all their work on one day of the week, usually Sundays. But there’s no law mandating that you need to do this, too, Peters says. “If you’re getting into meal prep, you can become overwhelmed with trying to prep all meals in one session, so consider breaking it into two sessions,” he says. For example, cook rice and chicken (see how to easily poach a chicken here) on Saturday afternoon, then tackle roasted veggies or salad on Sunday. The most important thing is to find a schedule you’ll actually stick to, even if it means prepping more than one day per week.
5. Keep yourself interested.
The biggest downside of meal prep, of course, is eating the exact same meal multiple days in a row. But there are ways to make sure you don’t get bummed out by meal boredom, says Peters. Set aside one day in the middle of the week to cook something different than your prepped meals or consider earmarking one night per week as the day you eat out (bonus points for a restaurant you’ve never tried). Another trick: Roast five different types of chopped veggies during your meal prep session and eat a different one each day of the week.
6. Master multitasking.
If you’re new to meal prep, your instinct may be to work on one recipe at a time: baked potatoes, then quinoa, then salmon, then snacks. While that’s very logical and organized, it’s also very time consuming. Instead, try to use multiple parts of your kitchen at once. “I almost always have something baking in the oven, something cooking on the stove, something in the slow cooker, and I’m working on something at the counter all at the same time,” says Lindsay Livingston, RD, author of the blog The Lean Green Bean. “This allows you to get more done in a shorter period of time.”
7. Pick your MVPs.
After you have a few weeks of meal prep under your belt, identify a few dishes as your weekly staples, says Livingston. (For her, it’s Quinoa Breakfast Bars, Sweet Potato Bites, hard-boiled eggs, and carrot sticks.) “Prepping staples that I’ve made 100 times makes my time in the kitchen less stressful,” she says. Plus, once you’ve got some go-tos on lockdown, it’ll be easier to branch out and add variety with new recipes.