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Meal Prep For Beginners

January 3, 2022

It’s 5 PM, and you just got off a long, tedious day at work.  You’re tired and probably looking forward to taking the night off and relaxing in your free time. Suddenly, that terrifying thought enters your mind, and you feel the familiar sinking feeling in your gut…

“What am I going to eat for dinner tonight?”

After a big day, or when you’re feeling particularly drained, cooking is the last thing on your mind. Unfortunately, you probably can’t order out for every meal either, so how do you make mealtime easier on yourself? Surprisingly, the answer comes from the world of fitness in the form of meal prep.

If you’re an avid gym member, you’ve likely heard this term before, but for the uninitiated, the concept of meal prep can sound intimidating. Don’t worry though, it’s actually pretty simple, and when done correctly, it can revolutionize your life!

In this article, we’ll go over all the basics of meal prep, including how to plan out your meals, different organization ideas to keep in mind, and even a few healthy meal prep recipes. Whether you’re looking to make your cooking life a little easier or you want a more consistent dietary structure, meal prepping can provide the solution you’re looking for!

What Is Meal Prepping?

Even if it was unintentional, you’ve probably already done some form of meal prepping before.  Have you ever packaged up the leftovers from your meal to have an easy, already made meal for the next day’s lunch? Sure, it isn’t complicated, but that’s the basic principle of meal prepping!

The only difference is that meal prepping isn’t just for leftovers; it’s for entire meals, and sometimes, whole weeks of meals! Basically, instead of deciding what you want for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, you plan it out in advance, cook all the food, and store it for convenient reheating later. It’s just that simple.

Not only will this method save you hours of indecision (and cooking), but it can also save money in the long run. By cooking and preparing all of your meals, you reduce the amount of money you spend on restaurants and takeout food, and when you know all of your meals in advance, you can optimize your grocery list for maximum savings!

To be honest, the biggest challenge of meal prepping is getting started, and that’s why we’re here to help.

Image of salmon bagel topped with Cleveland Kitchen curry kraut

How To Get Started

To begin your meal prep journey, you’ll need to figure out the answers to a few key questions.

  • Why Do You Want To Meal Prep?
  • How Far Do You Want To Plan It Out?
  • What Are Your Favorite Dishes?
  • The Why

    You can meal prep for any reason, but knowing why you’re doing something will help you stay consistent. As we mentioned before, athletes often adopt meal prepping to ensure the perfect amount of nutrients for each meal. At the same time, parents are also big fans of meal prepping because it can make family mealtimes that much easier.

    Whatever your reason, knowing it before starting will help make your meal prep experience easier.

    The How

    Now comes the next part, the meal planning! If the whole meal prep process sounds overwhelming, just scale down your ideas a little bit.  Instead of cooking enough for three meals every day of the week, maybe focus on planning the first two days.

    Start small, and work your way up to more extensive meal prepping, so you can adapt your strategy as needed.

    The What

    The final step before you start cooking is deciding what you want your meals to be! You’ll want to do some searching and figure out what aspect of meal prep is most important to you. If you want easy meal prep ideas, focus on recipes that don’t take hours to cook! If you want healthy meal prep ideas, figure out the ingredients that will work best for your nutrition goals.

    It may take a few tries to get the routine down, but just be patient, and you’ll find the best method for you.

    Image of meals prepped in mason jars

    Recipes, Containers, and Schedules

    Now that we have the preliminary details out of the way let’s talk about what weekly meal prep actually looks like! For this particular example, we’ll assume that you’re cooking meals for an entire week.

    Day 1: (Saturday)

    Start by creating an easy-to-follow visual schedule for your meals. This can be in a spreadsheet, Google Doc, or even in a journal, as long as you have each meal planned for each day of the week. Once you know what you’re making, get all the ingredients and materials you need from the store.

    Tip: Before you cook anything, make sure you have plenty of containers/Tupperware to hold all your prepared meals!

    Day 2: (Sunday)

    Though it can differ from person to person, we find that Sunday is usually the best day to get your cooking done! This is also often the most challenging part of meal prep because it can be a lot of cooking, depending on what you’re making. To make things easier, we recommend starting your meal prep journey with some more straightforward, low-energy meals to cook.

    For example, slow cooker recipes like this Crockpot Pulled Pork are perfect for meal prep because you can just toss all the ingredients in your crockpot or Instant Pot, let it sit, and voila, you have a ready to eat meal!

    You might also want to try stir-frying a meal, as this is one of the simplest stove-top cooking methods out there. Just take a chicken breast, some vegetables (onions, bell peppers, and garlic are always a good combo), and cook them in a large pan on the stovetop. Season them well, and there’s another meal at the ready!

    When everything is cooked, portion the meals into your containers for the week, and store them in order of how you will eat them throughout the week.

    Days 3-7: (Monday-Friday)

    After all your hard work, the rest of the week should be pretty straightforward! Follow your plan that you set up beforehand, and enjoy a week of easy cooking! After your first week, figure out what worked and what didn’t work for you.

    After that, you’re on the right path! Feel free to experiment with your weekly plans and figure out an excellent way to keep things fun and fresh. Even if you want to keep similar ingredients (chicken, for example), you can still change the recipes up to keep it exciting. Maybe you change your stir fry out for a chicken salad, or try your hand at making burrito bowls!

    Kraut, Kimchi, and More!

    If you feel like your meal prep bowls are still missing something, maybe all you need is a little extra flavor! Try Cleveland Kitchen’s specialty sauerkraut, kimchi, or fermented dressings to add a boost to any meal.

    Chock full of gut-boosting probiotics and in all sorts of tasty flavors, our fermented foods are sure to please! Check out our recipes page for more meal prep ideas or our blog to learn more about the benefits of fermented food!

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