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Healthy Meal Prepping for Beginners: A Foolproof Guide

By Elisa - Jenny Craig Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, R.D. Expert Reviewed

Interested in healthy meal prepping? Not sure where to start? While coming up with healthy meal prep ideas might seem like a daunting task — we promise it can be simple and fun (seriously)! To help you get going, we’ve created a foolproof guide to meal prep like a pro in no time.

 

Read on to learn about the health benefits of meal prepping and simple ways to get started today. 

What is meal prepping?

In a nutshell, meal prepping involves preparing your meals and snacks ahead of time. You can prep for a few days or the entire week depending on how much time you have. There are a variety of reasons you might want to meal prep — from saving time during the week to eating healthier.

5 benefits of healthy meal prepping

Start meal prepping consistently and you might be surprised by some of the benefits that come along with it.

1. You could improve your diet

Research shows planning your meals ahead of time could boost your intake of quality, healthy foods.1 One study of over 50,000 adults found that individuals who planned their meals were more likely to follow nutritional guidelines and more likely to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables compared to non-meal planners.1 The reason? The researchers hypothesize that people who plan their meals tend to make more diverse recipes and grocery shop for those specific ingredients. 

Photo by Neustockimages on iStock

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2. You might lose weight

It’s happened to all of us: You’re leaving work after a long, exhausting day when hunger strikes. So you hit your favorite burger joint on the way home to quell your grumbling stomach. While grabbing takeout once in a while is fine, doing so regularly can contribute to weight gain. We get it: Fast food can sometimes be the easiest and most accessible option. Here’s where meal prep for weight loss can help. If you have healthier food options on hand (like an apple with some almonds), you might be more likely to pass the drive-through on your way home.

 

3. You could save time

Setting aside a few hours to meal prep on the weekend could save you immeasurable amounts of time during the week. When your breakfast, lunch and dinner are ready to go — you don’t have to worry about coming up with recipe ideas, spending time looking for ingredients and running to the grocery store for last-minute items. 

 

4. You might save some dough

Planning and making your meals at home could do wonders for your wallet: A 2017 study found that you could save $2 a day just by cooking at home more often.2,3 What’s more, when you know which meals you’re going to prepare for the week, you can buy more items in bulk (think oats, pasta, nuts, etc.). If you want to really get strategic about saving some cash, plan your meals around what’s on sale at the grocery store. 

 

5. You could feel less stressed

Ever worry about what to make for dinner? Kids won’t stop nagging you about their next meal? Coming up with creative recipe ideas every night can be stressful! By planning your meals in advance, you’ll take the guesswork out of the week ahead. No need to stress — you’ve got your menu plan ready.  

How to start meal prepping – a beginner’s guide

Ready to start healthy meal prepping? Follow these simple steps.

 

1. Make a plan

Before you rush to the grocery store or start to cook all of the food in your kitchen, map out your plan for the week. Depending on your needs, you may not need to prepare as many meals as you think. Remember, you can always use leftovers from dinner for the following day’s lunch! Here are a few idea starters to get going:

 

 

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Monday

Overnight oats with fruit

 

Tuna sandwich + apple

Taco night

Tuesday

Egg bites with vegetables

Taco salad (use leftover taco fixings)

Vegetable lasagna with a side salad

Wednesday

Oatmeal or cereal with fruit

Leftover lasagna + side salad  

Rice bowl with chicken & vegetables

Thursday

Egg bites with vegetables

Greek salad with leftover chicken

Whole wheat pasta with vegetables

Friday

Healthy French toast with fruit

Pasta with veggies and lean protein

Chicken with roasted potatoes and asparagus

Saturday

Breakfast tacos with eggs and cheese

Chicken sandwich + carrot sticks

Salmon with grilled vegetables and brown rice

Sunday

Yogurt parfait with fruit and cereal topping

Salad with tuna

Beef with mixed vegetables and cauliflower mash

 

As you can see, many of the meals share similar ingredients. There’s no need to make vastly different meals every day — healthy staples including vegetables and whole grains can be used in an array of dishes.

 

 

2. Create a list

Now that you’ve got your plan — it’s time to list the ingredients you need. Using our example meal plan above, here’s our simplified grocery list.

Note: Spices, salad dressing, healthy oils and other condiments are not included on this list.

 

Non-perishable foods

  • Brown rice
  • Frozen fruit (blueberries, raspberries, peaches, etc.)
  • Frozen vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, peas, etc.)
  • Quick oats
  • Whole wheat pasta

 

Produce

  • Fruit (apples, oranges)
  • Non-starchy vegetables (asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini)
  • Starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, chickpeas, corn)

 

Meat/Fish

  • Fish (canned tuna and salmon)
  • Lean cuts of beef (sirloin steak)
  • Skinless chicken breast

 

Dairy/Other

  • Corn tortillas
  • Eggs
  • Nonfat milk
  • Nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • Whole wheat bread

 

3. Grocery shop

You’ve got your list, so it’s time to hit the store! To help you stay on track, try to grocery shop when you’re not hungry (otherwise you might be tempted to add sweet treats and other not-so-healthy options into your cart!).  Put your list on your phone or write it on a piece of paper to easily track what you need.

 

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Pro tip: To avoid crowds, visit the store early in the morning or later in the evening.

 

Photo by nrd on Unsplash

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4. Rinse, chop & cook

Now that you’ve got all your supplies for the week, it’s time to start healthy meal prepping! Begin by washing your produce and chopping any vegetables for various salads and main courses.  

 

You don’t have to make all your meals at once, but you can prepare enough food so you can throw ingredients together in a pinch. For example, you could grill all of your lean protein and freeze what you don’t need until later in the week. So when Friday night rolls around, all you have to do is defrost your chicken breasts and grab some pre-cooked vegetables for dinner!

 

A few other healthy meal prep ideas:

  • Cook a few cups of quinoa or brown rice and portion out servings for the week. Or, keep it in one container and use it to serve family-style meals.
  • Sauté vegetables that are easy to reheat without getting too mushy. Examples include bell peppers, onion, asparagus and mushrooms.
  • Try blanching your vegetables to preserve their crunch. Here’s how: Partially cook vegetables in a skillet. Then, immediately put them in cold water — but only for a short amount of time. The cold water will stop the cooking but preserve the flavor of the vegetables. Remove the vegetables from the cold water and store. Some of the best veggies to blanch include carrots, cauliflower, asparagus and snap peas.
  • Make egg bite muffins for a quick and healthy breakfast. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Sauté your favorite veggies (great options include spinach, red pepper and mushrooms) until tender. Whisk 5 eggs, sautéed vegetables, a splash of nonfat milk and your favorite spices in a bowl. Pour into muffin containers (use muffin liners or spray with a little bit of olive oil) and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Makes 12 servings.  

 

5. Store for easy access

You’ve got all your food prepared: Now it’s time to store it so it’s easily accessible throughout the week! Here are a few of our favorite ideas:

  • Pack snack bags with chopped vegetables that are easy to grab on your way out the door.
  • Put oats, milk and a dash of cinnamon into mason jars for a quick grab-and-go breakfast. 
  • Freeze meals you can take with you to work.
  • Make a bento box filled with chopped veggies, lean protein and a healthy starch for an easy lunch option.


There are lots of different meal prep containers out there — so buy the ones that work best for you.

Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash

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5. Stick to your plan

Making long-lasting changes takes practice and healthy meal prepping is no exception. While it might take you a few weeks to get the hang of things and to figure out what works best for you, stick with it. We bet overtime, you’ll love the convenience and health benefits that come along with preparing your meals at home and ahead of time.

 

No time to dream up healthy meal prep ideas? Jenny Craig’s got you covered. Get delicious chef-crafted meals delivered straight to your doorstep — no meal prep required. Get started with budget-friendly plans for as little as $12.99 a day. View menu plans now.

 

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Sources:

[1] https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7

[2] https://www.aicr.org/resources/blog/study-healthy-foods-prepared-at-home-save-money-and-boost-diet-quality/

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28256283/

 

Elisa Hoffman

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Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. An endurance sports enthusiast, she is usually swimming in the pool, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Chico. 

 

Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple

 

 

Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN

 

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Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs. 

 

Favorite healthy snack: Peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!) 

 

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This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.

 

Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content.

 

All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.

 

Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig


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