Want to learn how to food prep but feeling overwhelmed? Here are 5 simple how to food prep tips for beginners to help you get started.
As a dietitian, I’m often asked for advice about how to live a healthier lifestyle. Many times the questions come from busy people who have good intentions, but just can’t seem to find enough hours in the day to sleep enough, work hard, exercise AND eat well. My number one suggestion for people who are having trouble staying on track during the week is to learn how to food prep.
Food prep is probably the most under-rated, under-utilized healthy living tool. Making it a habit to spend even just one hour on the weekend to prep food can make a huge difference in your food choices during the upcoming week.
How To Food Prep
If the thought of learning how to food prep overwhelms you, start small. You can ease into food prep by simply washing and chopping a few fruits and vegetables and making some trail mix and hard boiled eggs to snack on. As it becomes more of a habit, try throwing some chicken or steak on the grill to eat throughout the week, cooking up a batch of brown rice or quinoa and making a big pot of soup or a casserole.
Remember that you don’t always have to prep entire meals. Look at your meal plan and prep some of the common denominators in various meals. Do several of the recipes you’re making this week include beans or chicken? Why not cook and freeze a bag of beans or make a rotisserie-style chicken in the crockpot?
I cook my beans and hard boiled eggs in this pressure cooker. So fast and easy! And if you don’t have a slow cooker, I highly recommend investing in one. It makes dinner so fast and simple.
When you have cooked beans, quinoa and chicken in the fridge, along with some pre-washed lettuce and other veggies, it suddenly becomes very easy to throw together some burrito bowls or make a stirfry! You could have dinner on the table in under 10 minutes with very little effort. In addition, if you’re making something like a casserole, you could assemble it ahead of time and pop it in the oven when you get home OR bake it on Sunday and simply reheat and eat later in the week!
Store your food:
Pyrex Glass Storage Containers
So if you’re ready to start food prepping but aren’t sure how, here are my top 5 how to food prep tips to get you started:
- Start with a plan.
- Make a list of everything you want to prep for the week. Use your weekly menu if you have one or decide on basic staples that can be used in a variety of meals (like meat, beans, grains etc). Try dividing your list into sections like oven, stove, no-cook etc so you have a clear picture of what needs to be done in each area of the kitchen.
- The best way to ensure you get the most out of your allotted food prep time is to make sure you’re doing multiple things at once. You could, theoretically, have something in the crockpot, something in the oven, a couple things on the stove and be chopping vegetables on the counter all at once. This is where your list comes in handy! Think long term and start crockpot and oven items first. Since baking typically takes the longest, I always make sure I have something on-deck, ready to go into the oven when the previous thing comes out. Then I fill in the remaining time by working on this on the stove, counter, etc.
- Don’t go overboard.
- Most leftovers are only safe in the fridge for 3-4 days, so don’t prep more food than you and your family can finish by Thursday if you’re doing your prep on Sundays. Remember that if you reach Tuesday or Wednesday and realize you have too much food you can always freeze a few things.
- Double the recipe.
- If you’re making something like soup, burgers or casserole, consider doubling the recipe and putting half in the freezer for later. It won’t be much extra work for you and it’s an easy way to make sure you have food on hand for busy weeks when you don’t have time to food prep.
- Target your trouble times.
- Think about what time of the day you struggle most with healthy eating. Do you have a tough time eating breakfast but usually do fairly well with dinner? Focus your prep time on making a few breakfast options ahead of time – I make these Quinoa Breakfast Bars for my husband every week and store them in Ziploc bags in the fridge so he can just grab one on his way out the door. If you always make time for breakfast but find yourself hitting the vending machine a little too often, focus your prep on healthy snack options. Here’s a list 25 Healthy Snack Ideas. Don’t feel like you have to prep for every single meal of the day. Start with your trouble spots and then expand from there as you get more skilled and effective and food prep.
If you’re still having trouble visualizing how to get everything done, here’s a more detailed breakdown of one of my recent food prep sessions:
On this day, I prepped:
- broccoli and beans for snacking
- hard boiled eggs
- quinoa to make breakfast bars
- tuna salad
- marinated pork tenderloin
- lettuce for salads
- roasted sweet potatoes and red peppers + fruit for Squish
Unpictured: The night before I chopped carrots to snack on and during the prep above, I also made a big batch of guacamole.
I made everything in the picture above, plus the guac in about an hour. To start, I chopped some sweet potato fries and stuck them in the oven on the same pan as a red pepper that I wanted to roast. Then I started some quinoa in a pot and some eggs in the pressure cooker on the stove. While all that was cooking, I made the guacamole and tuna salad. Once the quinoa and eggs were done, I put the corn on the stove to cook. While that was cooking I chopped the ends off the beans and put them in the microwave to cook, chopped the broccoli and lettuce and mixed up a marinade for the pork.
Later in the day I baked quinoa breakfast bars, peanut butter banana oat muffins and sweet potato bites. I made the breakfast bars first using the quinoa. While they were cooking I prepped the muffins. I took one out of the oven and put the next one in. While the muffins were cooking, I prepped the sweet potato bites and stuck those in as soon as the muffins were done. This was an additional 20-30 minutes of actual prepping the items and then I was able to do other things around the house while they were baking.
Now it’s your turn!
Do you food prep?
If yes- what are your favorite things to prep?
If not – do you want to learn how to food prep? What’s holding you back?
[Tweet “Want to food prep but not sure where to start? Here are 5 how to food prep tips from @leangrnbeanblog!”]
If you liked this post, you’ll love my ebook – The Ultimate Guide To Food Prep. It dives into even more detail about how to food prep, troubleshoots common problems and provides tons of tips to make it easier! Click the image below for more info!
Get my free Table Talk email series where I share bite-sized nutrition information about carbs, protein, and fat, plus bonus information about snacks and sugar!
Angela @ happy fit mama says
The easiest thing for me is to make extras while cooking. There’s always something to eat for lunch or dinner. I also do a big batch of homemade ladabars and hard boiled eggs every Sunday.
I do the same. I just cook a little extra on my favorite meals and freeze them in bento boxes. When my husband and I don’t feel like cooking we go raid the freezer. No more ordering out. What better?
Liz - Meal Makeover Moms says
You were born with the organized gene! Great post w/ so many helpful, practical tips. Sharing now 🙂
Uzma N. Wasim says
Hi Lindsay, I am a cooking learner for around 6 months. In this age of internet, I was quite hopeful to spot stuff for me as a beginner but beginner level posts were quite very few. Though, after 6 months, I am not novice but still your topic was worth reading for me. I learned to cook a Bengali chicken curry from http://kfoods.com/bengali_chicken_curry_rid5685 . As a first dish, I realized my hands could deliver a decent taste 🙂 . For the next I am inspired with a chicken pizza with your 5 tips in mind. They worth it 🙂
Kelly @ Laughter, Strength, and Food says
Awesome post! I don’t prep every week but I always spend time after I grocery shop to prepare veggies and fruits. When I do prep during the week, chicken, quinoa/couscous, and veggies are my go-to foods!
I am a batch cooker too and have been doing batch cooking for years. It is definitely my key to healthy eating. I eat MUCH better when I have food cooked and ready to eat. My go-to meal prepping items are: baked sweet potatoes or sweet potato fries, brown rice or quinoa, baked or grilled chicken breast, homemade turkey burgers, energy balls (various recipes), homemade granola bars, homemade muffins and then washed and chopped lettuce, peppers and cucumbers for salads and snacking. I also do HB eggs sometimes.
Thanks for this great post!
Melanie @ Nutritious Eats says
You are the queen! Pinning this for others to see!
Great post! I am new to the food prep world–how do you figure out the nutrition (ie: carbs, calories, etc.) for the items that you prep? Thanks!
These are such great tips!! I always meal prep – now it is second nature to me. This would’ve been so helpful when I was starting out 🙂
Tara | Treble in the Kitchen says
Such great tips!! I love the tip “Target your trouble spots.” Such a great way to make food prepping manageable for many people!
Selena @ The Nutritious Kitchen says
This was so helpful and fun to read! I feel like I try my best to food prep every week but still feel overwhelmed/unorganized sometimes. Reading up on posts like this helps SO much! (especially for busy full time working college students!) Thanks Lindsay!
Shashi at RunninSrilankan says
I’ve been reading your inspiring food prepping posts, Lindsay, but ugh – I am not as good at it as I’d like to be! I need to start planning for 5 days instead of the 2 or 3 I do for now! When you boil eggs – do you shell them or keep them in the fridge with the shell on till ready to eat?
Erin @ Her Heartland Soul says
You’ve been a big food prep inspiration to me! Thanks for always sharing your tips!
I think “target your trouble time ” is the best advice on here for me. Like when I am putting my lunch together before heading to work and only give myself 5 minutes to do so!
Lisa @ RunWiki says
You inspired me a long time ago to meal prep and now it’s a part of my weekly routine. It is such a powerful way to eat healthy all week long and has really been one of the major reasons that I have experimented with more and more healthy recipe creation. Thank you!
Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table says
Great advice! I really like the part about not having to prep entire meals. I like to make big batches of plain quinoa or beans or whatever and then flavor it as the week goes. That way I can have spicy quinoa, herbed quinoa, breakfast quinoa… whatever… really fast!
Becki @ Fighting for Wellness says
Great tips! People ask me about food prep all the time and I always send them your way. 🙂
She Rocks Fitness says
Great tips for beginners! I am going to pass this information onto some of my clients who are always asking me about “food prep”. Thanks Lindsay!
Emily @ Zen & Spice says
Fantastic post! I usually do some food prep– hard boiling eggs for breakfast/snacks, and I wash/chop veggies. Depending on what we’re having for lunch that week, I’ll start that— either making a bunch of wraps, or a big pot of soup, and I’ll cut up lunch fruit and veggies so that making our lunches is easier during the week!
Sam @ Grapefruit & Granola says
Great post! I try to food prep to some extent but I would fall into the ‘less involved’ category. I try to cook 1 large dish or casserole on sunday that includes protein, lots of veggies and whole grains. My go-to lately has been baked pasta dishes with chicken. Then I have that available for most of the week to have as either lunch or dinner. I also try to wash and cut those labor-intensive produce products as well and store them in tupperware in the fridge. My summer favorite has been watermelon 🙂
I do not food prep. Why? It’s a combination of laziness and being new to cooking. I still generally have no idea what I’m doing in the kitchen (which is TINY) and am unfamiliar with ingredients. Maybe I’ll be able to prep once I get a better grasp of this whole cooking thing. Oh, we also have very little cupboard, fridge, and counter space, which doesn’t help at all.
Jessica Mendoza-Jaimes says
Hi! I love your ideas!! I am a beginner when comes to this stuff.. when I was doing some searching I saw people who prep healthy eat the same thing almost every single day for that week. Is there a way to food prep that adds variety to meals?
learning to make smaller batches of things helps add variety. Instead of making a huge casserole, make half-sizes of two different things! Or figuring out easy ways to use leftovers. For example, you can make a batch of pulled pork- eat it in lettuce wraps one day, on a sandwich the next, in your salad the third day, etc!
I love this! I really need to food prep more often. I wrote a post on my blog the other week about food prepping and how it made it so much easier to make good choices during the week and it was so great to have food just ready to grab and go in the fridge. http://runeatsnap.com/budget-friendly-healthy-cooking/ As you can see in this post though I only prepared one large meal and then ate the leftovers the rest of the week. So that can get old pretty fast. Your 5 tips are great because I do get overwhelmed thinking about prepping for the whole week. Thanks!
Bee Prepared says
Reading your blog is making me hungry! Will definitely be trying your tips out just maybe I can finally prepare some delicious food, just as delicious in your photos. Thank you for sharing this!
Ashley Woodward says
Love your advice! I’m an advocate of food prep and I do it most of the weekends. I think of it as a motivation to eat at home more often (I don’t succumb to the idea to quickly eat something along the way since I have everything planed and almost ready at home) and I’m making a conscious decision to prep healthy meals for my family. Thanks for sharing!
That is a great idea to double the food prep and put half in the freezer!