If you’re like most people who are trying to eat healthier and more plant-based, you quickly realize that one of the secrets to success is planning ahead, when preparing meals. As a dietitian, I tell my clients that meal prep is the key to eating foods that are good for you, rather than what’s closest (or the fast foods you come across on your way home). . All it takes is a little time.
Meal prep is as simple as it is effective, and if you’ve ever been inspired by meal prep ideas and meal prep recipes you’ve seen on social media and want to learn more about how to start, you’re in the right place. Today, I’ll not only break down how to prepare meals, but I’ll focus specifically on how to prepare meals for a vegan diet, to take the guesswork out of what to eat this week.
Why should you prepare meals?
Meal prep is a necessity for me as I work over 12 hour days several days a week and just can’t be bothered to cook from scratch every night! Clients I work with one-on-one have also seen a huge benefit after starting meal prep. During their weight loss journeys, many of them have discovered new meal prep ideas for weight loss that have been key to their success.
Here are 5 reasons why you should prep your meals if you aren’t already:
- Less cooking timewhich means more free time
- Less money spent on food, which means extra money
- Less waste using whole ingredients
- Less stress around food and meals
- More brain space for what is important to you!
Now let’s talk about the health benefits of meal prep:
- You will be able to eat more whole foods
- You will eat fewer preservatives and additives
- Your diet will be richer in nutrients
- As you start cooking at home, you’ll develop a better relationship with food.
- You’ll be more likely to reach your goal weight and reduce your risk of chronic disease
Essentials for getting started with meal prep
You’re going to need to stock up on a few things before you begin your meal prep journey. These include:
1. Quality Meal Prep Containers
There’s one thing you can’t start meal prepping without, and that’s quality meal prep containers. You will use these containers again and again, sometimes freezing food in them, while reheating them. I highly recommend glassware instead of plastic. Glass holds up better over time, stains less, performs well in almost any temperature condition, and poses no risk of leaching unwanted chemicals into your food.
I usually choose Pyrex glass containers, which are microwave, dishwasher, oven and freezer safe. Lids are BPA free and microwave safe. You will want to get a variety of sizes – I like to use the 2 and 3 cup sizes most often.
2. Mason jars
Mason jars are great for packing snacks, as well as smoothies, chia puddings, overnight oats, salad dressings, and more. You can also pack salads in it, keeping the dressing on the bottom and tossing them when ready. Carry a variety of sizes – 2 cup, 1 cup and 1/2 cup.
3. Mini containers
Picking up mini containers for sauces, which can be added to individual meal prep containers, can come in handy. You can buy a wide variety of these at your local dollar store. Or go to Amazon and find a set of 20 that you can use over and over again.
4. Kitchen utensils and accessories
- Baking sheets (small and large)
- Casseroles (~2-qt & 3-qt)
- Vegetable spiralizer or julienne peeler
- muffin pan
- Mixing bowls (small and large)
- Knife set
- wooden kitchen spoons
5. Pantry Staples
- Avocado oil (high smoke point)
- Extra virgin olive oil (low smoke point)
- Maple syrup
- Nut butter (almond/peanut/tahini)
- Seeds (chia/hemp/pumpkin)
- Nuts (almonds/cashews/walnuts)
- protein powder
- Vinegar (apple cider/balsamic)
- Spices (cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, paprika, oregano powder, nutmeg, basil)
- liquid smoke
- nutritional yeast
- Flour (chickpea, almond)
- Vanilla extract
- Soy sauce or tamari
Find your meal prep type
Meal prep doesn’t have to be the same for everyone – really! Some may choose to prepare a full meal on the weekend (my preference), but some may choose to prepare only ingredients instead – whichever suits the person best! Let me explain the types of meal prep below.
1. Complete weekend meal prep
This is the type I fall into. Weekend meal prep involves creating meals for the week, ahead of time – two to three days in advance. This works great for someone who doesn’t want to cook during the week and doesn’t mind a little less variety on their menu. The type will not work well for someone who likes a lot of variety or someone who is unwilling or unable to commit to eating during the week ahead of time.
Note that leftovers don’t usually keep for more than 3 or 4 days in the fridge, so you’ll usually need to freeze foods you’ll be making ahead of time if you plan to eat them after 4 days. I will usually have a supply of meals that I have frozen in advance, to help me get through the last part of the week.
2. Preparation of ingredients
I sometimes call this type of meal prep “buffet meal prep” – since you’re creating portions of a meal rather than a full meal ahead of time. For example, you can chop vegetables, boil rice, and roast tofu over the weekend. Then, as the week progresses, you can compose new food combinations to create a meal, depending on what you want to eat at that time!
The benefits of preparing ingredients or buffet meals are that they allow you to be flexible with meals, but also allow you to plan ahead. The downsides are that there’s still some assembly needed throughout the week, and this may not be best for you if your schedule requires you to be away from home for long periods of time. However, this type can work really well if you have several people in your household with different food preferences – it would allow you to mix and match!
3. Hybrid Meal Prep
You certainly don’t have to stick exclusively to a full meal prep or ingredient prep style – you can follow a combination of the two! For example, maybe you find it helpful to prepare a full breakfast and lunch ahead of time, but you just want to have a few ingredients prepared for dinner, so you can mix and match them. Or maybe when you go to the office you want to prepare a full meal in advance, but prepare ingredients for the days when you are at home. I encourage you to be flexible in preparing your meals!
Important Tips to Remember When Getting Started
Below are some tips to remember as you begin your meal prep journey – to avoid getting overwhelmed along the way!
1. Separate planning, shopping and cooking days.
It’s overwhelming to do all three steps in one day. This process will end up taking too long and you will end up resenting the meal prep process! Personally, I aim to have my grocery list planned out by Thursday night, grocery shopping on Friday night, and cooking on Sunday night.
2. Start slowly.
Prepare the hardest-to-reach meals throughout the week.
If you’re struggling to make a balanced lunch, make it! Never have snacks available – prepare them! You don’t necessarily have to aim to start by cooking all your meals in advance.
3. Create menus with different cooking methods.
I always recommend having a baked meal, a stovetop meal, and another type of meal you cook. This helps to create efficiency. The baked meal is always done first, as it usually takes the longest to cook. Then follow that up with a stovetop meal, which will usually take a while to simmer, then move on to this salad, which takes the least amount of time to prepare.
4. Prepare Meals That Contain Similar Ingredients
This helps minimize food waste and allows for faster preparation.
5. Don’t spend more than two hours cooking at a time
Don’t overload yourself – again, you’ll start to feel the process!
6. Be flexible in how you prepare
Maybe you just want to prep some ingredients (what I call buffet meal prep) or partially prep some meals. You don’t have to always create every meal from scratch!
Bottom Line: Meal prep is an easy way to create a healthy eating routine
If your goal is to eat delicious meals each week while minimizing the time you spend cooking each day, try meal prepping. With these guidelines, you’ll be one step closer to calling yourself a meal prep pro! Let us know what you will cook next from Beet!