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Meal prep for beginners

Two people chopping vegetables

HFG’s easy guide to meal prep will save you time, energy and money — and will help you make healthier food choices more often.

Meal prepping may conjure up images of superfit celebrities, professional athletes or even Instagram ‘supermums’ with fridges and pantries perfectly organised and everything neatly labelled in Tupperware containers. But meal prep can be an easy way to take the stress out of meals and get dinner on the table fast. Plus, if you stick to your planned meals, you can avoid unhealthy foods or snacks and save money on takeaway — helping you tighten your belt in more ways than one!

What is meal prepping?

You can meal prep in a few different ways, but essentially it’s about being smart when organising your foods.

Then, when you’re ready to eat, you don’t need to be chained to the stove or kitchen — you can get on with taking things easy!

3 Common ways to meal prep

1 Batch cooking

Cooking up a big recipe that will make several meals, and freezing in batches for quick reheating

2 Bento box-style meals

Meals comprised of several different foods, apportioned into a bento box-style container with different compartments

3 Prepared ingredients

Chopped, diced, or roasted ingredients that can be enjoyed as is, or later put into a recipe

Meal-prepping benefits

When you’re busy, meal prep can be a life-saver. It doesn’t just save you time and money — buying and prepping exactly what you plan to eat means less food wastage. It’ll also help with portion control, which can then lead to weight loss. The best bit? You can balance your meals ahead of time, ensuring that every bite is good for you and convenient too!

Is meal prepping right for me?

If you’re someone who doesn’t like eating the same meal a few times a week, or wants fresh ingredients every day, meal prepping can be a challenge. But with a little mix-and-match, you can add fresh ingredients and turn prepped foods into a variety of meals. That leftover roast pumpkin can be thrown into a salad, a curry, a soup or even a sandwich!

If you’re time poor, putting aside a couple of hours in the kitchen on the weekend is entirely worth it: imagine after a long day simply going to your fridge or freezer and your beautifully prepared meal is right there just waiting to be enjoyed, without you having to lift a finger.

6 tips for meal-prep success

1 Stock up on some airtight food storage containers

There’s a huge choice available, and selecting a few different types means you’ll always have something suitable to keep your foods fresh for longer. Use just one container per meal.

Here are a few of our faves…

Compartment containers
Great for bento box-style meals, or keeping salad ingredients separate until you’re ready to assemble. Look for containers that are microwave, freezer and dishwasher safe.

Lidded glass containers
Ideal for reheating meals. Look for containers made of tempered glass and that are microwave safe.

Stackable containers
Good for storing fresh prepped ingredients separately, ready to throw into meals, and using minimal space in the fridge. Save time slicing and dicing ahead of time then store

2 Find a recipe you’re happy to enjoy a few times a week

Just start with one, and make it the one you have the hardest time being inspired to make. Here’s some healthy inspo to get you started: Breakfast – Gluten-free savoury muffins, lunch – Quinoa salad jar, dinner – Sun-dried tomato and nut crustless quiche

3 Pick a time and day

Most people choose a weekend day to prep their foods. Just remember you’ll need to factor in time to make space in the fridge or freezer for all your stored meals.

4 Work out how many meals you’ll make

Start prepping one meal for a few days — you may get sick of eating the same meal for an entire week!

5 Get prepping!

If you’ve chosen a batch-cooking approach, wait for your meals to cool properly before storing them in the fridge or freezer. If you prefer to prep ingredients that can be easily hrown into salads, leave the salad dressing out until you’re ready to eat. This lets you keep the ingredients fresher longer.

6 Do it yourself

If you prefer to build your own bento lunches, simply cut up or cook what you need to pop into the compartments, and then grab your lunch box as you’re flying out the front door to work. Then relax in the knowledge your lunch is all set!

How long will food keep?

Prepped foods can be stored in the fridge between 2–5 days or 3–4 months, depending on the ingredients. Avoid keeping your food in temperatures above 4˚C in the fridge, as this is the perfect environment in which dangerous bacteria grow.

Is it for you?

Once you’ve tried meal prepping, you’ll be surprised how much less stressed you feel about mealtimes — you may never want to go back!

If meal prep works for you, you can work your way up to being a pro in no time, by gradually prepping one extra meal a week, until you start to feel confident and content about your weekly food routine.

First published: Jan 2021
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