Meal prep can mean a lot of different things for different people. It can be a way to feel more comfortable with cooking when you're just starting out. It can be a tool to keep the cost of groceries in check. It can even be a form of self-care, and a way to ensure a smoother week ahead — just by having thoughtful meals ready and waiting for your future self to dig into. No matter what your motivations are, meal prep can teach valuable lessons that go way beyond the kitchen.
So we asked 10 people — from staffers and readers, to bloggers and authors we love — to share how meal prep has changed their lives in ways big and small.
1. Meal prepping has been really good for my mental health.
Grocery shopping and cooking had become a weird anxiety point for me following some trauma a few years ago, and avoiding both of those things meant I was eating less healthy and spending more money. I started meal prepping regularly right after I started ordering groceries from Amazon Prime this year. That pushed me into a new routine that felt a lot more doable, and the meal prepping naturally followed. Even if I'm not prepping for every meal for the week ahead, having four or five meals ready advance (or just having ingredients ready to go in my freezer) has made this thing that was previously exhausting feel way more manageable."
2. It's helped me make more thoughtful choices.
I've been trying to improve my fitness after having a baby, so it's helped with portioning and keeping me from grabbing options that aren't actually satiating. It's also saved me a ton of money, while getting more nutritious meals during the day instead of dining out. At first it's hard to start, but I found that once I got into a routine, I make sure to set aside time on the weekend to make meal prep happen.
3. It's been a game-changer for me in just about every way.
I started meal prepping about 10 years ago, before I knew there was a name for it. It saves me time, energy, and money; reduces my food waste; encourages me to eat healthier foods (if they're already prepped, I'll eat them!); and helps prevent me from overeating, which can easily blow my food budget. When I can see the meals right in front of me in my refrigerator, I feel responsible for eating those first instead of buying something new. (Plus, I can see at a glance how many days worth of food I have left, so I know when to shop and when to cook again.) And thanks to my stockpile in my freezer, I'm never left with an empty fridge. Meal prepping might not work for everyone, but for me it solves several issues at once.
— Beth Moncel, Food Blogger and Author of Budget Bytes and Over 100 Easy, Delicious Recipes To Slice Your Grocery Bill In Half, @budgetbytes
4. Meal prepping has helped me reduce stress — especially at night.
It may sound dramatic, but for me, coming home after a long day at work and realizing that I have nothing in the fridge for dinner can be really stressful and exhausting. Knowing that I always have food ready to eat on those days has been life-changing.
5. It lets me cut down on food waste.
One of my favorite things about meal prep — in tandem with meal planning — is that it helps me reduce food waste in two ways. First, most meal prepping sessions in my kitchen start with pulling out any past-their-prime veggies and adding them to a roasting pan. Second, because meal prep gives me a specific plan for what I'm eating, I rarely find that I have leftovers go to waste. Every morsel is accounted for when you're meal planning and prepping.
6. Meal prep has has saved me a lot of money in the long run.
I save money! With meal prep, my husband and I spend $100 to $125 on groceries for the both of us. This includes everything we need for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and treats for the entire week — all high-quality ingredients, too. We would spend so much more if we were eating out for all of those meals.
7. It's taught me that planning ahead is crucial.
Planning is the absolute key to meal prepping. I make my menu and grocery list for the week on Sunday and shop first thing Monday morning. That way I've got everything I need for the week in the fridge and pantry, ready to go.
8. It's taught me that flexibility is crucial.
I've learned that the most important part of successful meal prep has nothing to do with the actual prepping. You've heard this before, but having a well-stocked fridge, freezer, and pantry makes cooking so much easier. I always have eggs, bread, cheese, rolled oats, canned beans, salad greens, frozen vegetables, peanut butter, and some kind of fruit around. These are all things I can easily combine with my meal prep staples for various different meals. (Also, I can make a decent breakfast, lunch, or dinner out of just these things if I have to, which takes the pressure off of meal prep.) I'd always rather prep too little food and piece together a few meals from my pantry, than prep too much and end up throwing some away.
9. It's made family mealtimes a lot less frantic.
I'm no longer a harried, stressed-out mom at dinnertime! I'm not organized enough to prep all the ingredients for every upcoming meal, but I make sure I set myself up by making a big batch of protein and a sauce or dressing that can be reused in a variety of ways during the week. For example, I will roast two chickens at a time or make a big batch of Instant Pot kalua pig so I can remix them in inventive dishes later in the week without too much work on my end and no complaints from my kiddos.
— Michelle Tam, Author of Nom Nom Paleo, and Ready Or Not: 150+ Make-Ahead, Make-Over, And Make-Now Recipes, @nomnompaleo
10. Meal prep has taught me how to waste less and upcycle more.
It's made me better about really using up items I already have on hand. And that includes leftovers! Meal prep has helped me get more creative and branch out in repurposing them into entirely different meals. At the end of the day, I'm spending less on groceries than I have in a long time and not wasting any food.