Almost every weekend, you can find me in the kitchen for an hour or two meal prepping. It's the weekly ritual of putting in upfront work — prepping and cooking — to make feeding yourself and your family during the week a whole lot easier. A few years (and literally hundreds of meal prep sessions) later, I've got this process down to a science. Here are the biggest mistakes to avoid (and what to do instead!) during your next meal prep session.
1. Not giving yourself enough time.
There's no way around it — meal prep requires time. It doesn't matter whether you're a beginner or a meal prep pro: Meal prep is a hands-on, time-intensive task. Trying to cram a lot of prep into a short window will leave you feeling overwhelmed and easily frustrated.
Follow this tip: Block off a set amount of time that you can devote to prepping food for the week ahead. It can be as little as 30 minutes or a couple of hours — the right amount of time is what works for your schedule. As you gain practice, you'll get a better sense of just how much you can accomplish in a given amount of time.
2. Not prepping the right recipes.
Unlike cooking meals the same day you're eating them (where practically all recipes are fair game), not all recipes are right for meal prep. Choosing recipes that don't hold up for the long haul and aren't as delicious a day or two down the road misses the benefits of meal prep.
Follow this tip: When choosing recipes for your prep session, avoid recipes that are best served immediately after cooking, and remember that the best recipes for meal prep have distinct make-ahead moments, will keep well in the fridge or freeze, and reheat well.
3. Not planning your prep session or using your time strategically.
When it comes down to it, meal prep is a lesson in strategic planning, time management, and working efficiently in the kitchen. It's worth the effort to take a little time to plan your prep session before actually getting started. Without a plan, meal prep feels disorganized and you will get less done in a given amount of time.
Follow this tip: Before even lifting your knife or turning on the oven, take a few minutes to look through your recipes and make a task list (written or mental) of what needs to get done during your prep session. Start with the tasks that require the most time and work backwards. Also, look for moments where there's multitasking potential — for example, prepping stir-fry ingredients while a pot of soup simmers on the stove or a tray of chicken thighs cook in the oven.
4. Not having plenty of storage containers ready.
This is the meal prep step that is often easily overlooked. Just as important as the planning, chopping, and cooking is having a way to store all the food you prepped for the week.
Follow this tip: Take a page from the playbook of all the meal preppers on Instagram — storage containers are a must. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but do have plenty of clean, empty containers (preferably with lids) ready before you get started.
Stock up on food storage containers: Rubbermaid Brilliance 9-Piece Set, $22
5. Not planning how you'll eat the food from your meal prep session.
The benefit of meal prep and batch cooking is putting in the upfront work to limit weekday cooking and make mealtimes easier. But if there's no plan for how or when you'll turn your prep work into meals, you may end up wasting food and losing out on the benefit of your hard work.
Follow this tip: Even if you don't consider yourself a meal planner, you'll want to plan how you'll eat everything you prepped. This can happen before or after your meal prep session, and either way it will help you take advantage of your work and minimize waste.
Your turn! What are your best tips for a successful meal prep session?