How to Meal Prep Like a Pro: The Ultimate Guide to Meal Prep

How to meal prep: Three containers of meals

You value a healthy lifestyle. You scan ingredient labels, limit takeout, and drink water like it’s your job.

You’re also constantly running around like a madman.

Between meetings, errands, and your gym membership, you constantly find yourself pressed for time. And while you’ve always valued your healthy lifestyle, your Postmates bill keeps going up while your fridge shelves look barer by the day.

We get it. We’re right there with you, trying to whip up our own secret sauce to balance our career ambitions with #lifegoals. But if there’s one thing we know to be true, the strategy that never fails is simply planning ahead.

Planning your meals in advance will always be on your side when your Google Calendar is not. To master your meals throughout the week, keep reading. You’re about to learn to meal prep with the best of ‘em.

Meal Prep Doesn’t Have to Include Full “Meals”

How to meal prep: Chicken, celery, and tomatoes in bowls

If the thought of making 10 recipes off Pinterest makes your eyes glaze over, you’re not alone. But “meal” prep doesn’t have to include preparing five days’ worth of full meals with a diversity of main dishes, sides, and sauces. Here are several (more manageable) approaches you can take:

Prep Ingredients

Best for: Those who eat the same thing each day.

One day a week (probably Sunday), set aside an hour to prep ingredients. Chop vegetables, prepare a batch of quinoa, rice, or other grain, and bake or pan-fry at least five servings of protein. Each morning, you can easily toss several ingredients together in a bowl for a quick salad, rice bowl, or stir-fry.

Batch Cooking

Best for: Those who seriously dislike cooking.

If cooking is something you just can’t get on board with, there’s nothing wrong with that. Rather than face your least-favorite task each week, double (or triple) the quantities of every single recipe you create. That way, you can freeze any leftovers to be used later down the line, cutting the frequency of your meal prep in half.

Prepping Full Meals

Best for: Those who get bored eating the same thing each week.

If you’re constantly getting food envy from your colleague’s takeout options, you have to prep make-ahead meals. Each week, set aside one day where you can make five meals that can be reheated or eaten cold at lunchtime. This is the most common form of meal prep, and the one we’ll dive into further below.

Before You Prep: How to Calculate Your Meals for the Week

The first thing you need to do — before you hit the grocery store, pick out recipes, or create a shopping list — is to take a hard look at your calendar. Look at your whole week ahead, then create a meal plan that works for your schedule.

What events do you have scheduled this week? What days are you in back-to-back meetings? Do you have any 8:00 a.m. meetings where you’ll need to be at the office early? Do you have any happy hours or client dinners where you’ll be dining out?

Using your calendar as a guide, dust off those math skills to calculate how many healthy meals you need to prep:

  • Multiply your meals per day by number of days: If you just need lunch prepared for the week, the math is simple — you need five meals. If you know you’re working until 7:00 p.m. all week, you might want to prep dinner as well, therefore needing 10 meals for the week.
  • Subtract for client meetings, nights out, and happy hours: If you have a working lunch on Thursday, a breakfast meeting Friday, and a happy hour on Wednesday, subtract three meals from your total.
  • Add in snack options for extra-busy days: If you barely expect to see daylight on Wednesday — waking up, running to the gym, going straight to work, and then heading to that happy hour — you might want to have a few portable snacks or easy meals on hand. Prep hard-boiled eggs, celery with peanut butter, or homemade granola bars for a few portable, nutritious meals.

How to Meal Prep a Week's Worth of Meals in 4 Steps

How to meal prep: Two containers of Mexican meals

Once you know the number of meals you need, it’s time to map out a plan. Write down what recipes work best for which days, then use that list to make a grocery list. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but you might find these tips useful:

  • Start with your protein: Whether you prefer salmon, chicken breasts, or tofu, think about how many portions you’ll need for the week before thinking about your side dishes.
  • Prepare grains in bulk: You can easily batch cook one or two grains to be used throughout the week. Make a big batch of oatmeal and store in mason jars for a grab-and-go breakfast, or prepare a large pot of quinoa, brown rice, or white rice on the stovetop to portion out into various lunches.
  • Choose two to three vegetables to be used as sides: Choose several vegetables to prepare as sides, then alternate between them to make different meal combinations. For example, if you grab sweet potatoes, broccoli, and asparagus, cycle through all three instead of eating the same side dish on back-to-back days.
  • Always refer back to your calendar: Once again, refer back to your schedule to prepare for those extra-busy days. If you have early mornings two days of the week, you might want to keep overnight oats in mason jars, or chop up various fruits and greens to throw into a blender for an on-the-go smoothie.

Tools and Supplies to Keep Stocked at All Times

How to meal prep: Mason jars with meals in them

If all this planning raised your stress levels a couple notches, stick with us.

There are plenty of kitchen tools and supplies that can make your job much, much easier. Some you may already have on hand, and for others you might consider making the investment:

  • Mason jars: Mason jars with sealable lids are horrendously underrated. Use them to make overnight oats, layered salads (just shake and eat!), or to haul a batch of soup to and from the office.
  • Glass storage containers: Glass does not contain BPA, which could be harmful to your health. Glass airtight containers can go straight from the fridge to the oven (or vice versa), allowing you to reheat leftovers with ease.
  • Reusable plastic bags and freezer bags: If you choose to prep ingredients rather than complete meals, reusable plastic bags are a great way to store chopped veggies, fruit, or snacks like homemade trail mix.
  • Vitamix or food processor: While they come with a heavy price tag, these tools can help make anything from cauliflower rice to blended soups to your post-workout smoothie.

Meal Prep Ideas for Busy People

The internet is flooded with more recipes than anyone could make in a lifetime, let alone one week. Here’s a tip: Rather than focus on complex recipes by your favorite food bloggers, stick to simple lunch and dinner options that take minimal time and effort.

Here are a few meal prep recipe ideas to help get you started:

  • Chili, soup, and stew: Soups and stews freeze incredibly well, making them an excellent choice for batch cooking.
  • Roasted protein and vegetables: If you're all out of new recipe ideas, here's how to make an entire week's worth of meals in two steps. Grab two baking sheets and fill one with vegetables (think cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, or other vegetables that roast well). Drizzle with olive oil. Fill the other with protein, such as black bean burgers, cod, salmon, or chicken thighs. Choose proteins with similar cook times — for example, salmon takes only 12 minutes to roast while chicken can take 40, so you’ll want to avoid cooking them together.
  • Big ol' salads: Portion a variety of greens, chopped vegetables, and protein in individual meal prep containers for quick lunch options.
  • Portable breakfast options: Chia pudding, overnight oats, and smoothies are excellent options for even the most hectic morning routines.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Allow us to tell you something you already know: Even the best-laid plans sometimes get blown off course.

You’re going to get called into 5:00 p.m. meetings. You’ll forget to cancel your early morning gym class (and won’t have breakfast prepared). And you know what? You’re going to value your social time, and some Sundays you’re going to want to be out with friends having a beverage, not stuck inside your kitchen cooking.

That’s totally fine.

Life happens, and when it does it’s best to have a few tools, meals, and tricks up your sleeve to help you out. With Tovala, you never have to sacrifice the nutritional value of your food for the time it takes to prepare it.

If you've ever wished dinner would magically make itself, Tovala is for you. Chef-prepared, healthy meals are delivered to your doorstep and cooked automatically in 20 minutes or less. Or, you can do all your meal planning within the Tovala App, selecting healthy, easy recipes that require little prep or effort.