How to Meal Prep - Your Comprehensive Guide

Meal Prep is a relatively new, revolutionary, and practical method that aims to help you optimize your eating habits, diet, and time resources in the long term. We at CARE think that meal prepping can be a great addition to your lifestyle to improve your nutritional absorption.

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in Nutrition
13 min read · Sep 27, 2023

Hero Image

Table of content

We live in a meritocracy, where our careers, personal relationships, and individual needs must all be catered to without any additional hours in a day. If you think about it, how we live and work nowadays has changed dramatically in the last 50–70 years. Some decades ago, traditionally, women stayed home as housewives and did the cleaning, child raising, and cooking. Nowadays, women have successful and demanding careers, too, and (hopefully) most men know by now that cooking, raising children, and doing chores are not exclusively a woman’s job. We also have more scientific knowledge about nutrition and a healthy diet's impact on our well-being. The pace has picked up, and we all want to live our best lives.

But many of us, regardless of gender, struggle to cook healthy meals daily while excelling in all the other aspects of our lives. The need for pragmatic and efficient cooking solutions has become inherent in the last few years, and we have the answer for you: Meal Prep.

But where does meal prepping come from?

Even though there is no real founder of the meal prep concept, Bento, a Japanese tradition, has some similarities to meal prep. A bento is a single-portion meal, carefully packed in a compact, compartmentalized container, containing various foods like fish, tofu, rice, vegetables, and sometimes even a small dessert or fruit. A Bento's unique presentation and balance of flavors and nutrients are important aspects of Japanese culinary culture.

Modern Meal prepping entails putting your food, which should contain various ingredients, in containers too, and can be seen as the Western, modern cousin of a Bento.

So, what exactly is meal prep?

What Is Meal-Prepping?

Meal prepping can be an absolute game-changer. It's not just about preparing meals in advance, batch cooking, or eating more veggies. Meal prep is part of a lifestyle that can transform how you eat and feel about food. It can also improve your life and well-being. If you suspect that you have an improper diet, a blood analysis with CARE can give you an in-depth insight into your nutritional values, along with a personal consultation with one of our healthcare professionals to help you improve your well-being. [1]

Essentially, meal prepping involves dedicating some time each week to plan, cook, and portion your meals for the upcoming days. This can involve cooking in big batches or preparing several different meals in one day.

Because let’s be honest — how often do you look at amazing recipes and plan to cook those but never get around to it? Even though you would really like to? Many of us love food, even healthy dishes, but we lack the time to commit to our cooking plans, or they get overshadowed by life's everyday hustle and bustle.

Meal prep can be a great way to transform your enthusiasm for delicious recipes into reality. It can help you maintain a healthy and balanced diet [1] because you no longer need to rush to the next fast food restaurant for takeout to fill your belly because you didn’t have time to cook.

If you learn how to meal prep, you can carefully choose ingredients, control portion sizes, and ensure you get the nutrients your body needs. You can also experiment with new recipes without the time pressure of cooking every day because every so often we need to unwind on the couch or finally watch that new show on Netflix.

And what exactly are the benefits of meal prepping?

Blog detail image

What Are the Benefits of Meal Prepping?

Meal prepping can offer you several advantages and benefits. Firstly, it saves you a lot of time by reducing the need to cook daily, making it easier to stick to a meal plan and avoiding unhealthy, last-minute food choices.

Meal prep promotes healthier eating habits by allowing you to control your portion sizes and choose nutritious and diversified ingredients. [1]

Thirdly, it is cost-effective and eco-friendly as it reduces food waste, can lower electricity bills, and enables bulk purchasing. Meal prepping can also aid you in achieving your fitness goals by ensuring consistent, balanced meals. [1]

Lastly, it provides peace of mind and reduces stress associated with meal planning and grocery shopping, leading to a more organized, fulfilling, and healthy lifestyle.

Less Stress & More Time

Did you ever stand in the kitchen on a weeknight, really hungry with fresh groceries in your fridge, but you didn’t have the energy to cook that meal that you were planning on preparing, and instead, you throw a pizza in the oven? Rest assured, you are not alone.

Cook time, stressful working days, and too few hours in a day can often lead to us compromising on our diet.

Meal prepping is a great way to save time and energy and introduce more efficiency into your everyday life. If you meal prep, you can decide which day you have the time and energy for grocery shopping and cooking. You can focus on a healthy diet and look for delicious recipes that you incorporate into your meal plan. With Meal prepping, you can increase your quality of life by releasing you from stress and gifting yourself more time for other important things like spending time with your loved ones or on your hobbies.

Healthy Meals

Eating healthy requires some research and time to look for recipes. We are inclined to eat unhealthy if we are in a rush because those greasy meals are often quickly prepared in the oven, and healthy whole foods need more preparation time. In our blood analysis at CARE, we often witness an improper diet's negative impact on our clients’ nutritional intake.

Meal prep is a great way to start eating more healthy and balanced meals because you focus on the preparation and recipe of your meals in detail instead of squeezing a meal in between your other chores or appointments.

Saving Money

If we cook every day, our oven or stove needs to pre-heat every single time, which costs energy. Cooking in batches once a week instead can help us save electricity costs.

The ingredients for different meals can often be similar or even the same for some recipes. This allows us to buy certain ingredients, like milk, cheese, or eggs, in bigger batches — saving us money.

Blog detail image

How Do I Pre-Cook My Meals for the Week?

If you read this article as your beginner’s guide to meal prep, pre-cooking several dishes for a week or even just a few days might be overwhelming. Therefore, we are here to guide you through the process and help you with a meal prep plan and additional tips.

Your Meal Prep Plan

First, you need to start with the planning for your meal plan. You can plan your meals for a week or, if you are an advanced meal prepper, even for two to three weeks.

Select some delicious and healthy recipes that speak to you, and prepare a grocery shopping list with all the foods, spices, and other ingredients you need for your meals.

The most important factor for your grocery list is the amount of your required ingredients. Ask yourself: How many lbs, pounds, or packages do you need of each ingredient in total?

Grocery Shopping for Meal Prepping

Now, you can go grocery shopping with your shopping list. You might notice how some people in the grocery store look at you in awe because you are so well-prepared and organized.

Kudos to you!

Look out for special offers on bulk packages, or get some coupons to save your hard-earned money.

Cooking Your Meal Preps

Cooking your meals accurately ensures the dishes remain healthy, delicious, and fresh. A steam or slow cooker is a great tool for meal prep because it mildly cooks your food and keeps the nutrients active. Be mindful of overcooking or over-salting your meals. Overheating your food can significantly impact your meal's taste, texture, and nutritional value. The Maillard reaction, responsible for browning and enhancing flavor, can turn bitter when taken to extremes.

If you heat vegetables or other ingredients too much, this can lead to the loss of essential nutrients in food. Heat-sensitive vitamins and minerals can degrade when exposed to high temperatures for extended periods. [2]

A high salt intake increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes. Salt is also known to cause the body to retain water. Therefore, excessive salt consumption can lead to bloating and edema (swelling caused by fluid retention), which can be uncomfortable and may exacerbate existing health conditions. [3]

But let’s get back to what you should do:

Cook a variety of proteins, grains, vegetables, and sauces separately to mix and match throughout the week, or put them together as a ready-to-eat meal in a container.

After you have cooked and seasoned the food, you must store the dishes. Allow your cooked ingredients, like stir fry, chicken breast, or sweet potatoes, to cool to room temperature before refrigerating or freezing the meals. Rapid cooling helps prevent bacteria growth.

TIP: To achieve rapid cooling, use an ice bath or place the containers in the refrigerator to speed up the cooling process. Now, seal the containers tightly after you have filled them to prevent moisture loss and freezer burn.

Now, you only have to decide how to store them — to refrigerate or not to refrigerate, that is the question.

Storing Your Meal Preps

First, we recommend that you invest in high-quality food storage containers like mason jars and glass containers that are microwave-safe, airtight, and stackable to save space in your fridge or freezer.

Label each container with the contents and the date it was prepared. This helps you keep track of freshness and ensures you use the “oldest” meals first.

Glass containers are excellent for reheating food, and reusable silicone bags are eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bags.

Meals you plan to eat within 3–4 days can be stored in the refrigerator. Meals for later consumption should be frozen. Remember to maintain a temperature of 0°F (-18°C) or lower in your freezer.

Eating Meal Preps

When ready to eat, reheat refrigerated meals in the microwave or stove until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to ensure food safety.

Frozen meals should be defrosted in the refrigerator overnight before reheating to ensure that all the healthy nutrients remain bioactive. Generally, as a rule of thumb, we recommend you use the oldest meal preps first to prevent food waste.

After you eat your prepped meals, plan ahead to replace them with freshly prepared new ones to maintain a continuous cycle. To maintain this routine, many meal preppers like to dedicate a specific weekday for their meal prepping, like “Meal-Prep-Mondays.”

Meal Prep Recipes

When meal prepping, you should prioritize a well-balanced mix of macronutrients, including lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

Be mindful of portions to prevent overeating and food waste, and minimize added sugars and sodium in your prepped meals. Embrace a variety of ingredients to ensure a diverse nutrient intake for yourself.

Choose meal prep recipes and ingredients that you genuinely enjoy. This makes your healthy eating both satisfying and sustainable in the long run. Choose ingredients suitable for batch cooking, like brown rice, potatoes, noodles, cauliflower rice, fried rice, or butternut squash.

These ingredients can be used for a variety of healthy meal preps.

Low Carb Meal Prep

Are you looking for low-carb meal prep recipes? If you are focused on eating nutritious whole foods, you can benefit from low-carb meal preps that emphasize fresh vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

Low-carb meals can aid in your weight management by reducing overall calorie intake and helping to control your blood sugar levels. This is especially interesting for people who suffer from diabetes. [4]

Some athletes follow low-carb diets to promote fat adaptation and improve their endurance and fitness. In our in-depth blood analysis, your designated CARE healthcare provider can give you an insight into your blood values and ascertain whether a low-carb diet might be beneficial for your well-being or fitness goals.

Therefore, we have a delicious and healthy Low Carb Meal Prep Recipe that we personally love at CARE, just for you:

Low-Carb Mediterranean Baked Chicken with Roasted Vegetables:

Ingredients:

  • 4 organic chicken breasts
  • Olive oil, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, and red onion
  • Olive oil, dried thyme, salt, and pepper

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

2. Season the chicken breasts with olive oil, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper. Place them on a baking sheet.

3. Toss veggies in olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper, and spread the mix on the other half of the baking sheet.

4. Bake everything for 25-30 mins until the chicken reaches 165°F (74°C) and the veggies are tender.

5. Slice the chicken and divide it with roasted veggies into meal prep containers.

Tip: Customize the recipe with your favorite low-carb veggies or dip the chicken into yummy hummus.

Healthy Meal Plan

Monday: Grilled Chicken Salad

  • Lunch: Grilled chicken breast with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and a vinaigrette dressing.
  • Dinner: Baked salmon with steamed broccoli and quinoa.

Tuesday: Veggie-Packed Stir-Fry

  • Lunch: Vegetable stir-fry with tofu or lean protein of choice, served over cauliflower rice.
  • Dinner: Baked chicken thighs with roasted Brussels sprouts and sautéed spinach.

Wednesday: Protein-Packed Wraps

  • Lunch: Turkey and avocado lettuce wrap with a side of carrot sticks.
  • Dinner: Baked tilapia with asparagus and a quinoa salad with diced bell peppers and black beans.

Thursday: Vegetarian Delight

  • Lunch: Chickpea and spinach curry with a small serving of brown rice.
  • Dinner: Portobello mushroom caps stuffed with spinach, quinoa, and feta cheese, served with a side of mixed greens.

Friday: Quick and Healthy Bowls

  • Lunch: Chicken or tofu and broccoli bowls with peanut sauce.
  • Dinner: Shrimp and zucchini noodles with a garlic herb sauce.

Saturday: Hearty Soup and Salad

  • Lunch: Lentil soup with a side of Greek salad.
  • Dinner: Baked cod with roasted sweet potatoes and steamed green beans.

Sunday: Wrap it Up with a Wrap

  • Lunch: Whole grain wrap filled with grilled chicken or tempeh, mixed greens, bell peppers, and hummus.
  • Dinner: Lean beef or plant-based burger patties with a side of grilled asparagus and a quinoa salad.

Snacking and Additional Tips:

  • Include healthy snacks like Greek yogurt with berries, sliced apples with almond butter, or a handful of nuts.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Portion your meals into high-quality containers for convenience.
  • Make use of herbs, spices, and low-sodium seasonings for flavor and additional health benefits.
  • Customize the meal plan with your favorite vegetables and protein sources to keep it interesting.

Budget-Friendly Meal Prep

If you need to watch your budget but do not want to compromise on a healthy and yummy diet, you can use budget-friendly meal prep plans to focus on cost-effective ingredients like legumes, rice, pasta, and seasonal vegetables.

You can choose more affordable protein sources such as canned tuna, eggs, chicken thighs, or tofu instead of salmon or expensive organic meats to follow a budget-friendly meal prep.

If you plan meals using similar ingredients, you can bulk buy and save money on grocery shopping. This also helps reduce waste and make the most of your budget while still providing balanced and nutritious options.

Easy Meal Prep Ideas

Plenty of easy meal prep ideas can help you simplify your week and maintain a healthy eating routine without spending hours cooking in the kitchen.

One approach is to prepare a big batch of versatile base ingredients, like quinoa or roasted chicken, that can be used in various dishes throughout the week. Another smart idea is to assemble no-cook salads in mason jars with layers of veggies, protein, and dressing for quick, portable lunches.

You can also consider making one-pot dishes, like stir-fries, an instant pot, or sheet pan dinners, that require minimal cleanup and offer a balanced meal in a single pan. These are just some examples of easy meal preps, and many other strategies out there can save you time and effort while keeping your meals nutritious and delicious.

How Long Do Prepped Meals Last?

Prepped meals can last many weeks and even months when stored in the freezer.

The shelf life of your prepped meals will vary depending on several factors, including the ingredients used, how they were prepared, and how they are stored.

Meal Preps in the Fridge

Most prepped meals can be safely stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. You need to keep them at a temperature of 40°F (4°C) or lower to prevent bacterial growth and to keep them fresh and safe. Meal preps with high moisture content or dairy-based ingredients, like overnight oats or smoothies, may have a shorter shelf life.

Meal Preps in the Freezer

If you want to extend the shelf life of your prepped meals or you do not want to eat them right away, consider freezing them. Properly frozen meals can typically last for 2 to 3 months in the freezer without significantly losing quality.

Use airtight containers or freezer-safe bags to prevent freezer burn.

Meal Prep Containers

When it comes to storing meal preps healthily and safely, glass containers with airtight lids are the top choice for several reasons. Glass containers are free from harmful chemicals, sometimes found in plastic containers, and ensure your food remains untainted.

Secondly, their durability and resistance to staining and odors make them a long-lasting investment. Glass containers are versatile, suitable for storing and reheating meals, and easily cleaned without retaining previous food smells or colors.

Additionally, they are an eco-friendly and sustainable option, reducing the environmental impact of disposable containers. Therefore, glass containers offer a healthy, durable, and sustainable solution for storing all your delicious and healthy meal preps.

If you want to improve your diet with meal prep, doing a blood analysis with CARE can give you a great starting point concerning your nutritional values and give you an idea of which of those you might want to improve. A personal consultation with one of our healthcare professionals in our modern clinics can help you improve your diet, well-being, and blood work.

We’d be delighted to guide you on your health journey!

List of References

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!