A Little Preparation Goes A Long Way: Meal Prep 101

Posted by Kristen Carli, RD on

Many of my patients swear by meal prepping. It not only allows you to commit to healthier meals, but it can simplify the dreaded end-of-the-day “what’s for dinner?” question. Further, batch cooking your meals saves a tremendous amount of time!

You’ve probably heard of meal prepping, but what exactly does this entail? This can vary in depth, but for the most part it includes at least a few meals or snacks that have been fully prepared and stored in your refrigerator. So, when it comes to meal time, you have something at-the-ready. This allows you to avoid the “hangry” and impulsive decisions that can happen if you go too long without eating.

Meal prep makes it easier for you to reach for healthier options.

A little preparation can prevent these impulsive decisions. How many times have you been glued to your computer all morning, to look up and realize it's 2:00 pm, you’ve missed your lunch break, and have a meeting starting in the next 20 minutes. If this situation arises, many are “forced” to resort to fast food or other unhealthy, but quick, options. Having a prepared meal available at a moment’s notice can help you to make healthier choices.

Batch cooking is the answer.

While some meal prep includes making complete meals for the week and organizing them in identical food containers, it can also include batch cooking. Batch cooking entails making large batches of many of the fundamental components of your meals throughout the week.

This could include a batch of brown rice, black beans, shredded cabbage and carrot creamy slaw, pico de gallo, roasted broccoli, baked potatoes, and guacamole. Each of these components are stored in their own containers in your fridge. At meal time, instead of grabbing a container with a prepared meal in it, you would grab a plate and scoop a little from each batch.

Why choose batch cooking?

By the end of the week, meal-prepped meals can be a little lackluster and unappealing. Storing each of these foods in their own containers can help with freshness.

Another reason to choose batch cooking is to create variety! By having many components ready, you get to choose, come meal time, what combination sounds best to you. Using the example of batches prepared above, maybe you make a loaded baked potato with black beans, creamy slaw, and broccoli or you could build a burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, pico de gallo and guacamole. The options are endless!

Save time during busy weeks.

Most of us have little to no time during busy weekdays. A little preparation on a Sunday afternoon can end up saving you so much time during the week. I like to spend about an hour or two on the actual prep. This, ultimately, saves me 5+ hours during the week because I do not have to think about, plan or cook anything-- my food is already waiting for me.

What this can look like for you

To ensure well-rounded complete meals, be sure to choose at least one of the following options from each section below. And remember these lists are not exhaustive. Get creative and have fun with this!

  • Whole Grains/ Starchy Vegetables
    • Baked Potatoes
    • Baked Sweet Potatoes
    • Quinoa
    • Farro
    • Barley
    • Brown Rice
  • Legumes
    • Edamame
    • Chickpeas
    • Lentils
    • Black Beans
    • Kidney Beans
  • Roasted Veggies
    • Broccoli
    • Cauliflower
    • Brussels Sprouts
    • Carrots
    • Eggplant
    • Zucchini
    • Cherry Tomatoes
    • Beets
  • Sauces
    • Hummus
    • Lemon-Tahini Dressing
    • Italian Dressing
    • Salsa
    • Guacamole
    • Non-Dairy Sour Cream
    • Baba Ganoush
  • Nutrient-Dense Toppers
    • Hemp Seeds
    • Pumpkin Seeds
    • Ground Flaxseed
    • Dried Cranberries

Meal prepping and batch cooking can help you to make healthy choices. Switch up the sources of plant-based protein and include a variety of vegetables. You never know - you may discover several new combinations that you enjoy. I encourage you to give it a shot!



Kristen Carli is the owner of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness, a private nutrition practice in Scottsdale, Arizona specializing in chronic disease prevention and management as well as vegan/vegetarian nutrition. She is a health & wellness contributor for Momsley, an outlet devoted to serving the modern mom. Having a passion for nutrition communication, she has been featured in InStyle, Bustle, Livestrong, The List, MyFitnessPal and many others. Kristen was selected to act as a Produce for Better Health Foundation Fruit and Vegetable Ambassador in Action, helping to promote the health benefits and importance of consuming fruits and vegetables. She also runs Mostly Green, a blog where she develops and shares simple plant-based recipes

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