Meal prep your way to sanity, weight loss & healthy family meals with these meal planning tips & recipes perfect for beginners!
You know meal prep is THE way to stick to your diet and keep your budget in check, but who has the time to chop & cook all day? And who wants to to spend their free time over a stove & meal planning worksheet?
If you’re an aspiring meal planner but don’t know where to start & you are so OVER hearing “What’s for Dinner?” I’m about to make life so much easier for you.
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Meal prep is VIP when you’re looking to lose weight and stay on budget, but let’s face it. It’s a struggle. Between juggling a busy career, little league games, and trying to manage life in general- it’s hard to find the time & energy to focus on planning recipes much less spending endless hours chopping and batch cooking.
I mean, how are you supposed to do it ALL?
Newsflash: You’re not:)
Today I’m sharing the best meal prep tips (& recipes) that simplify meal prep & menu planning and save time, money, and sanity!
Here’s to losing weight & lazy weekends!
Meal Prep Tips for Beginners
Meal prep is overwhelming at first. Start slow with two or three dinner recipes and then work your way up to breakfast & lunch. So many meal prep tips recommend you go on a major shopping haul to buy food for every recipe (breakfast+lunch+dinner+snacks) and meal prep all day Sunday.
Don’t. Do. It.
If you aren’t already a cooking pro/ meal prepper this is a sure-fire way to get overwhelmed & end up on the highway to McDonald’s for dinner again.
Instead of a complete overhaul – make a mini run to the grocery store and get the ingredients for three dinner meals. I recommend you start with a crockpot recipe. Most slow cooker recipes make plenty for dinner + leftovers, so by cooking one you’ve already “prepped” two dinners & maybe a lunch depending on how many you are feeding! (I’ve included 21 simple meal prep recipes for beginners below!)
Choosing Meal Prep Recipes
Ok, at this point you’ve dipped your toe into the pool of meal prep and you’re ready to dive in, but you’re not sure how to select recipes. Pinterest is giving you a panic attack – because sometimes too many options is a bad thing:) Stay focused. I’ll walk you through it.
First, try to select recipes that will use what you already have! Got a pound of ground beef in the freezer? Use it! What about your vegetable drawer? Need to use an onion or a zucchini before it turns? Take an inventory of what you have before you go hunting for recipes for the week:)
Think about your schedule for the week. Are you going to be at the ball field every night? Working late, again? If your answer is yes – then you need easy one-pan recipes and slow-cooker meals. Try to avoid recipes that take 25 steps or 6 ingredients you’ve never heard of.
You need to keep it as simple as possible. Yes, I know the other recipes are pretty. But they may lead you straight to the funny farm so let’s save those for another time, ok?
Other considerations include picky eating kids or teenagers-if you know they can’t stand Taco Tuesday then maybe you shouldn’t use that amazing Mexican casserole recipe you found. Unless you’re OK with them choosing cereal over your home-cooked meal – Which happens all the time over here & that’s OK.
Look for recipes with ingredients like shredded chicken, beef, pork & lots of veggies. You can batch cook all of these ingredients (easily) and make weeknight dinners fast.
Here’s a few shredded recipes that are easy to put together & make enough for leftovers! (More Meal Prep recipes are at the end of the post!)
Easy “Shredded” Meal Prep Recipes
Mexican Instant Pot Shredded Chicken | 25 Minutes | The Whole Kitchen Sink
Cilantro Lime Crockpot Shredded Chicken | 8 Hours | Food Love
Cuban Shredded Beef | Little Spice Jar
Instant Pot Pulled Pork | 1 Hour | Savory Tooth
Crockpot Shredded Chicken Chili | 6 Hours | WTYM Blog
Mason Jar Meal Prep
This may be the easiest way to meal prep a packable lunch -EVER! You can do all sorts of healthy recipes in a Mason Jar!
Blueberry Banana Overnight Oats | Organize Yourself Skinny
Mornings Made Berry Easy Smoothie | xoxoBella
Mason Jar Burrito Bowls | Gimme Delicious
Mediterranean Lentil Salad | Tasty
Related: 16 Mason Jar Salads For Meal Prep
Before You Go Shopping
Check Your Pantry
Make sure you know what you have vs. what you need – this will save you money!
Also – make sure there’s room in the freezer & fridge. You don’t have to do a complete clear out, but you do want to avoid an unfortunate I Have No Space scenario when you unload the groceries!
Meal Prep On A Budget Tips
Select recipes with ingredients that are on sale. Check the Sunday paper for ads, and coupons-BEFORE you pick your meals for the week
Choose recipes with fruits & vegetables that are in season. They’ll be less expensive!
Make meals stretch by adding extra veggies & rice.
Select recipes you can double or that will yield leftovers. Find one or two that you can use more than once. Chili is my go-to double recipe. Easy, simple, and nobody complains about having it as leftovers – especially when they have no idea that last night’s chili is tonight’s burrito or taco salad!
Worried You Can’t Afford A Healthier Lifestyle?
Check out Thrive Market! They are on a mission to make the best healthy foods & products affordable & accessible to everyone – especially if you’re on a budget!
Shop Multiple Stores
Yes, this can be time-consuming, but it’s also a way some people save BIG on food! If you’re new to this meal prep thing, I don’t recommend shopping all day-at five different stores-you’ll have zero energy left. Focus on saving money on canned & bagged items at the Dollar Store first.
Meal Prep Shopping
Organize Your List
Go with a master list and do not get distracted! Stick to your list and make one trip to the store. This will save you time & so much money…Those last minute trips to the store cost you a ton!
To stay on track – organize your shopping list by section. Produce, Dairy, Meats, Frozen, Canned, Baking, Spices-if you know your store’s layout by heart, place these categories in the order of how you shop. I like to leave the cold stuff for last because I’m super-paranoid something will spoil because I took too long to get it home.
Buy in Bulk
If you know you’re going to be eating chicken for three nights, take advantage of the family-sized packages of chicken. You can also buy meat and pork in value-sized packs. When you get home, you can portion it out in ziplock bags & freeze for later.
Frozen Is Fabulous
Buy frozen fruits & veggies to save time & money! Frozen fruits & vegetables are just as healthy as fresh – & sometimes they’re BETTER – they often have a higher level of antioxidants & vitamins because they’re picked at their peak & flash frozen!
Meal Prep On A Budget Favorites
- Sweet Potatoes
- Brown Rice
Meal Prep Batch Cooking
Don’t spend all day meal prepping. Set a timer for two to three hours on your preferred meal prep day-most folks do Sunday, but it’s up to you. Roast all of the veggies for your upcoming meals and portion them out in air tight containers. Use these for salads, side dishes, or soups. Cook chicken, make a roast, and batch cook quinoa and wild rice.
You’ll be amazed at what you can get accomplished in a few hours. A few of my favorite meal prep batch cooking foods are:
- Veggies Roast Cauliflower, Zucchini, & Carrots together-they have similar cook times
- Grains: Quinoa & Wild Rice
- Beans & Legumes: Navy-Black-& Kidney beans, Chickpeas
Meal Prep Storage & Tools
Do invest in quality meal prep containers. You need dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe. This Glasslock 18-piece assorted oven set is fabulous!
Zip-Top Freezer Bags
Use these for everything from smoothie prep to soups to save space. Make sure you get all of the air out before sealing.
Make sure you label all of your meals-especially freezer meals with the name of the dish, date it was prepared, and the expiration date. You may want to write other instructions too like dethawing time & cook time. Use a label maker or a permanent marker so it will last!
Measuring Cups & Spoons
You’re looking for durable, easy to see measurements & you want dishwasher safe. Nobody has time for hand wash. I found this angled measuring cup you may like because of the grip. It’s also easy to read…OXO Good Grips: Measuring Cup
Nothing is more frustrating than sawing your way through a vegetable with a dull blade! You don’t have to spend a fortune – but do make sure you have a few good knives! You can get the Rada Cutlery Meal Prep 4 piece set on amazon here. This comes with 3 pairing knives + the Rada Vegetable Peeler.
You don’t need anything super-fancy here. I found this Wilton Perfect Results Mega Large Cookie pan on amazon. It’s non-stick & dishwasher safe. Check to make sure it will fit into your oven before you buy-it’s 15X21!
Crockpot or Slow Cooker
Call it a crockpot or a slow-cooker – either way; it’s going to be your best friend! These easy recipes make dinner happen with little to no work! You can also use them to batch cook! Use your crockpot or Instant Pot on meal prep day to make your chicken for the week. Here’s an affordable one with tons of great reviews on Amazon – mine is so old it isn’t available anymore!
Do you have to get an Instant Pot? No! But if you enjoy super fast cook times – it’s a darn good idea:) This Instant Pot Duo Plus comes in 3 different sizes-3 Quart-6-Quart-8 Quart & does everything from steaming rice to making yogurt!
Check Out the Best Meal Prep Tools & Gadgets here
Meal Prep Breakfast Recipes
- Peanut Butter Overnight Oats | Minimalist Baker
- Freezer Breakfast Burritos | Damn Delicious
- Make Ahead Berry Quinoa Breakfast Meal Prep | Sweet Peas and Saffron
- Turkey & Egg Breakfast Casserole | Aimee Mars
- Low Carb No Egg Breakfast Bake | Kalyn’s Kitchen
- Meal Prep Strawberry Banana Smoothie (In A Bag!) | Fit Foodie Finds
- Easy Vegan Peanut Butter Banana Breakfast Cookies | Beaming Baker
Meal Prep Lunch Recipes
- Turkey Taco Lettuce Wraps | The Cozy Cook
- Tuna Salad Meal Prep | Damn Delicious
- Quick Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowls | Crunchy Creamy Sweet
- Cold Sesame Noodle Meal Prep Bowls (Vegan) | Sweet Peas and Saffron
- Lemon Roasted Salmon with Sweet Potatoes & Broccolini | Little Spice Jar
- Chicken Fajita Meal Prep Lunch Bowls With Cilantro Lime Quinoa | My Food Story
- Superfood Taco Bowl Meal Prep Recipe | Fit Foodie Finds
Meal Prep Dinner Recipes
- Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Sandwiches | Yummy Healthy Easy
- Food Prep Roasted Veggie Quinoa Bowls | Slim Sanity
- Shredded Chicken Tacos (Ready In 30 Minutes!) | Cake Whiz
- Italian Chicken Meal Prep Bowls | Easy Peazy Mealz
- One Pan Healthy Italian Sausage & Veggies | Chelsea’s Messy Apron
- Cashew Chicken Sheet Pan | Life Made Sweeter
- Sheet Pan Thai Glazed Salmon With Vegetables | The Recipe Critic
I hope these meal prep tips and recipes help you find a way to save time, money, and stick to your diet-whatever it may be!