Meal prep is a huge part of my weekly routine. It saves me time and money throughout the week, plus helps me eat healthy each day. I like preparing all of my meals over the weekend so that I have healthy foods available to grab-and-go. Read more about why I meal prep with 5 Reason To Meal Prep.
So how do I choose what to make during meal prep? Each week varies, but there are several factors to take into consideration.
Here are 4 questions to ask before you start meal prep each week.
These questions should help you narrow down what type of food you want to make or what type of recipe you want to make.
If you are a beginner when it comes to meal prep, then you might want to actually sit down and write out some ideas for meals as you answer these questions. The longer you meal prep, the easier it will be to answer these questions in your head without jotting anything down.
Take a look at the 4 questions to ask before you start meal prep and consider these as you plan your week.
What do I feel like eating?
It might seem like an odd question. “Well Melissa, it is Sunday. How am I suppose to know what is going to sound good for lunch on Wednesday?!?”
My advice it to look at it a different way. Think about what foods you like that will be good for lunch no matter what day it is.
For example, I am never upset when I have a burger for lunch! Now, some days I might want a traditional burger with cheese, mustard, pickles, etc. Other days I might want a burger that is covered in green chile, mozzarella and hot sauce. Those small details (hamburger toppings) are easier to accommodate throughout the week, compared to entire food groups (you made chicken, but are craving a burger).
I also have a few go-to meal prep recipes that never disappoint. For example, I’m never mad when I pack Healthy Enchilada Casserole all week long! Another go-to for me is pasta with meat sauce.
Figure out what sounds good to you that week. Maybe it is Mexican food or maybe it is Italian.
You can start even more basic and decide what type of protein sounds good. Do I want chicken this week or beef? Does pork tenderloin sound good all week?
Meal prep can be very handy when wanting to eat healthy and save money. However, if you are making foods that you don’t want to eat, then you’ll be more likely ditch your prepped food for something else. You might end up going out to eat with a friend or grabbing fast food because your prepped meals aren’t appealing.
Pick foods that you actually like to eat, not what you think you are suppose to eat. If you don’t like broccoli, then don’t make broccoli just because you think it’s healthy! Find another vegetable that you do like so that you’ll stick to eating your prepped meals.
What foods do I have on hand?
Look through your pantry and look through your refrigerator. Was there something you bought last week at the grocery store but never ate? Do you have four different types of grains already in the pantry? No need to buy more at the grocery store! Use what you have.
I will occasionally buy meat in bulk and keep the extra in freezer. If I have frozen chicken thighs and frozen ground beef already in the freezer, then I’m less likely to pick up pork tenderloin at the grocery store (unless I’m seriously craving that pork tenderloin….).
When I go to grocery stores like Sprouts, Trader Joe’s & Vitamin Cottage (they are all 45+ miles away) I will stock up on different grains and items that I can’t normally find at our local grocery stores. Before I commit to what I want to make for the week, I take a quick look at what needs to be used up in the pantry.
Do I have 14 boxes of pasta open? Looks like I need to make some sort of pasta during meal prep!
Take a look at what you have on hand and build some meals around those items.
How much time do I have to cook?
Time is an important factor when I meal prep. Some weekends I have all day to prepare food, so I can make whatever I want. Other weekends I have very little time for meal prep, so I have to get more creative.
If you only have 30 minutes to prepare lunch for the entire week, then try a slow cooker recipe! There are plenty of slow cooker recipes that have you put all the ingredients into the slow cooker, turn it on and it does all the work for you!
The beauty of the slow cooker is that you can be gone for hours at a time and your lunch for the week is cooking away!
Another option for meal prep on limited time is a no-cook recipe. My No-Cook Meal Prep Burrito Bowls are super easy to throw together, require 10 minutes and no cooking! Again, lunch is ready for the entire week with very minimal time and effort.
Take a look at how much time you have throughout the weekend to dedicate to preparing food. Base your recipes around that amount of time.
Meal prep shouldn’t be a burden, so make it work with what time frame you have available for that particular week.
How many meals do I need?
Think about what your week looks like and how many meals you will need.
I usually prep a lunch and a few snacks for Monday through Friday. Before I start meal prep I will look at my week and see how many lunch commitments I have. If I have lunch meetings twice throughout the week, then I only need to make three meals rather than five.
I’ll also think about what my days look like. Am I in the office most afternoons? Or will I be out-and-about away from the office? My snack choices change based on where I’ll be and when. If I’m going to be out of the office in the afternoon, then I’ll pack snacks that don’t need refrigeration such as granola bars, raw nuts, trail mix, etc.
Here’s another thing to consider. Do you prep food for anyone else in your family? Occasionally I’ll make extra food for Donny to eat throughout the week. However, if he is travelling then I definitely don’t want a ton of leftover food in the fridge that will go to waste.
I won’t make a huge pan of lasagna for meal prep if I am only going to need three lunches during and there is no one else to eat it at home.
If there happens to be something you are craving but you don’t need very many meals, then see if you can freeze it! Some meals are great to freeze, while others do not do so well.
So those are the 4 questions to ask before you start meal prep each week. Again, in the beginning it might be helpful to write answers to these questions down along with meal prep ideas. Over time, you may or may not need to continue to write it all down. You will able to brainstorm meal prep ideas in your head based on the answers to these questions.
What are some questions you ask yourself before you begin meal prep each week?