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Meal Prep Made Easy

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Packing meal in plastic container - salad with person cutting grilled chicken

If your idea of meal planning is choosing which drive-thru restaurant to hit up after work, it’s time to change your ways. Whether your fast food habit is due to lack of time, resources or ideas, meal preparation can help put you on the right path.  

Prepping your meals can help you maintain a healthy diet and save you money, time and even stress. Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services provides six tips to help make meal prep a breeze.


1. Start Slow

Make evolutionary change instead of revolutionary change. In other words, begin to make changes slowly over time. If you are accustomed to eating out six nights a week, don’t plan on cooking six nights a week. Instead, begin by cooking two nights. This can help keep you from becoming overwhelmed. Once you’re comfortable, gradually increase the number of nights you cook at home.

2. Take Inventory

Make a list of what you have in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer, and try to incorporate the items into your weekly meal plan. Foods to keep on hand that can help make meal prep easier include:  

  • Frozen vegetables
  • Frozen fruits
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Beans (canned or frozen)
  • Frozen fish
  • Chicken breasts 
  • Potatoes

3. Craft a Calendar

Find a calendar or template online, or make your own meal planning calendar on a dry erase board. Plug in the main dish for each night you are going to cook. For example: 

  • Two chicken meals
  • One meatless meal
  • One fish meal 
  • One beef meal

This makes it easy to plan vegetables and other side dishes to add with each. If you know you’ll be coming home late one night, plan a meal in your slow cooker. 

4. Browse the Web

Use meal planning websites for structured guidance and stress-free menu planning. There are several sites to help you sharpen your planning skills, many of which are free. All you have to do is plug in your food preferences and the number of people you’re serving. The menu, along with the grocery list, will generate for you. Here are a few recommended websites:

5. Make a List 

Once you’ve taken inventory of the food you have at home, create a list of ingredients you need to complete the meals. This helps with organization and efficiency at the grocery store. Relying on memory alone can result in wasted time and extra trips to the store. 

6. Get Organized

Devote a day to prepping the ingredients for your recipes. Do as much as you can ahead of time. For example, wash and chop vegetables and measure spices. If you are cooking a pasta dish, make the sauce, cook the pasta, mix together and refrigerate. You can even make a meal for dinner during the week and one to freeze for later. 

If it’s cookout season, consider grilling on the weekend and make extra chicken or fish for another dinner or lunch. The goal is to have as much prepared as possible so you can quickly put your meals together when you walk in the door every evening. 

Remember, meal planning is a key component to maintaining a healthy diet. Keep in mind, slow and steady wins the race so start slowly and build on your menu planning skills as you go. Bon app├ętit!

Article provided by Patty Kirk, RDN, LD, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.