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Meal-Prepping 101: A Meal-Prep Guide for Everyone

Cooking dinner after a busy day isn't something that most people look forward to. Unfortunately, being too busy or tired to cook often leads to eating out or bringing home fast food. These options are expensive and unhealthy, especially when compared to home-cooked meals. Meal-prepping is a way to prepare a week's worth of dinners, lunches, or breakfasts so there's no need to cook or eat out on the busiest of days.

Although the idea of meal-prepping might sound difficult or time-consuming, it's a simple task that anyone can perform regardless of their budget. The time spent prepping meals in a day is minimal when you consider that you'll save time during the rest of the week. Prepping meals ahead also offers many health benefits, as people can better control their portions and tailor meals to meet the dietary needs of members of their household.

Setting Aside Time for Meal Prep

Most food items can safely last three to four days in the refrigerator. That means that unless you're preparing foods for the freezer, it's best to set aside time twice a week for meal prep. Sunday, at the beginning of the week, is often a popular time for many people to do their food preparation. Although this works for some, it may not be ideal for others' schedules. People should choose a time to prepare meals on the days when they are less busy and have several hours that they can dedicate to completing their prep.

Grocery-Shopping for Meal Prep

Before grocery-shopping, make a list of the ingredients that are needed for the week's meals. Even without a plan, one can buy staples such as pre-cut and pre-washed vegetables, grains and starches, and non-perishables. It's also important to include protein and fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, on the shopping list. To avoid buying things that aren't needed, never go shopping without eating first, and write the grocery list so that items on the list will be easy to find in the store.

Meal-Prep Styles

Some people may have more or less time to prepare or serve their meals than others. Fortunately, meal prep is more than just one size fits all. There are several meal-prep styles that fit a wide range of needs.

Complete Meals

Some people may prefer to make an entire meal, like lasagna, in advance. Making complete meals requires minimal effort during the week, as the food only needs to reheat.

Batch Cooking

This type of meal prep is good for people who are planning meals for the future. When batch cooking, a person prepares multiple batches of a dish, portions it into several meals, and freezes each meal separately. Cooking this way provides heat-and-serve meals weeks or even months later. This method can help eliminate or reduce the need for fast food on nights when there isn't time to cook.

Ingredient Prepping

Some people prefer to eat their food when it's freshly made, but they can still take steps to prepare their meals in advance. By washing, chopping up, and freezing ingredients, people can save time spent in the kitchen. Prepping ingredients may include chopping up vegetables, cooking rice, or cooking and shredding chicken. By planning meals that have common ingredients, people can reduce the number of ingredients that need preparing while also saving time. Another benefit of ingredient prepping is that it allows more variety, as people can combine ingredients to create a different meal each day if desired.

Single-Serve Meal Prep

Individual meals are great for people who are always on the go but don't want to spend money on junk food. These are one-serving meals that are made in advance, such as breakfast sandwiches and microwavable or no-cook bento-box lunches.

Weekly Menu-Planning

Meal-planning for the week is just as important as the prep. Planning meals makes it easier and faster to go shopping, and it will take the guesswork out of knowing what to prepare on prep day. For ideas, look at what ingredients are already in the home and determine what to make using them. For more inspiration, explore recipe ideas online or ask around for meal ideas. Choose dishes that share ingredients or a dish whose leftovers can be used to create an entirely different meal.

Food Safety

For safety, most of the meals that people make should be frozen or eaten within three or four days. That's the time frame that it takes many foods to go bad. Label items that go in either the refrigerator or the freezer so that it's easily known when they were made. It's also important to thaw out frozen meals properly in the refrigerator and not on the counter. When handling food, it's important to always start with clean hands and wash raw vegetables before cooking them. It's also crucial that people know what the correct internal temperature is for different food items to ensure that they are cooked to a safe temperature to eat.

By HowLongToCook.org
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