So, you just decided it’s time to begin a whole food plant based diet. Fantastic!
But then you realize, that means you’re going to have to cook….like….a lot more than you are used to.
How on earth are you going to fit that in when you are already short on time and used to packaged or processed ingredients & take out?
That’s where meal prep comes in and it’s so important (especially if you’re busy) to help you save time and your sanity.
Like Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Meal prep saves so much time
How does meal prep save time?
Well, it’s a very efficient way to make sure you have some or all of your food cooked, prepped, and ready to go for the week. Think of it like creating your own “fast food” restaurant at home. So that during the week, you have “heat & eat” and “grab & go” meals.
Meal prep saves time because you typically choose one day a week (usually on the weekend) to chop, slice, bag, wash, cook, and store your food. This does mean getting organized ahead of time because you need to plan out what meals you’re going to be making for the week.
But it really only takes a few hours to meal prep, because you are more efficient & organized. You can be chopping veggies, while a soup is cooking on the stove, potatoes are baking in the oven, and brown rice is in the Instant Pot. This can cut your time in half or much more! You can even enlist the help of household members like your spouse or children to get in on the action. Then you REALLY save a lot of time.
Plus, this means you only have to clean your kitchen once a week, instead of everytime you make a meal.
Save money with meal prep
Meal prepping also saves money. Ever find old, rotten produce in the back of your fridge because you bought it and then didn’t use it soon enough before it went bad? Yeah, that’s pretty much eliminated with meal prep, because ideally you would do your meal prep day either the day after or the day of your grocery shopping trip so that all your fruits & veggies stay fresh.
Are there different ways to meal prep?
This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I love and it helps keep this website running!
Meal prepping is very individualistic and there is no one size fits all.
Some people like to prepare their ENTIRE week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and desserts for the week. This is great if you are super busy or want to make sure you always have healthy food ready to go so you can stay on track. This is especially important if you are trying to lose weight or get tempted to make poor choices when you are tired or hungry.
Other people just prep 1 or 2 meals for the week, say breakfast and lunch, so that they can have it ready to go in the morning and can take it with them to work.
Others prep a few different items or recipes that they know will help them save time throughout the week. Think a large pot of soup, hummus, wash/cut your veggies and fruits, large batch of brown rice or bake some potatoes, so that it’s easier to throw together meals during the week.
Some people like to go all out with individual meal prep containers, especially for grab and go meals like breakfasts or lunches. These are great for portion control & making sure your meal prepping session lasts ALL week and you don’t run out of food on day 5.
Or you can just leave the recipes in big batches and serve from the cooking dishes as needed.
You choose how it will best help you!
Meal prep ideas for beginners
1. Decide your meal plan for the week
First of all, you have to know what recipes you’re going to make for the week.
If deciding your entire meal plan for the week feels too overwhelming, then how about starting with just a few recipes you can make ahead of time, like a hummus, salad dressing, bean soup, or prep your fruits/veggies.
Or maybe there is a meal that you need to have ready ahead of time, like breakfast or lunch? You can do individual baggies of overnight steel cut oats soaked in plant milk or make a big batch of homemade muesli to have cereal topped with berries in the morning.
2. Make your Grocery Shopping List
Now that you have decided what you are going to make for the week, now it’s time to pull out the recipes and create your shopping list. You can do this with good ‘ole pen and paper, or electronically with a word doc, spreadsheet, or even just a notes app on your phone.
Once you have a full list of all the ingredients, go through your pantry, spices, and fridge to see what you can mark off that you already have.
Don’t skip this step and THINK you know what you have on hand. Otherwise you’ll come home with duplicate items or NOT have something you thought you did! I’ve done that one too many times…
3. Pick your shopping & prepping day
Next, you have to decide what day(s) you are going to go grocery shopping and do your meal prepping.
Some things to think about are:
- Do you want (or have enough energy) to shop and meal prep in the same day?
- Do you want to shop on a Friday or Saturday and meal prep on Sunday?
- Will you be meal prepping twice a week, so maybe half on the weekend and half mid-week, so you need to go to the grocery store twice?
- How many days will there between shopping & prepping? I recommend no more than 1 so that fresh produce doesn’t go bad from being left in the produce bags.
Most people might shop on Saturday and meal prep on Sunday, but you can do it however it best fits in to your schedule and energy levels. The same day can be exhausting if you aren’t used to standing a lot, but you can still do it if you make sure to give yourself plenty of breaks!
4. Plan your prepping session
Before you dive in, think about how you can make most efficient use of your time and kitchen space.
- What things can you have cooking at the same time?
- Do you have an Instant Pot or Slow Cooker you will use?
- What recipes require the oven or stove top, so they can’t be made at the exact same time?
- What can you be chopping, making, mixing, while other things are cooking?
- Are there things that will be used in different recipes, that can be chopped all the same time (like onions, bell peppers, celery, etc)?
This plan doesn’t have to be an exact science, but a little thought ahead can help you be the most efficient with your time.
5. Make sure you have everything you need
If you are going to be using storage bags, make sure you have all the sizes (and enough) that you need.
Do you have enough tupperware or airtight containers? Will you be meal prepping individual meals?
There are lots of great options of disposable meal prepping containers or you can use some that are dishwashable.
Other things to think about are keeping your salad dressings separate from your salad so that the greens don’t wilt. You can portion out your salad dressing in sandwich baggies that you then put in the individual meal prep salad containers to that it becomes your own “dressing packet”.
Print all your recipes or have the cookbooks all in your kitchen so you aren’t having to search for the recipes. I have a 3 ring binder in my kitchen with clear sheet protectors and dividers that I keep all our favorite recipes in so I can get to them fast without having to hunt.
Make sure all your pots/pans/knives/utensils are clean and ready to go so you don’t have to also clean things while you’re prepping.
I suggest doing the dishes the night before your meal prep day and doing a quick once-over to make sure you have everything you need so you don’t have to stop and run to the store mid-cooking session!
Plant Based Recipes great for meal prep:
- Tofu Breakfast Tacos
- Sweet & Creamy Chickpea Salad Sandwiches
- Zesty Mango Quinoa Salad
- Oil Free Pecan Vinaigrette Dressing
- Tangy Spinach Hummus
- Pumpkin Pancakes
- Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Instant Pot Basmati Brown Rice Cilantro Lime Rice
- Slow Cooker Jackfruit Tortilla Soup
- No-Oil Chili Lime Tortilla Chips
- Breakfast Chia Seed Puddings
- Easy Vegan Spinach Lasagna
6. Make a mess and clean up at the end
While you are doing your prepping, don’t worry about the mess you are making.
I know this is hard for me, too….
But you don’t want to spend your time cleaning spills, just to clean it all up again at the end anyways. Cook once, clean once!
7. Time it will take to meal prep
Most people think that meal prepping will take sooo much more time than it really does.
To test this theory, set a timer so you know how long it actually took you. If you are even somewhat organized, a few hours is sufficient for most to get a week’s worth of food prepared.
If you only have a limited amount of time, setting a timer with alerts can help you stay on track and work with a little more sense of urgency to get more done during a shorter period.
After a few meal prepping sessions, you will find out what works best for you and you’ll get better & faster each time.
Don’t forget to have your family help out! It can be a great time to teach children some basic cooking skills and have them appreciate you for all the hard work it is to cook for them, too!
8. Big batches & freezer cooking
Another great idea is to make large batches that you can eat on a few different meals. Leftovers are a STAPLE in our household. I rarely cook things that only last for one meal.
Try doubling up on recipes that are smaller to have more for the week.
You can also make 2 of the same recipe, but put the second one in the freezer uncooked. This is great for loafs, lasagnas, enchiladas, and soups/chilis. Be sure to label them well because once they are frozen sometimes it all looks the same! Add the thawing and cooking instructions to the label so it’s ready to cook on a night that you need a quick meal.
Soups and chilis are great because you can put them in ziplock bags and freeze them flat. When you want to cook it, thaw the ziplock bag under warm water to break it up, then pour into a slow cooker in the morning. Set the slow cooker on low for 8 hours and it will be ready for dinner!
What’s your meal prepping personality?
- Do you prep every single meal for the whole week?
- Or do you prep just breakfast and/or lunch and then cook dinner each night?
- Do you like to portion everything into individual containers for grab and go?
- Or do you prefer to just prep a few big recipes & basics to have for the week?
- Would you like to make double batches so you have some to freeze for later or leftovers?
There is no right or wrong way, but the more you’re prepared, the more likely you are to succeed! Especially if you are used to relying on fast food, restaurants, or frozen/packaged/processed meals.
Will a SMALL investment of time, you will save SO much more time during the week and you’ll be healthier because of it!
LEARN HOW TO MAKE DELICIOUS PLANT BASED RECIPES THAT ARE QUICK, EASY, & CHEAP + SURVIVE THE HOLIDAYS!
Are new to a whole food plant based diet and a little overwhelmed? Not sure what you should and shouldn’t eat? Need help transitioning slowly with delicious & simple recipes your whole family will love that take 30 minutes or less? Let me help you with my Quick & Easy Plant Based Power Pack! I’ll give you the WFPB basics in simple to understand terms and tips on transitioning in a way that works for you. Plus, you’ll get a SPECIAL once-a-year FREE BONUS – my Plant Based Holidays Survival Kit – with delicious WFPB Holiday Recipes! Learn more about my Quick & Easy Plant Based Power Pack HERE & grab your HOLIDAY BONUS!
New to whole food plant based eating? Grab my FREE GUIDE and learn the Simple Steps to start a Plant Based Diet. Fill out the form below!