Making meals at home is one of the easiest ways to eat healthy and save money. But cooking from scratch takes time and sometimes just isn’t an option. Maybe you’re too busy to make a full meal for lunch in the middle of the day, or you’re too tired to make dinner in the evening after a full day of work, chores, and errands. And don’t even get us started on breakfast! It may be the most important meal of the day, but it’s also the one you’re most likely to skip if you hit snooze too many times.
So, it’s easy to find yourself reaching for the phone or laptop to order delivery or pre-heating the oven for yet another frozen pizza. But learning how to meal prep can be easier than you think – and could help you avoid a dietary disaster.
How to meal prep
Three of the most common types of meal preparation are batch recipes, individually portioned meals, and ingredient prep.
Batch recipes: Make a big recipe and save or freeze the leftovers. This works great for soups, casseroles, and grains and starches like rice, quinoa, and mashed potatoes.
Individually portioned meals: Prepare multiple servings of a full meal and portion it out into single-serving containers.
Ingredient prep: Sometimes the most time-intensive part of cooking is all the work you have to do before the food reaches the stove or oven. Give yourself a head start by chopping, peeling, and slicing your ingredients ahead of time to use in meals later in the week.
Using a combination of these tactics will give you the greatest amount of flexibility and variety. For instance, you might make a big pot of chili one night and freeze the leftovers in single-serve containers to eat over the coming days, weeks, or even months. While the chili cooks, you could chop fruits and veggies to use in salads and pasta dishes. And another day you could make a large meal and portion it out for grab-and-go lunches and dinners. Now you’ve got a variety of options to choose from at each meal!
A few more meal prep tips to know:
Stock up on reusable food containers — preferably ones that can go from fridge to freezer to microwave to dishwasher.
Schedule your meal prep — and make it fun! Pour yourself a glass of wine and fire up your favorite album, audiobook or podcast to listen to while you cook. Lots of meal preppers spend an hour or two on Sunday getting ready for the week, but you can choose any day and time that works for your lifestyle.
Start simple — both in terms of the recipes you make and how much food you prep. You aren’t saving yourself time or money if you end up throwing out prepped food you never get around to eating.
Meal prep ingredients
Unfortunately, not all ingredients are created equal when it comes to meal preparation. Here are some of the best foods for meal prepping, and a few you should skip.
Cook: Grains (rice, quinoa, couscous, pasta), mashed potatoes, meat, beans, chickpeas, lentils, roasted vegetables, hard-boiled eggs
Chop: Hearty, fresh vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, radishes, cucumbers, zucchini), sturdy greens (kale, cabbage, romaine), fruit (apples, oranges, stone fruit, melons, pineapple)
Tip: rub apple slices with lemon juice to keep them from browning!
Make: Sauces and dips (salad dressing, hummus, salsa, pesto)
Portion: Nuts and seeds, cheese
Skip: Dressed salads, bread and fried foods
You’ll find plenty of meal prep recipes online, but here are a few of our favorites:
Recipes for success
- Portion fruit (berries, bananas, etc.) and nuts in the freezer. When you’re ready, just add milk and blend.
- Make and freeze breakfast burritos, then reheat in the microwave, skillet, or toaster oven.
- Cook and store in the fridge for 3–4 days or freeze for up to a month. Reheat in the toaster.
- The classic meal prep breakfast!
- Serve with crisp veggies and whole-grain crackers to bump up the nutrition points.
- The colorful layers are pretty — and keep the greens from getting soggy!
- The tortillas are hearty enough to stand up the dressing until you’re ready to eat.
- Deconstructed egg rolls are sure to please even the pickiest palate.
- Break out the family chili recipe and make a batch to freeze. Dress it up with shredded cheese, sour cream, and scallions when it’s time to serve.
- Break out the Instant Pot for this juicy pork recipe.
- A vegetarian treat. You won’t miss the meat!
- A make-ahead Indian dinner in 30 minutes.
Ibotta grocery pickup & delivery partners
Since meal prep means you’ll be planning ahead anyway, it’s easy to order all your ingredients online and get your groceries delivered right to your door or brought to you curbside. Grocery delivery and pickup are great options for anyone with a busy schedule, and you can earn cash back when you shop with Ibotta. Order through the Ibotta app or browser extension to make your meal prep budget go further.
- Target Online
- Walmart Pickup & Delivery
Ibotta meal kit partners
Not sure where to start with meal prep — or home cooking in general? Meal kits can take some of the guesswork out of meals for beginner home cooks and seasoned chefs alike. Some even handle parts of the meal prep, like chopping veggies and portioning out seasonings for you! Earn cash back when you start your subscription to any of the meal kits below through the Ibotta app or browser extension.
- Blue Apron
- Purple Carrot
- Green Chef
- Home Chef