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How to Meal Prep: A Beginner’s Guide

Meal prep isn’t just for bodybuilders, parents with too many things to do during the week, or fitness “influencers” on Instagram. Real people can — and should — meal prep, not only for the sake of making gains in the gym, but to get more nutrients into their diets and rely less on fast food (and to save time during a busy week when the last thing they will want to do is cook a healthy dinner).

Meal prepping, for those who have been living under a rock, is basically making a ton of healthy, delicious food in one big batch and then portioning it out into reusable containers and saving it for later.

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So what does it take to meal prep? We’ll walk you through everything, including how to start, when to cook, and a couple of recipes to serve as a jumping-off point.

How to Start Meal Prepping

Begin With One Meal Per Day

Ask yourself: When time is limited and hunger strikes, do you choose a) convenient options or b) healthy ones?

If you chose “a” like the rest of the human race, meal prep could make a huge, positive impact on your daily life.

meal prep mason jar
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When starting meal prep, only do it as a means of supplementation. Founder and CEO of Ghost Brooklyn (a members-only fitness lounge and private training facility) Aqib Rashid says he recommends meal prepping to the majority of his high-profile clients, but only for a meal or two per day — so not the social media photos you see of 50 identical containers of chicken, rice, and broccoli.

“It’s effective to use meal prep to make better decisions during, say, your daily lunch scavenge. It’s noon, you’re starving, do you go to the vending machine, fast food, or the fridge where you’ve given yourself the easy decision,” Rashid says.

When to Meal Prep

Sundays

Rashid spent most of his career doing the corporate runaround many of us follow. That means precious weekends are reserved to chill, eat, and chill some more. However, now that you’re meal prepping, you’ll have to sacrifice a few Sunday football quarters to plan one to two meals for the week.

“Sundays are the best. Come Monday, you’re starting your week right. Meal prepping every meal for a full week will take an entire Sunday, but only lunches, even just for the work week (5 days), isn’t bad. Bang that out on a Sunday night,” Rashid explains.

We’ll get to recipes and containers below, but mark your calendars. Sundays are for the preps.

man cutting vegetables
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How to Keep Your Meals Fresh

Obviously, put your meals in the fridge after making them. You can keep two to three days’ worth of meals in the fridge and everything else, like protein, grains, and veggies, in the freezer. If you make a big salad, keep it in the fridge.

“I make a large point to make sure I’m taking in adequate veggies and greens,” Rashid says. “If you can, go speak to a nutritionist for a consult on what you should be eating to reach your goals.”

For the broader population, Rashid says you can ignore obsessing over macros and micros and focus instead on the fact that you’re eating chicken and salad instead of a cheeseburger. (Not that cheeseburgers should be outlawed, because they shouldn’t.)

Best Meal Prep Grocery Lists and Recipes

Start Simple

You’ll want to eat lean proteins, carbs, and vegetables. Choose whole foods over processed and avoid sugars and trans-saturated fats. This shouldn’t be a minefield — think simple.

The Manual asked Geoff Tripp of the personal training app, Trainiac, to write us a meal prep grocery list. With 10 items, you can prep three to five meals for the next week. Tripp included items for your lunches and snacks.

“You’ll need about an hour to prep for your meals, which will include cooking the chicken, washing and cutting up your veggies, and mixing everything together to make your tuna/chicken salad and tuna/chicken wrap,” Tripp says. “Once you get a great system down with simple ingredients that can be used across multiple meals, your options for having a healthy meal or snack become less daunting and your meal prep challenges go away.”

man grocery shopping with list on phone
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Sample Grocery List

  • 2 cans of white albacore tuna
  • 2 lbs lean chicken breasts
  • 1 bunch of kale or pre-washed bag of kale
  • Light vinaigrette salad dressing
  • Bag of whole wheat tortilla
  • Bag of mixed peppers (green, red, orange)
  • Bag of whole carrots
  • Hummus
  • Almonds, raw
  • Bag of small apples

Best Meal Prep Recipes

Tuna/Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans white Albacore Tuna, drained, or 2 lbs lean chicken breasts
  • 2 medium pieces of kale, taken off the stem and chopped
  • 2 handfuls of almonds, chopped
  • 1 cup peppers, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1 tortilla (optional)
  • A few drizzles of vinaigrette dressing
  • Hummus

Method:

  1. If making tuna salad, drain the cans. If making chicken salad, cook the chicken breast and chop it into cubes.
  2. Add tuna or chicken, almonds, peppers, and carrots into a bowl and mix together. Add a few drizzles of vinaigrette dressing to your liking.
  3. Store in the fridge.
  4. When ready, quickly assemble your meal for the day. If making a wrap, add hummus as a spread then place tuna/chicken salad into the wrap. Swap the tortilla for a bed of chopped kale if making a salad.

Snacks

  • Small, single apples
  • A handful of raw almonds
  • Chopped carrots dipped in hummus
  • Drink 12oz. to 20 oz. of water

Meal Prep Containers and Other Helpful Tools

  • Containers: Invest in a standard set of meal prep containers (there are the best on the market right now) that are slim and stackable. Standard Tupperware is fine, but sectioned containers help you standardize your meals. Once all the food is cooked, divvy out assembly-line style.
  • Slow cooker: Pressed for time or have a big date Sunday? Use a slow cooker. Throw in your protein, veggies, and grains, then come back five to six hours later and it’s done.
  • Blender: “My single favorite kitchen appliance is a ,” Rashid says. “In meal prep, we think of solid foods, but I’ll pre-make shakes. Most guys have more than three meals a day, so make protein smoothies to replace a soda.”
  • Lunchbox: As juvenile as it sounds, lunch boxes are cool (mirroring the resurgence of fanny packs) and will 100-percent help in your meal planning efforts. We suggest investing in a Fjallraven Kanken Mini Cooler.

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