Preparing meals in advance, or “meal prepping,” is an excellent way to save time and ensure you and your family are eating healthily.
Research shows that people who plan and prepare meals in advance are generally healthier. A U.S. study found that people who spend more time preparing food at home eat more fruits and vegetables and spend less money on fast food. U.K. research also found an association between food preparation and a higher-quality diet. A French study found that people who plan meals eat a healthier diet and are less likely to be obese.
These studies are correlational, which means that the relationship between health and meal prepping isn’t fully understood. There could be other factors that lead people to both meal prep and eat healthfully. That said, many people believe that meal prepping helps them save time, save money, and be healthier, so it’s worth trying if those are goals for you.
How to Approach Meal Prepping
Keep in mind that health is a major reason to meal prep, so if you do not prep healthy meals, it somewhat defeats the purpose. A diet common in Portugal and Spain has been dubbed The Atlantic Diet, and this would be a good diet to follow when meal prepping. The Atlantic Diet, similar to the Mediterranean Diet but different in some key aspects, has been found to be healthy for the heart in multiple studies.
The Atlantic Diet, along with the official dietary guidelines for Portugal, emphasize consuming a lot of whole grains, multiple servings of fruits and vegetables each day, dairy, beans, and a limited amount of meats and oils. Whether you’re meal prepping lunches, dinners, or both, it’s good to include fruits and vegetables as part of each meal.
Items That Make Meal Prep Easier
Multiple kitchen tools can make meal prepping easier. Pressure cookers are ideal for one-pot meals, such as soups, stews, and warm comfort foods. They greatly reduce the time it takes to cook a meal compared to traditional cooking methods.
Lidded glass and plastic containers are ideal for prepped meals that need to leave the home, such as lunches. Many people prefer glass containers because they are more eco-friendly and don’t run the risk of leaching chemicals into the food they hold. Reusable sandwich bags are another eco-friendly option for storing prepped meals and snacks, or transporting them to work or school.
Getting Started With Meal Prepping
Most people who meal prep set aside time each weekend to plan and prep meals for the upcoming week. This might involve researching recipes, creating a shopping list, going grocery shopping, prepping ingredients, and assembling lunches.
Harvard University shares tips for successful meal prepping. They recommend using a shopping list to do all grocery shopping one day each week, and using a calendar or schedule to plan meals for different days. The more you meal prep, the more it will become part of your routine, so now is the best time to start.