Getting Started with Meal Prep

This past week, I shared a day in my life on Instagram Stories and at the end I asked people to leave me questions if they had any. The most common question, funnily enough, had to do with meal prep – a lot of people wanted me to go through the meal prep process. It would be a VERY long Instagram Story session, so I thought I’d accompany it with a blog post!

Meal prepping differs with everyone depending on their needs – so I’ll go through some questions you can ask yourself to figure out your needs and share my process as well. My answers and process is based on the needs and requirements of two people (Saad and I have meal prepped together for over a year and have continued to do so now that we’re married).

Questions to Ask Yourself (+ my answers to those questions)

How many people are you meal prepping for?

We meal prep for 2 people.

How many meals do you need to prep?

We used to prep breakfasts as well, but turns out we don’t like eating the same things so we took breakfast away. We meal prep 16 meals (8 meals per person), which works out to 4 days worth of food. This works really great for us because we like to cook or go out on Fridays.

How many different meals do you want to cook?

We like to balance ease of meal prepping with variety, so we meal prep 3 different types of meals. 4 of one type of meal, 6 of another type of meal, and another 6 for another type of meal.

I’ve been cooking for myself since I was in university, so I have a fairly good idea of the things I like and the items I reach for constantly. If you’re just getting started, here’s a list of basic pantry (and some fridge) items I recommend you have on hand when you get started with cooking or meal prepping. It’s the list of items I bought immediately, when we got married and moved into our own home.

Starter Pantry List

  • salt
  • black pepper
  • italiano seasoning (big pack of it)
  • chili powder
  • crushed chili flakes
  • ground cumin
  • garlic paste (to keep in the fridge)
  • ginger paste (to keep in the fridge)
  • dried parsley
  • chicken stock cubes/powder (Knorr and OXO powder are my favourite)
  • basmati rice
  • pasta (we tend to keep macaroni and spaghetti on hand)
  • canola oil
  • olive oil
  • soy sauce
  • hoisin sauce
  • worcestershire sauce
  • garam masala (or a different spice blend you like)
  • mayonaise
  • hot sauce (we like sriracha)
  • ketchup
  • mustard (we like to have dijon mustard)
  • honey
  • cornstarch
  • flour

If you have these 25 basic items on hand, you can buy some veggies and protein and makes a lot of different types of meals easily.

The next list is some basic kitchen tools you definitely need to have to make your meal prepping life easier.

Starter Kitchen Tools

  • 2-3 knives (2 chef’s knives and one small knife)
  • peeler
  • 2 cutting boards (so you can leave prepped meat on one and cut veggies on one)
  • 3 sizes of pots with lids
  • 2 sizes of frying pans
  • small ingredient prep bowls (we use cheap tupperware)
  • a mixing bowl set
  • wooden spoons to cook with
  • meal prep containers (we use RubberMaid Take Alongs, you can get them at Superstore, Walmart, Amazon, etc)
  • two sizes of baking dishes
  • Instant Pot (imo, every meal prepper should have one)
  • aluminum foil
  • plastic wrap
  • food processor (a cheap chopper will work in most cases)
  • cheese grater
  • measuring spoons
  • measuring cups
  • liquid measuring cup (we like to have two on hand)
  • blender (a magic bullet type will work in most cases)

Choosing What to Cook

When we first started meal prepping, we would just think of regular meals we like to eat: biryani, salmon with baked baby potatoes, chicken fried rice, tacos, lasagna, mac and cheese, beef stew with biscuits, etc.

We weren’t too concerned with meal prepping healthy meals. The first thing to focus on is getting in the habit of meal prepping and doing that consistently. You’ll be motivated to meal prep more if you like what you’re eating. Once you’re in the habit of meal prepping, you can experiment with new recipes and healthier food.

Cooking 3 types of meals works really well for us. We own an Instant Pot, so often we try to have one meal that’s cooked in the Instant Pot, one that can be baked in the oven, and one that’s made on the stovetop. This way things don’t get super crowded and we don’t have to wait between recipes. It doesn’t always work out this way – sometimes the food we want to make just won’t work in an Instant Pot, etc. 

Pinterest is super helpful. Just searching ‘meal prep’ gets you so many ideas. We’ve made a lot of Pinterest inspired meals.

Budget Bytes is another favourite website for us. Beth’s recipes are generally easy to make, affordable, delicious, and well written.

Google, of course, is still one of our best friends. I’ll search something like ‘easy chicken meal recipe’ and find something I like. But we don’t do this as much as the other options.

Reddit is another place we take inspiration from. Particularly from r/GifRecipes and r/MealPrepSunday. Sometimes these recipes are harder than they seem (much like a lot of Tasty recipes) so be careful if you choose something from here. Read the full recipe first, so you know how much work is involved.

YouTube is a comparatively new resource for us. I find myself often watching meal preppers and getting ideas from them, these days. For example, this week, I’m making some homemade granola as a healthy snack for us – I got that idea from Saadia at Pick Up Limes. I also like to watch the videos Anna (from The Anna Edit) makes about what she eats in a day.

I share our Meal Prep menus on Instagram and save them to my highlights. I’ve also started a new highlight called Prep Menus where you can see JUST the menus without any of the process.

Going Grocery Shopping

Once in a while, we’re proactive and figure out what we want to cook the day before. When that happens, we order everything online on the Real Canadian Superstore website and arrange to pick it up the next morning. This really makes the meal prep process feel faster and quicker. However, we don’t do this SUPER often because we forget to figure things out earlier (also, I enjoy going to the store, gets me extra steps!)

We used to make a list on our phone and then message it to the other person, so we’d both have it. Then after a while that started to get annoying, so we started using Google Keep so that we could check things off as we bought them, but it was kind of annoying sharing the lists every time, and I don’t like Google Keep.

Now we’re experimenting with the app Bring!, it’s available for both iOS and Android, and you can share lists. It’s really easy to use:

This is our actual grocery list for this week. Having a good pantry and frozen meats on hand already makes for shorter grocery trips.

So we make our list based on what the recipes call for and then we go shopping. Now that we live together, we are able to stock up on meats and other frozen items, so we try to buy meat in bulk if there’s a sale. This saves costs in the long run and it’s nice knowing you have some protein on hand if you want to make something.

Cooking

Since there’s two of us, we both work on different recipes. The general process we follow is prepping all the ingredients for the recipe first, and then doing the rest of the cooking. We have small cheap tupperware from Ikea and large mixing bowls that we use to prep all our ingredients in.

We used to meal prep in my mom’s kitchen and her kitchen is fairly large with a lot of counter space. Now we meal prep in our own home, where we have comparatively limited counter space, so something we’re still getting in the habit of doing is: washing things as we’re done using them. This frees up counter space, makes clean up faster at the end, and allows us to reuse prep bowls. We’re still not perfect at it, but we’re getting there – and really, we should always have been doing this.

After we ladle out all the meals into our meal prep containers, we let them cool for at least 15 minutes before closing them up. You need some of the heat to escape or the food will start to smell super weird sitting in the fridge for a few days.

Recipes

We cook a lot of different things. Some things are in regular rotation, but a lot of the time, it’s always brand new stuff. We like our variety. We invent recipes, cook based off recipes, mash together a couple recipes, etc. I’ll try to add some of our common go to recipes and recipe ‘bases’ that we use a lot. 

Generally, when we cook, we end up with 1 super easy recipe, 1 healthy recipe and 1 time consuming recipe that’s a bit more fancy and usually brand new. For example, one week we made:

  • chicken pulao (this is the healthy recipe)
  • lentil stew (daal) with rice (this is the easy recipe)
  • black bean enchiladas (the time consuming recipe)

The black bean enchiladas were comparatively time consuming to make, with a lot of different steps. It was also a ridiculously delicious meal that we’re definitely going to make again. We made it using this recipe, but substituted it with this enchilada sauce and skipped the avocado.

A recipe base gives you a basic food item that you can then jazz up with different flavourings or sides. An easy example of a recipe base is a basic stir fried rice base. You’ve got some basic things that make it stir fried, and then you can add whatever combination of protein and veggies to make it different. I’ve got 2 go-to stirfried rice bases: a basic one and a sweet n tangy one. I’ll try to share those soon.

And that’s it! I hope that was helpful as a getting started guide. I’ve got a couple more posts in the works that I’m hoping to publish soon, which will go through a sample meal prep menu with recipes. If you have questions, leave a comment or ask me on Instagram!

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