Meal Prepping 101: How to Plan and Prepare Healthy Meals for the Week
BY EDDIE NICOLAU // PHOTOGRAPHY BY LAUREN THIMMESCH
Let’s be honest—there’s not much glamorous about planning your meals for the week. These meals aren’t likely to earn you many red 100’s on Instagram. The results won’t always merit five fire emojis in a row. But the fact is, meal planning can help get you through the week without breaking your budget or trapping you into the sandwich loop. It also makes whatever dough-based brunch monstrosity you’re going to annihilate on Sunday feel way more deserved.
My method of weekly meal planning doesn’t involve making trays of food to freeze and reheat…though there’s nothing wrong with a nice sheet of lasagna. Think of it more as a process where you prepare food every day—you’re just doing it as efficiently as possible.
For the sake of keeping things entry-level, I’m going to do a week that has the least amount of cooking. Warning: There will be repeat meals, leftovers, and you can expect to cook about 3 nights out of the workweek. I’m also only covering lunch and dinner—breakfast is as easy as buying a huge container of yogurt, cutting fruit on Sunday, and separating it out into 5 re-sealable takeout containers (or mason jars, if you’re fancy) with some bulk granola.
Stuff I always try to have on hand:
Grains/beans: Quinoa is currently my go-to grain at the moment—mostly because it takes 10 minutes to make 2 cups that last the week. Other favorites include bulgar, lentils, brown rice, and chickpeas.
Salad greens: I prefer kale because it’s heartier and less likely to limp out on you by the end of the week, but bitter isn’t for everybody. (Pro-tip: Wash your kale AFTER you chop it if you want it to taste less bitter.)
Feta: The most versatile of the condiment cheeses! It has a pretty crazy shelf life and will agree with almost anything you throw at it, but parmesan, goat cheese, or Cotija work, too.
Tough veggies: Think hearty, cruciferous/root veggies that can hang in the fridge on call, such as eggplant, Brussels sprouts, carrots, etc. Need to make a weekday dinner/leftovers lunch on the fly? Roast some veggies.
Nuts/Dried fruits: These add crunch and flavor to salads and are healthy snacks to have on hand.
Eggs: Boiled or poached, they make for a great finishing touch with some substance.
Olive oil: Invest in one of those giant tin tubs on the bottom shelf of the grocery store. Do it.
SUN (cook ~2 hrs)
L=lunch / D=dinner
Chopping like crazy on Sunday will keep you sane during the week. Promise.
I like to celebrate the death of the weekend by chopping up vegetables. Load up on your groceries for the 3–4 recipes you plan to make, then just chop and store all your ingredients for the week. This is going to cut down on your cook time by a lot (just be sure it’s all airtight in the fridge). I also try and wash all my salad greens on Sunday, too.
For this week: cut an eggplant, a yellow squash, and a zucchini horizontally into thick slices, trim an asparagus bunch, stem and halve about ½ lb Brussels sprouts, and dice an onion. (Side note: I’m doing all vegetarian recipes for the sake of time and shelf-life, but you could easily grill or roast some protein to throw on these meals throughout the week.)
Usually I’ll pick one base (like a grain or a bean) and eat that all week to go with whatever I’m cooking—but assuming you like a little variety, let’s do two: lentils and quinoa. Start by making 3 cups of quinoa and 1 cup of lentils, along with a few hardboiled eggs. Pack up and refrigerate the eggs (still shelled), lentils, and remaining 2 cups. You’ll also want to make and set aside some dressing made from 2 tbs. lemon juice, 4 tbs. olive oil, ½ tsp Dijon, and salt/pepper to taste.
Keep the remaining cup of quinoa out to make 14 of these patties.
After you’ve finished making the patties and packaged them up in the fridge, make a bed of romaine in Tupperware and add some more quinoa, a handful of dried cranberries, a few patties, feta, and a hardboiled egg. That’s lunch for tomorrow.
L: Quinoa patty salad / D: Quinoa sliders
Eggs not your thing? Slap an avocado on that bad Larry! Avocados not your thing? Get out.
Lunch is waiting in the fridge—sweet! For dinner, reheat a few patties on the stove and serve with some plain Greek yogurt and dried dill if you’ve got it. Throw together a kale salad if you want some more color. Sauerkraut or pickles also go well with this.
Lunch is the same as yesterday, but when you’re reheating your dinner patties heat the oven to 400˚. Toss your chopped onion, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, and a few whole garlic cloves in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper, and 1 tsp of cumin. Pop it into the oven on a greased foil bake sheet for about 25 minutes (mix it around halfway through) then make another Tupperware bed of romaine/kale, quinoa, and add some of the veggies. That’s tomorrow’s lunch!
For lunch and dinner, just mix the rest of your roasted veggies with some greens, feta, and quinoa. For dinner, do the same but add a poached egg or two.
L: Beet salad / D: Asparagus + lentils
For lunch, just throw together some kale/romaine, half the dressing from Sunday, half a can of beets, and whatever else you want (nuts, olives, cheese, etc.). For dinner, follow this recipe (which will take you 15 minutes since you cooked the lentils on Sunday).
Unlike most beans, you don’t have to soak lentils, making them the weekday dream bean.
Leftovers for lunch, and whatever you’ve got left over from the week should do the trick.
Commit to a good cookbook, and just start making whatever looks good. It’s the quickest way to build your fundamentals so you can improvise like a pro. (I highly recommend starting with Gina Homolka, Yotam Ottolenghi, or Mark Bittman.)
Select recipes for the week that include some of the same ingredients.
Combine recipes that guarantee you won’t have leftover ingredients (like picking two recipes that call for half an onion).
Get into a routine! Once you start cooking and prepping on the regular, it will seem less daunting. Just throw on a podcast and start choppin’.
What are some of your favorite meal-prepping tips? Let us know in the comments.