Meal prep—two words that get thrown around a lot these days. In a time-starved world, it's only natural that we want to optimize our cooking just like we do our to-do list and busy calendars. With late nights at the office, after-work fitness classes, and multiple events every night, it's useful to have some kind of organized formula to help us stay on top of healthy eating habits. Otherwise, we might end up eating cereal for dinner or ordering $30 Postmates every night.
But how do you meal prep efficiently? In theory, it's a great idea to cook a large batch of chili on a Sunday night—but after day three of eating it for lunch and dinner, this once-scrumptious meal might feel more like cafeteria food than a delicious dinner. For insight into the best meal prepping tips, we turned to the best people we know: our readers. We asked you for your best healthy meal-prep ideas on Instagram, and it's safe to say we were impressed. Don't go another week without adopting a few of these clever tips—you'll kick-start a healthy habit in no time.
Meal Plan for the Week
"Start by making an actual meal plan. Don't go super broad and make a different meal every night for dinner, like pizza Monday, jambalaya Tuesday, and burgers Wednesday. Instead, try to pick meals with similar ingredients. For example, Monday: tilapia with mango avocado salsa; Tuesday: jalapeño turkey burger with guacamole; Wednesday: Napa cabbage wraps with mango, avocado, and chicken. Do the same for lunches. You can have a bunch of the same ingredients, but make a different lunch every day. This keeps your grocery bill low while still having a variety of meals." — @stephyogrado
Prep Individual Ingredients
"The trick to successful meal prepping is to pick a day that you will wash, chop, and have healthy foods accessible. I put everything in baggies, like veggies with hummus, and frozen smoothies. I also make coconut yogurt parfaits with fruit and quinoa granola. Another favorite treat to have handy is chia seed pudding with fruit and sliced almonds. I also make baked eggs with veggies and baked gluten-free oats with apples and walnuts ahead of time so I can slice a serving and heat up quickly in the mornings. And my top tip is to make two dinners so you always have leftovers to pack up for lunch the next day. By spending a little time planning and prepping, you will save yourself time, money, and unnecessary stress to live an overall healthier life." — @nourish_nutrition
"I spend half of Sunday going to the farmers market and then meal prepping for the week. I like to prep individual ingredients (and keep the flavors relatively neutral) so that I can mix and match them into whatever meals call my name throughout the week. I also like to mix together a couple of sturdy salad bases that can be used in a bunch of different things. Last but not least, I roast a chicken (for my main protein through the week), and I make stock (to freeze) with the carcass and veggie scraps from the prep." — @jnsntylr
"I prep morning smoothie bags on Sunday for the week so all I have to do is pull it from the freezer and add liquid. Amazon has great reusable silicon bags." — @honeyofalife
"I always keep a ton of fresh greens on hand and chop up fruits (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries) for the week. When it comes time to pack lunch, I throw the greens in a container, top it with the fruit or another combo, some goat cheese, and pecans, and then I mix a small amount of homemade dressing into a container, and it's ready to go. So easy, delicious, and always prepared." — @jackie_abatecola
Blend Everything Ahead
"I have a big, heavy blender, so I tend to prep everything that needs blending on Sunday afternoons. This includes a weekly pesto, hummus, and usually a batch or two of soup for at-work lunches. Then I can clean the machine and put it away for another week." — @perfectly.formed.interiors
"I make salad dressing ahead. I vary the recipes slightly each week, and I make a big batch to divide among jars so that my fiancé and I can take them for salads. The most recent one included a big handful of parsley, lemon, and apple cider vinegar." — @jennak_421
"I make fresh curries and soups like Moqueca but without the protein and final fresh additions (like coriander or basil), and then freeze them into portions. Then, I can just grill or pan-fry fish or meat and serve it with reheated sauce and the fresh extras. You get super-fresh meals in no time, and you can mix and match proteins based on how you're feeling or what you've got left in the fridge." — @laurenhaslam
Use Mason Jars
"Mason jar salads save my life because they prevent sogginess. I also make a batch of overnight oats that lasts all week. Finally, I save all edible scraps (chopped veggies and herbs) to use for omelets on the weekend." — @babeskills
"I use mason jars to hold all my leftovers. This keeps the fridge from smelling, and I can see everything without having to open a ton of Tupperware containers. I can also buy in bulk and vacuum seal because I have a FoodSaver." — @crazygemini12
Cook in Batches on Sundays
"I cook a lot on the weekends for my workday lunches. Having lots of medium-size containers is crucial. I start meal planning (formulating a grocery list) on Friday. My pantry is serious business (tons of spices, beans, rice, pasta, flours, grains, nuts, oils, and sugars)." — @daisyisapickle
"As a mom of a teenage boy, I know that if I let him eat at school, it will be pizza and Cheetos. So on Sunday nights, I make all the sandwiches for the week using a roasted turkey breast, ham or almond butter, and I organize my pantry with snacks. Mornings are so much quicker. Now I use the time to plan my day and set intentions." — @michellerhodesjewelry
Freeze Individual Portions
"Invest in a deep freezer and a vacuum sealer. I freeze everything—homemade pizza ready to pop in the oven, Bolognese for a snowy day, summer vegetables, stews, meats, and leftover meals. It has made my life so much easier and keeps me from reaching for snack food when I'm just not in the mood to cook." — @galexandertn
"I am single and cooking for one can be tricky. I hate wasting food, but I don't want to go to the store every day for groceries. I cook two big meals on Sunday and use Tupperware containers to portion out my meals and refrigerate or freeze for all my lunch and dinners throughout the week. For breakfast, I portion out my smoothie recipes over the weekend so they are ready to go every morning and take less than two minutes to make. " — @hannahredd
Always Make Extra
"I always make a little (or sometimes a lot) extra for dinner so that I can make something else with it for breakfast or lunch the next day—extra salmon can be tossed in a salad, extra roasted veggies can be served over eggs the next morning, or leftover roasted chicken made into chicken salad over toast for lunch." — @whatscookingoodlooking_
"Invest in a Crock-Pot. I cook a chicken or a pork tenderloin in the slow cooker while I'm at work. We have some for dinner that night, and then we shred it for tacos, stir-fry, or stews for the rest of the week." — @angelalaw81
Next up: low-prep kid lunches your little ones will be excited to eat.
This story was originally published on August 27, 2017, and has since been updated.