With a new year comes new resolutions – and a common one is a commitment to healthier eating.

It’s obvious to most that planning ahead can be an effective tool when it comes to what we consume in a day. Even so, a few tips from a professional dietitian can help the process go more smoothly as you venture into meal prepping.

“Write down all the meals you plan on having in the next few days, including breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner,” says Julie Harmon, MA, RDN, with Ascension St. John Health System in Tulsa. “Stick to proven recipes and meals you can easily make to start. No need to try to learn how to cook something when you’re wanting to be as efficient and quick as possible.”

The next step, Harmon says, is to list all the ingredients you’ll need, and how much of each. Then, head to your grocery store of choice and buy the necessary items.

“Set aside two to three hours every week to plan and prep your meals ahead of time,” says Harmon. “For example: chop fruits and veggies for snacking, make ahead breakfast ideas like overnight oats, granola or chia pudding, and batch cook one to two entrées, such as roasted chicken or a big pot of stew.”

According to Harmon, keeping the prep time for each cooking session to two hours or less can help lessen the possibility that the prepping becomes a chore instead of welcome addition to your week.

“The correct time to do it [prepping] is when you can make a consistent habit in actually doing it,” she says. “So if Sunday works better for you, do it Sunday. But if your schedule varies when you have the free time to do it, do it then. Consistency is the key.”

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Some struggle with meal prepping because they aren’t sure how long certain components of a meal will last in the fridge. 

“If you are using meal prep containers and have stored your cooked meal prep well, it can last in the fridge for up to 7 days,” says Harmon. “Some foods will keep longer than others, which is something to consider when prepping seven days at a time. To make sure your veggies stay fresh in the fridge up to twice as long, a great tip is to soak them in ice cold water for 15 minutes and then store them in the fridge with a wet cloth or a damp paper towel [over them].”

Harmon advises that someone new to meal prepping start slow, with two to three meals per week.

“People get into an ‘all or nothing’ mindset,” she says. “They make too many changes too quickly and give up a few weeks in.”

Finding the Motivation

Looking for the energy to prep your meals? It’s all about delayed gratification and looking at the bigger picture.

“A meal plan lets you focus on enjoying your food and having meals prepped for you that you know are well-balanced, so you don’t have to worry about counting calories,” says Harmon. “Typically it’s a huge time and money saver throughout your week. You might even lose a few pounds along the way.”