Are you a meal prep beginner? Here are 5 meal prep tips that can take the overwhelm out of making food ahead if you’re just starting out!

When I first started meal prepping? Well, the actual first try was a total disaster: I was in college and wanted to make ahead all my meals for exam time.

Not only did I end up exhausted from this endless freezer cooking session, I also failed to realize I didn’t have enough freezer space for all the containers… And I didn’t have a plan either, didn’t use recipes specific for freezing, and so most of it ended up in the trash. Boo.

So, ahem. Don’t do that.

But now with two young kids and two working parents? Last year I realized how winging it when it came to our meals really wasn’t doable anymore.

And so I went on a mission to learn everything about meal prep. It was a lot of trial and error, and I want to save you at least some of that by sharing my favorite tips.

My 5 BEST meal prep tips for beginners:

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1. Start Small

I know it’s tempting to dive head-first into your initial meal prep session, wanting to pre-cook everything for seventy-five weeks.

But listen. You have to resist your OCD urge to “do things exactly right”.

Start small – by prepping breakfast for 3 days, or cutting ahead all your produce for half the workweek.

Set yourself one small goal, accomplish it, and then add more for your next prep session – or whenever you feel ready.

Otherwise you’ll end up seriously overwhelmed and stop again immediately. Or at least that’s been my experience.

2. Have a Plan

containers with sheet pan pancakes

This may sound silly, but I couldn’t meal prep without a rock-solid meal plan.

I write out exactly when we’re going to eat what I want to prep – no matter if I’m just doing breakfasts or a full-on 3 day prep.

Without a meal plan, I used to end up with way too much food/too much of one type of meal. So my prep sessions weren’t as useful as they could have been.

With a meal plan and a prep plan, my prep sessions are a lot more coordinated and the prepped food gets all eaten.

3. Clean Your Kitchen – Before You Prep

I mean, you’ll obviously have to clean after, too. But starting with a reasonably clean kitchen will make your prep sessions SO much easier.

What do I mean by that? Simple:

  • Have an empty dishwasher – so you can load it with all the dishes that will inevitably get dirty
  • Have a reasonable amount of counter space available – so you have space to prep and also leave stuff that needs to cool
  • Have a clean sink – where you can stack dirty dishes until you have a little breathing space to load them into the dishwasher

4. Make Sure There’s Ample Storage

fridge with meal prepped food

Y0u will probably need more space to store your food than you think at first, so make sure you have more than enough storage space available.

Nothing is more frustrating than. having a pile of food and nowhere to stash it!

Make sure you have:

  • enough clean containers (and lids!!)
  • enough space in the fridge (you can’t squeeze and squish containers as easily as produce and ingredients!)
  • freezer space (if you’re planning to freeze some of your food)

5. Prepare for the Chaos

No matter how prepared you are, chances are there will be a point when you see nothing but CHAOS.

You are probably going to be tired from chopping, cooking, packing – and keeping a level head amidst everything going on.

Even now, during pretty much every single one of my prep sessions, I get to a point where I just want to throw in the towel… I’m exhausted, everything seems to be chaotic and I’m losing track of what else needs to get done.

What I do so I don’t completely lose it in these moments:

  • I stop and check my list, then I clearly write out everything that still needs to get done – e.g. “packing up the pancakes”, “assembling the overnight oats”, “chopping the fruit salad”. That way I get a very clear overview of the remaining tasks.
  • I see if I can take a break right this second to clean up a little. I’ll load dirty dishes into the dishwasher, wipe down the counters and pack away cooled/prepped food that’s still around. That way I bring some visual order into my kitchen.
  • If all of this isn’t helping, I take a 5 minute break. Or turn on a podcast or an episode of one of my favorite shows, so at least it feels like I’m somewhat taking a break. If the kids are around, I’ll send them to their rooms to play quietly for a while (or I let them watch a cartoon before all hell breaketh lose).

I hope these tips will help you take the overwhelm out of meal prep if you’re just starting out!

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It took me a few weeks to figure these out. Hopefully, this post is going to save you some time and headaches.

Meal prep can be quite intimidating at first, but it’s such a helpful tool for eating well even if life gets busy – and it’s 100% worth it to find your groove!

What overwhelms you when it comes to meal prep? Where are you struggling? What is helpful to you? Let’s chat in the comments below!

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