A Beginner’s Guide to Once a Week Food Prep + 20 Starter Recipes and Meal Prep Ideas

A Beginner's Guide to Once a Week Food Prep + 20 Starter Recipes and Meal Prep Ideas

Last week I shared a post talking about prepping all of your food for the week in one afternoon (I also have a whole chapter dedicated to make-ahead meals in my popular ebook) I offered lots of tips, pictures, and gave a step by step on what my food prep day looks like. I received lots of positive feedback on this post. However, within those comments were statements like this:

“That looks amazing, I wish I could do that”

“Wow, you are so organized, can you come to my house and do that for me?”

“I would love to food prep but don’t know where to start”

“I tried to prep my food and got so overwhelmed I quit”

These comments, and others like them, made me think. I want you (my reader) to read the posts I write and think to yourself “I can do this”. I do not want you to feel overwhelmed or that it’s too out of reach. BELIEVE ME if you knew me in “real life” you would say “Dang, if Tammy can do it then I can definitely do this”. Not kidding! Some of my closest friends wonder how I even tie my own shoelaces some days. But one of my favorite quotes is “It never gets easier, you only get better”. This is so true. The more I work at something the “easier” it gets. Not because the task itself got easier but because I got better. I evolved. The person I am today with food prep is not the person I was 4 years ago just starting out.

If I were to give weekly food prep guidelines to the “just starting out” Tammy this is what they would be…

Don’t try to prep it all!

First and foremost, when starting out, don’t try and make ahead your entire weekly menu plan. This will completely overwhelm you – it can still overwhelm me. Start slow. The first week prep 1 or 2 recipes ahead of time and as you get comfortable with the process you can prep more.

Don’t try new recipes

When starting out with food prep it is best to stick with recipes you already know. This way you are confident in the outcome of the recipe and the only thing you need to focus on is preparing it ahead of time. This is the way I started with my food prep. I took recipes that I made often, like taco meat and red clam sauce, and prepared them ahead of time and then stored in the refrigerator and sometimes freezer. I was able to focus on what worked, what didn’t, and most importantly it allowed me to experience the benefits of having food ready. I know taco meat and clam sauce is easy to make but I still found having these meals made ahead of time to be extremely beneficial.

Choose which recipe(s), if made ahead of time, would make the biggest difference in your week

This is huge! If you are short on time or don’t have the energy to prepare a lot of food then prioritize your meals. Which recipe, if made ahead of time, is going to make your week easier? If you are rushing around every morning and always running out of time for a healthy breakfast then maybe focus on preparing breakfast sandwiches or steel cut oats. If dinnertime brings you the most stress then put together some meal starters or prep ingredients for a couple slow cooker recipes. If you are always running to the vending machine at 3:00pm then put together some veggie packs or bags of almonds. What is going to make it easier for you to eat healthier during the week?

When I was working out of the house having lunch prepared was huge. If I didn’t I was going to the vending machines or cafeteria for sure. Here’s my favorite “go to” make-ahead lunch.

Greek Mason Jar Salad
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 5
Ingredients
  • 5 quart size wide mouth mason jars
  • 10 tablespoons Newmans Own Olive Oil and Vinegar Dressing
  • 1 quart cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 5 mini cucumbers, sliced
  • 1 cup pitted greek olives, sliced or chopped
  • ¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 cups chopped or shredded rotisserie chicken
  • 5 cups chopped romaine lettuce
Instructions
  1. Divide and layer all ingredients into mason jars. Start with salad dressing, then tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cheese, chicken, and end with lettuce. Put mason jar top on and store in refrigerator.
  2. When ready to eat pour into a bowl and serve.
Notes
Make Ahead Instructions


These can be made up to 5-6 days ahead of time.

You can view all my mason jar salad recipes here.

Here’s a quick video tutorial I did to bring my favorite mason jar to life.

It is not necessary to cook all the food you prep

Food prep can be anything. You don’t necessarily need to cook all your meals completely. It can mean chopping up onions, peppers, or other vegetables ahead of time for recipes. Washing fruits and vegetables so they are ready for snacks. Portioning out nuts, crackers, or other food items for snacks. Cutting up chicken or beef to be recipe ready. Whatever is going to work.

Even the littlest bit of food prep makes a difference

I used to think if I did not have hours to set aside for prepping my food then why bother. Obviously, that is not the right approach to take. There are always going to be weeks my time is limited. If I wait for the right time or more time then I would never do anything. It is important to make the most of the time you have and do what you can. I have since learned that any food prep is better than no food prep at all. Some weeks I might not get any dinners prepped ahead of time but if my mason jar salads are done then at least I don’t need to worry about lunch.

There is no right or wrong way to food prep.

The options are endless when in comes to prepping food ahead of time so there really is no right or wrong way to do it. Basically, it comes down to just making time and getting it done. However, just like any weight loss strategy, to be sustainable it needs to fit into your lifestyle. Basically this means do what works for you. If the only thing you want to prep each week are hardboiled eggs then that’s fine. Or maybe you find it helpful to make mason jar salads, buffalo shredded chicken, and a couple slow cooker kits. Whatever will meets YOUR needs. Don’t get bogged down in thinking it has to be done a certain way. Also, it is very important to remember that I have been doing this for 4 years. I have lots of practice and made my fair share of mistakes. What works for me might not work for you. I share the strategies and tips I have learned along the way in hopes that you will take and adapt them to fit into your lifestyle.

Give yourself time to reap the rewards and make it a habit

I think with any weight loss strategy it is really important to keep at it long enough to experience the benefits, see the results, and form new habits. Remember it takes about 3 weeks to form a habit. Weekly food prep is no different. Don’t throw in the towel if it doesn’t work out the first time. Or the first few times. Adapt and overcome. Expect to make adjustments along the way. Food prep is about making your life easier. Sure it takes a little effort and time upfront but it is worth it. It is so rewarding to open up the refrigerator door and see healthy delicious meals and snacks ready to eat. It was a game changer for me and I am confident it will be for you too.

Here are 20 easy recipes and meal/snack ideas for your first weekly food prep day. Remember don’t do them all. Pick 1 or 2. Then the next week add on another one and so on. Do what you can. Always keep in mind even a little food prep is better than nothing.

Breakfast

Steel cut oats
Smoothie kits
Blueberry Overnight Oats
Banana and Peanut Butter Overnight Oats
Sausage and Cheese Breakfast Burritos

Greek Quinoa Breakfast Bowls

Ham and Cheese Quinoa Egg Bake

Lunch

Greek Mason Jar Salad
Tomato, Fresh Mozzarella, and Pasta Mason Jar Salad
No Mayo Tuna Salad

Make-ahead salad bar

Snacks

Hardboiled eggs – these last all week. Also, you can whip up a quick no mayo egg salad too if you want.
Almonds – portion out into ¼ cup bags
Veggies snack packs – these last all week. Use whatever vegetable you like.
Cut up some cheese
Put together a refrigerator snack kit. This is very helpful for my family. I place all the snack options into a removable drawer in the fridge.
Wash and cut up fruit for snacks

Dinner

Shredded chicken meal starter – this can be used in ANY recipe that calls for basic shredded chicken. And it’s made in the slow cooker!
Sweet and spicy shredded pork – This can easily be prepped the night before for the slow cooker.
Cut up peppers, onions, or other vegetables to be recipe ready
Taco meat
Cut up chicken to be recipe ready
Meatballs Subs

If you’re ready to finally get your life on track, organized, and start losing weight then check out the Organize Yourself Skinny eBook + bonus 4 Week Make-ahead Meal Plan. Everything you need to get started right now is in my ebook!

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Comments

  1. Great post! You are right even a small bit of food prep helps. I preped some mason jar salads this week and portioned out hummas and veggies/crackers last Sunday and on Wednesday morning I was running late but was still able to pack myself a healthy lunch/snack because I just did those simple things earlier and I was able to stay on track!!

  2. Thank you. These are great tips and makes planning ahead seem doable. Having a plan and executing it makes the upcoming week’s meals so much less stressful and so much healthier. This post is perfect timing, with the upcoming Holidays, life is only going to become busier.

  3. I started small last week, but I’m seeing the benefits of having my peppers cut up, my celery cut up. Easy to grab and go. Also the hardboiled eggs. I am going to keep going and see how much more will help. Your tips are awesome.

    Thanks!

  4. What a great post! You’re so right that doing whatever you can to prep your meals helps so much – you really don’t have to do it all at once in order to benefit! : )

  5. I started looking at your website shortly after I had my nine week old baby girl and you really inspired me. I knew I would be returning to work soon and I wanted to find a way to eat healthy lunches to help me lose the weight I gained during my pregnancy. I started just prepping mason jar salads. Next I added the green smoothie for my breakfast in the morning. I’m hoping in the next couple of weeks to add one dinner to my routine. It’s sometimes difficult when both my girls want my attention while I’m prepping, but it makes my life so much simpler and less stressful during the week. Thank you for all that you do!!

  6. I am 3 months post partum and have decided it is time to get serious about losing the last 15 pounds of baby weight. The problem, MY HUSBAND. lol. He is a habitual snacker, my human garbage disposal. I asked him if he wanted to help me lose the baby weight, and he happily agreed. So I made it a joint effort. I found your website after researching mason jar salads. This week was my first prep week. I made the broccoli cheese egg bake for breakfasts for both of us (cut it in squares and stored it), cut up veggies and cheese for snacks, and prepped for the cheeseburger stuffed peppers and a chicken and sausage skillet. So far SO GOOD! As a new and first time mom it is really hard for me to eat breakfast and get myself and the baby ready before work. Instead I pack up my egg bake and take it to work along with grabbing a few snack bags for the day. Dinner last night was very yummy and easy for my husband to get started before I got home. We even had enough after the prep to freeze for another week. Our favorite part so far? We love taking the time to make our salads for lunch the night before. When baby goes to bed mom and dad spend quality time in the kitchen conversing and prepping. We hope to keep up the trend. Thank you for giving me confidence in my goal and in a small way, helping me get back to being a wife not just a mother!

  7. I loved the comment that got hubby involved. Because my first thought was that food prep is a family affair. Think age appropriate activities for the kids, too. They can count out almonds, pack snack bags, label packages for storage, assemble lunches, weigh portions… they LOVE to help. maybe my family spent an inordinate amount of time together, but food prep, consumption, and cleanup involved everybody. Part of evening meal cleanup was assembling the next day’s lunches.

  8. I was one who asked about prep time, and this was just what I needed to hear. Thank you. Lunches and snacks for me are my biggest needs -dinner is split between my husband and myself, so it’s not much work. I also appreciate you saying that ANY prep will help. It’s easy to get bogged down in ‘all or none’ thinking, which always leads to disaster.

  9. I am so going to do this. If I have everything already prepped — or at least some things, I find it so much easier to stick to a healthy food plan. I know it will save me money because I am guilty of not prepping vegetables or fruit — they go bad and I have wasted food, money and my time that I shopped for them, Thank you for the explanations and motivation.

  10. Thanks so much for this post. I’m going away for two weeks but when I get back, I’m going to take a stab at this. I’ve already done make-ahead Mason Jar salads. Funnily enough, I made Mason Jar salads before but I put each one together in the morning. It never entered my (apparently very tiny) brain to do them for the whole week in one go! That was brilliant. And, the make ahead smoothie bags might just make smoothies a possibility. I like them but I don’t have time to prep fruits and veggies every morning. I love the idea of making smoothie bags and putting them in the freezer!

  11. Yeah, I find if I can at least prep my breakfasts and lunches, then I can generally deal with dinners. I think everyone has to find what works for them! Great post!

  12. Janina Siebert says:

    I’m so glad this post was one of the first websites I came across as I’m beginning my meal prep adventure. I was already beginning to feel overwhelmed out here on the web. Your article has re-inspired me. I’m going to take your advice and start slow and appreciate my learning curve.

    Thank you so much, Tammy, you really made a difference for me. I CAN DO THIS!!!

  13. Thank you so so much you have an amazing website, I love how you can click in to more info all the time with the links you add in. I have friends that food prep and always wanted to try it but because I live on salads and raw veggies all week I didn’t think I could get anything to stay fresh by prepping it all. This will change my week completely. Thanks again. Emma

  14. i’m just wondering.. do you cook the food (for exampe the chicken) and then puts it away for later, or do you just prep the ingrediens?

    i recently moved out and i’m trying to develope a healthy lifestyle, so i’m pretty new to all this 🙂

    loved your post! it all made so much more sense now!

  15. Do you store all of them in the freezer?

  16. This was so helpful, you have great ideas! It really got me motivated to begin my meal prep. Thank you!

  17. Hi! New to this whole meal prep stuff and almost every recipie says to cook in slow cooker. For your pork and chicken on this post, could it be cooked a different way? Thanks in advance.

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  2. […] A Beginner's Guide to Once a Week Food Prep + 20 Starter … http://www.organizeyourselfskinny.com/Here are 20 easy recipes and meal/snack ideas for your first weekly food prep day. Remember don't do them all. Pick 1 or 2. Then the next week add on another one and so on. Do what you can. Always keep in mind even a … […]

  3. […] scale this morning. It just goes to show that when I take the time to be intentional with my food (food prep and tracking) and focused with exercise then I will reap the rewards. Not only did I lose weight but […]

  4. […] Meal prepping with the crock pot is an essential part of my routine. I throw in a bunch of lean meat and some fresh vegetables and with little effort I have a delicious week’s worth of meals. Once the food is finished in the crock pot I get out my Tupperware and food scale, portion it out and have several planned and prepped meals for my week! #mealpreplikeaboss […]

  5. […] to go. If you have questions or want to learn more about prepping your food ahead of time check out this article and this […]

  6. […] have just found this blog so I think it may be a good starting point. If you have any tips, tricks and tried recipes please […]

  7. […] Meal prepping once a week can save you oodles of time throughout the week.  (Did I just say oodles?)  I like to chop my fruits and veggies and even cook or prepare several of my meals for the week on Sunday afternoon.  You’re looking at a few hours in the kitchen to get a week’s worth of healthy, delicious, money-saving meals and snacks that you can feel great about.  Here’s a great website to help you get started. […]

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  12. […] Prepare meals for the week on the weekend. Grab your fruits and veggies, protein source, etc., and ziplock bag and refrigerate the ingredients! If you can’t prepare foods, at least plan your meals so you have the ingredients on hand when you need them. Find out more about food prepping at http://www.organizeyourselfskinny.com/2014/10/23/a-beginners-guide-to-once-a-week-food-prep-20-start…. […]

  13. […] there you have a few quick words of advice when it comes to preparing your meals for the week. The more actively you put forth the effort to plan, the better you will […]

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  19. […] a sample beginner meal plan, check out A Beginner’s Guide to a Week’s Meal Prep and start making your grocery list (or cleaning out your […]

  20. […] Meal prepping with the crock pot is an essential part of my routine. I throw in a bunch of lean meat and some fresh vegetables and with little effort I have a delicious week’s worth of meals. Once the food is finished in the crock pot I get out my Tupperware and food scale, portion it out and have several planned and prepped meals for my week! #mealpreplikeaboss […]

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