I’ve consistently meal-prepped every week for almost two years. I’m not bragging. It just means I’ve learned a lot about meal-prepping and have made every mistake in the book. Beyond general cooking technique mistakes (you don’t want to know how many times I’ve sliced my finger or burned the sweet potatoes), there are some specifics to preparing food in bulk. Here I break down the most common mistakes and share tips on how to avoid them, because the smallest changes can be what you need to really stick to your meal-prep #goals.
1. When you think you know how many meals you need but don’t accurately plan.
A workweek is five days, so you need five dinners, right? Not always. What about that happy hour that you know will turn into an all-night affair and maybe pizza for dinner? When we don’t plan for the right amount of meals, we buy too much food. That means we’re wasting our money and throwing out wilted produce at the end of each week.
I work hard to keep my food waste as low as possible, and planning my meals properly helps a lot. Before getting down and dirty in your kitchen on meal-prep Sunday, look at your calendar to count exactly how many breakfasts, lunches, or dinners you’ll need that week, especially during the summer when your social life ramps up. It’s always better to have less than more, so nothing goes to waste.
2. When you think you’re the type that can just throw together a meal without a recipe, but you’re not.
We’ve all done this: Head to the grocery store (hungry and tired AF after a long day at work or a night out) and just throw random items in the cart. Water chestnuts? Sure, why not?! Our inner chef comes out, and we think we’ll just whip up a few meals for the week. Then we get home, and we’re staring at a bunch of ingredients that don’t make any sense. Water chestnuts and spaghetti? Meh.
Don’t be afraid to use recipes. Actually, you should definitely use recipes, especially for meal prep, so you know exactly how much you need to buy. The organization of selecting recipes then making a grocery list (somewhere it’s less likely to get lost, like in the notes app on your phone) will just make your life easier in the long run.
3. When you think you’re an adventurous eater, but you’re not.
Meal-prep is half convenience and half sticking to a healthy meal plan. Save the stepping outside of your comfort zone for restaurants. When you’re preparing healthy meals, stick to what you know you enjoy (nothing is wrong with baked chicken and veggies!). But don’t be afraid to use spices, sauces, and sides to change up the flavors. Think about it: You can have a barbecue chicken with sweet potato wedges one day and a spicy one with a bean salad the next.
4. When you think slicing and dicing veggies for an hour sounds domestic, but you’d rather be lazy.
We know that precut veggies are a tad bit more $, but when you’re meal-prepping for the entire week, those already-prepared foods can make your life so much better. If you know you cry like a baby at every onion you dice, just buy the precut, but if you’re particular about the shape of your sweet potato wedges, buy whole ones instead of cubed. But just think about how much time and energy you’re going to save. Money? Maybe not, but just buy a few less iced coffees this week to make up for it.
5. When you think about meal prep as a chore, but really it can be pretty fun.
Meal prep is hard work, and that’s why so many people don’t do it. But without preparing healthy meals, it’s harder to stay on track with your health goals. Here’s how to look at it with a new lens.
Call us cooking nerds, but we think meal prep can be really fun. I make a whole afternoon out of my Sunday meal prep. I line up my favorite TV shows (Veep, Master of None, Shark Tank) or find a good movie to throw on. Or I’ll listen to my favorite podcasts. And it doesn’t have to be a solo event either. You can totally make it a meal-prep party by including your friends, fam, S.O., dog, etc.
6. When you think you’re doing the meal justice by reheating it, but you make it worse.
If we put in all this hard work and then screw it up by reheating it wrong, what’s the point? Not reheating meal-prepped food properly can make it taste or feel weird, making your meals much less enjoyable. And just an FYI, storage containers for meal prep should be cleaned thoroughly between uses and stay airtight in the fridge.
7. When you want to meal-prep just because you’ve seen your health guru do it on Instagram, but you don’t have a goal.
To stay motivated and keep consistent, a goal is a must. If your why isn’t strong, you probably will be a one-hit wonder in the meal-prep world.
Whether it’s to build muscle or save time on workday mornings, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to a meal prep-related goal. Personally, my goal is to save money instead of spending so much on healthy takeout. Knowing that I save over $200 a month by meal-prepping is enough to motivate myself to do it every week, even when I don’t feel like it.
Next time you’re ready to get your meal prep on, just remember to do some careful planning, properly reheat your foods, think about your goals, and make tasty, balanced meals that you’re actually excited to eat during the week. If you’re still struggling to lock down a meal-prep strategy that makes you feel like the rock star you are, keep going. It’s a practice-makes-perfect kind of thing. Remember, I’ve been doing it for over a year now, but it took me a few months to perfect the process that works for my body and lifestyle. You can do the same.
Talia Koren is an influencer marketing specialist who genuinely wants to help people in their 20s get their lives together. She also loves cooking and runs the meal-prep blog Workweek Lunch. Keep up with Koren on Instagram and Twitter @thetalillama.