By Lizzie Waldo, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Meal prepping may sound like a daunting task. But once you get in a routine, it becomes more convenient than you can imagine. More importantly, it benefits your health in the long run.

Preparing food at home cuts back on added sugars, sodium, and unhealthy fats that we typically consume when eating out. While occasionally indulging in a meal out is no big deal, the majority of our meals need to be coming from fresh, whole ingredients made in the kitchen.

So, take the leap into meal prepping! Here are my best tips for making a plan to eat smarter and healthier every day. 

7 tips to organize your eating

  1. Collect recipes.  The internet is full of ideas for meals of all kinds! Pinterest is a widely-used resource for finding recipes.
  2. One thing I like to do is to search for recipes using the ingredients I have at the time. It’s a fun way to try a new recipe and also make sure I don’t waste food that’s been hiding in the back of the fridge. Collect the recipes that work well for you and your family in one place. This could mean keeping them in a binder or folder or creating a Pinterest board. Whether it’s a physical or electronic “cookbook,” saving your favorite recipes is the best way to organize your go-to meals. 
  3. Use a calendar.  Laying out your meal plan on a calendar, either by the week or the entire month, helps you plan ahead. Find out which style works well for you and your family, whether it's a simple paper calendar, an app, or even a fun letter board. Calendars also allow you to see what days are best to cook meals and what days are best for leftovers according to your schedule. Be sure to include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. 
  4. Create theme nights.  I often find myself making the same meals over and over because they are easy and familiar but are lacking in excitement. This is where theme nights come in! They break up the monotony of meal-prepping and are a fun way to get kids involved. Allow them to pick one night a week to help choose a theme. Maybe you try Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, Salad Bar Thursday, or Fish Friday. The options are endless!
  5. Check for sales.  If you’re shopping on a budget, it's important to check the local papers and websites for weekly grocery store sales. For example, Kroger has an app that features a free Friday deal. You can base your menu and grocery list off these discounts to save money.
  6. Pick a shopping day and make a list.  Always create a list before going to the store. Check what items you already have, ones you need to replace, and things you need to buy for your planned meals. This cuts down on the amount of time spent in the aisles, as well as the number of return trips because a key ingredient was forgotten. Most stores also have mobile apps you can use to create handy digital lists.
  7. Food prep on Sunday night. Try and prep as much food as you can before the school and work week begins. Shred blocks of cheese, slice vegetables and store in individual containers, cut fruit and place in baggies for yours or your children’s lunch, or crock-pot your meals for easy cooking and lots of leftovers. Something I like to do is to prepare all of my meat and carbohydrates for the entire week. I bake chicken in the oven, cook ground turkey and beef in a skillet over the stove, and prepare a big pot of rice and quinoa. That way, when I go to pack my lunch, it’s easy to make sure I have a portion of lean protein, a complex carbohydrate, and plenty of fresh vegetables.
  8. Get the right tools and accessories to pack a lunch.  Stock up on various containers to hold your food, as well as a lunch box to carry it in, and cold packs if you're taking it to a workplace without a refrigerator. I love using glass meal prep containers because they are perfect for microwaving and reheating your food safely!

A little prep goes a long way

Meal planning can be easy (and surprisingly fun), but it does take some organization and scheduling. I promise you that it pays off! Now that you're armed with information, put your plan into action with these 5 easy, healthy recipes

Hungry for more?

Read up on these 5 weight loss questions you need the right answers to or learn how to cook healthy meals over a campfire. You can also find out about what's included in your YMCA membership. Let us help you reach your wellness goals!