Have you decided to give meal prep a shot? A quick search of the #mealprep hashtag on Instagram has over seven MILLION hits. How hard can it be? If you’re a meal prep newbie, putting your plans into action can seem daunting.

Never fear! The VHP nutrition specialists are here. We’ll share a few key tips to make the whole process easier, all while saving you money and time in the kitchen. Be sure to stay tuned in the coming weeks as we highlight some of our favorite meal and snack prep choices. But first, here are the basics:

Meal prep is the process of planning, purchasing, and preparing your meals in advance. This eliminates the need to break out pots and pans daily, but also prevents those last-minute meal decisions that lead to less-healthy choices. It ensures that the quickest & easiest choice is also the healthiest. So, how do you get started?

1. Be strategic. Pick meals that can use similar ingredients, so you aren’t preparing more food than necessary. For example, roasted brussels sprouts can be a side dish, a pizza topping, or can be added into an omelet. You can make grilled chicken as both a main dish for chicken tacos, as well as to top a salad for lunch.

2. Make yourself a list. After planning a few strategic meals and snacks for the week, take a peek in your pantry and fridge to see what ingredients you are missing and jot it all down. A grocery list helps to ensure that there are no forgotten essentials, but also keeps you on track in the grocery store. We are less likely to succumb to unnecessary impulse buys when shopping from a list. See? Saving cash already!

3. Do all your cooking at once. Food prep can be a drag, I can admit that! Between getting all your ingredients and tools out, cooking, and cleaning, it’s no wonder that calling for takeout seems easier. Instead of making this process a daily occurrence, prepare all of your strategically-planned ingredients at once. For example, grill or bake a few days’ worth of chicken, roast a whole tray of squash, and cook several cups of quinoa at one time. Most freshly prepared foods store well in the fridge for at least five days, so you can prepare foods for the whole work week on a Sunday. Extra credit points: Take the extra step to portion out your prepared foods into individual meals after cooking, to save the trouble of doing this part daily.

4. Don’t forget to prep your raw ingredients, too. For example, things like chopping fresh vegetables, washing and slicing fruit, and shredding cheese cannot be forgotten. This makes throwing together meals (like salads or stir-fry) and snacks, quick and cutting-board free. Healthy Tip: It also makes you more likely to grab a nutrition snack like an apple or cucumbers, rather than that bag of pretzels.

5. Don’t be afraid to repeat meals. It’s true that consuming a variety of foods is a cornerstone to good nutrition. But, this doesn’t mean that you can’t eat the same lunch for a few days each week. A big batch of chili made over the weekend will reheat well all week long, and cut down on your prep time significantly. The key is to change up your food choices on a weekly basis, using a variety of different fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats, and fish. This can be as easy as changing up the type of fruit or vegetables you add to your smoothies, replacing quinoa for farro, or swapping grilled chicken with salmon. Make one big batch, then portion out into single servings to grab for lunch or a quick dinner. A small swap makes a big difference!

Once you’ve gotten these basic concepts down, you’re ready to get your meal prep started! Make sure to check back soon for more specific examples of utilizing these tips to create simple and nutritious meal plans all week long. See you then!