There’s a reason many diet and weight-loss cookbooks encourage homemade meals when you’re trying to take control of your health and even lose some weight: Research supports that making meals at home tends to result in lower fat, cholesterol, and salt consumption than with restaurant dining.
A recent article in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who dine out at restaurants and fast-food places tend to take in about 200 more calories daily than those who eat at home.
But while making meals at home might be the best way to take control of your health and any better-eating goals, cooking most of your meals all week can be exhausting — and might not be sustainable for everyone with busy schedules and travel.
Here, we’ll show you why you should set aside time on Sunday for meal prep and how five simple strategies can help you have wholesome meals ready to eat throughout the week.
1. Create a rough menu.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight or just want to stop the cycle of fast-food meals, you need to plan ahead. Planning ahead is about more than getting meals done before you need them. It could help your health and waistline. In fact, meal planning has been associated with overall improved diet quality and a lower risk in women being overweight, according to research.
Design a weekday meal menu before you go shopping and look for places where one food can be reinvented into a different dish another day. Perhaps you’ll make a batch of seasoned chicken breasts on Sunday that can be added to a salad for lunch, tossed in a stir-fry, or wrapped up in a quesadilla another night. Make baked potatoes that can be used as a base for slow-cooker chili, served as part of lunch, or tossed into a frittata later in the week.
2. Take stock before you shop.
Standing in the grocery aisle staring at a pantry item and wondering if you already have it at home is a waste of time — and if you buy it, it could be a waste of money. This is why getting your kitchen organized and prepped before you block out time for meal prep will make your life easier.
Review your menu, and check out your fridge and shelves to see what you already have on hand that could be worked into meals throughout the week. Spending this time “shopping” your kitchen first will save you money on the grocery bill—and may even inspire a few new meal ideas.
3. Practice batch cooking techniques.
Any meal prep pro will tell you that cooking once to eat all week is a smart way to be efficient in the kitchen and prepare for the week ahead. But cooking several meals at once is a big ask if you aren’t used to batch cooking. Instead, start by cooking and prepping components of dishes. That way, you’ve taken care of several steps so the final stage of cooking is a smaller lift later.
After you’ve returned from food shopping, clean, prep, and chop produce. Some can be cooked now; the rest can be added to meals and snacks throughout the week. Trust us, this is a step your future self will thank you for all week.
Batch cook proteins and grains in one shot. You might want to use a rice cooker to make brown rice for the week, or cook some quinoa, barley, or beans on the stove that you can sparse out for meals throughout the week. For example, a batch of quinoa or barley can be used as a grain bowl, on top of a salad, as a side dish, or in a soup.
When you’re a bit more advanced, you can begin taking on several recipes at once. For example, while some of these foods are cooking on the stove, bake meat or poultry in the oven. Some ambitious cooks might decide this is also a good time to whip out the slow cooker for chilis, stews, and soups that can be eaten all week. Sauté veggies or roast them in the oven while other food is being prepared.
4. Portion out food and snacks.
In order to keep your calories and macronutrients (if you’re tracking those) in check throughout the week, you’ll do your waistline a service by measuring out portions during Sunday meal prep. You could use this time to put together simple grab-and-go lunches, like a protein serving, one cup of a grain, one cup of veggies in a container. You can also divide up healthy snacks into baggies, and put single-serving portions of premade dishes in the freezer if you only need to reheat for one. This will help prevent overeating when you’re too hungry and tired to whip out the measuring cups midweek.
5. Prioritize a healthy breakfast.
When you think ahead about meals for the week, your mind probably goes to lunch and dinner ideas. But if healthy eating is your goal, make sure you’re stocked up with items for a good-for-you breakfast so you’re less likely to grab a muffin, croissant, or egg sandwich on the go when your week gets hectic.
According to the National Weight Control Registry, which includes members who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for over five years, 78 percent of those successful “losers” eat breakfast every day. Some healthy breakfast items you can batch cook on Sunday include: hard-boiled eggs, steel-cut oatmeal (portion it out and heat it up throughout the week), healthy muffin recipes, or even muffin pan frittatas for a high-protein, veggie-backed start to your day.