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Meal prepping can be a handy way to ensure you have ready-to-eat dishes waiting for you throughout the week. Plus, it can save time and take the guesswork out of figuring out what to eat each day.
But properly preparing meals isn’t always easy or foolproof. Here are some common meal-prep mistakes to avoid.
1. Not keeping your kitchen stocked can lead to disorganization and last-minute shopping trips.
The first rule of meal prep is to keep your kitchen stocked with the essentials, especially when it comes to ingredients with a longer shelf life.
Registered dietitian Becky Kerkenbush said a kitchen ready for meal prep will have staple ingredients like rice, oats, frozen fruit, frozen or canned vegetables, cooking spray and oil, frozen protein (chicken, fish, etc.), herbs, spices, and canned legumes and beans.
2. Insisting on prepping all of your meals only once per week might be too stressful or impractical.
Although it’s nice to be able to knock out all of your meals in one go, don’t be afraid to prep more than once per week if it suits your lifestyle better.
Kerkenbush told INSIDER that for tastier meals and possibly better food-safety practices, a good rule of thumb is to aim for prepping twice a week.
And if the idea of prepping multiple times per week seems a bit overwhelming, consider starting slow.
Monica Auslander Moreno, registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition,said if it feels like you’re committing too much too soon, consider taking on one breakfast, one lunch, or one dinner at a time.
“Don’t try to launch a full week’s worth of meals at once, that’s very stressful. Instead, build your repertoire as you go,” she told INSIDER.
3. Not storing food properly could lead to wasted or spoiled meals.
Aluminum foil and plastic wrap may not be the best tools for meal prepping.
To keep food fresh and properly portioned, Kerkenbush said you should store meals in individual containers that have a tight seal. It’s also useful to label and date your prepared containers before putting them in the fridge or freezer.
4. Preparing more food than you need might lead to waste and stress.
If you’re not feeding a large group, you likely don’t need to create dozens of meals in advance, especially if your prep time is limited.
“Make as much food as you’re comfortable with and that you really need to help minimize stress and food waste,” Toby Amidor, registered dietitian and author of “The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook” and ” Smart Meal Prep for Beginners,” told INSIDER.
When deciding how many meals to prepare each week, also consider whether or not you might tire of a dish after eating it multiple days in a row and plan ahead for any upcoming trips or social engagements that won’t require you to bring ready-made dishes.
5. Not following a schedule could make meal prepping more difficult.
Procrastination will get you nowhere when it comes to meal prep. That’s why Amidor said that one of the tricks of meal prepping is proper scheduling.
“From selecting recipes and creating your weekly menu to food shopping and cooking, you need to schedule when you will do each of the steps involved in meal prepping,” she told INSIDER.
She said that when you leave important tasks until the last minute and scramble to get everything done, you’re more likely to give up on meal prepping altogether.
6. By not freezing extras, you’re missing out on bonus meals.
Although the containers stacked high in your fridge may not look like a lot of food, there’s a chance you may end up with more meals than you can eat in a week, especially with heartier dishes like lasagna or slow-cooker chili.
“This is the perfect time to freeze individual-sized containers so you can have a delicious dish ready when you are busy down the road,” said Amidor.
Fortunately, per Foodsafety.gov, you can safely freeze most cooked meats and leftovers for at least a month. Keep in mind that some foods don’t freeze well or shouldn’t be frozen for a long period of time, so you’ll want to check food-safety guidelines before stowing away your prepared meals.
7. You’re potentially wasting money and groceries if you’re not doing your homework before you shop.
It’s wise to have a plan before you hit the grocery store so you can avoid wasting time and money.
In terms of preparing to grocery shop, Moreno said she recommends you choose recipes ahead of time and create shopping lists based on the number people you need to serve.
8. Failing to pre-pack meals into containers could mess with your portion sizes down the road.
It’s important to portion out your food as soon as you make it. By not doing so, you may likely throw off your meal-prep schedule.
“If your plan is to get four meals out of a dish but you don’t pre-pack them into containers, you may end up with one or two meals less than you planned,” Amidor said.
Plus, by not planning out your portions you may end up consuming more or less calories than you’d planned, she added.