What is Meal Prep and Why Should You Consider It? | Lifestyle

Meal prep is growing in popularity as a method of saving money on going out, maintaining a healthy diet, or just being able to enjoy a home-cooked meal without actually having to cook the entire meal every night.

The intention of this article to shed some light on things:

Welcome to Meal Prep 101!

meal prep

What is Meal Prep?

At it’s most basic, meal prep is preparing your meals ahead of time. While meal prep was initially popular as a means of maintaining a healthy diet (think weight loss/muscle building) it’s come to be so much more. Having dinner prepared (or, mostly prepared) at the end of a day’s work makes things so much easier. I enjoy the ability to eat a home-cooked meal every night, without having to make it all from scratch.

There’s two general categories of meal prep we’ll cover:

  • Daily Meal Prep
  • Batch Meal Prep

Which one you choose depends on your personal needs, including how much time you have to get dinner “on the table” every night and how much cooking you’d like to do. Meal prep can be used to create a full slate of meals for the week, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, or can be used for that one meal of the day you never seem to have enough time to make.

If you are just starting off with meal prep, I suggest picking one meal a day to prep. It’s a nice way to ease into prepping and you’ll have the opportunity to try different meal prep methods to see what works best for you.

meal prep

Daily Meal Prep

Daily meal prep involves fully preparing full meals to eat throughout the week. With this, you can prepare a weekday’s worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners ahead of time. These can be the same dish for each meal, or a variety, depending on how much you’d like to prep.

Here is an example menu for all three daily meals utilizing the same dish for each. This is a typical workweek (M-F) meal prep menu.

These are all items I’ve made and prepped for the week. I chose them because they contain ingredients and flavors that I enjoy, and because they are relatively easy to make in large batches.

The biggest advantage I found with daily meal prep was not having to think about what I was going to make for dinner, or scrounge up for lunch every day. During the workweek, my meals were covered. I had filling and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner all planned out.

Some daily meal plans also include snacks. I keep mine simple with fruit, nuts, or chips and salsa. I’m also a big fan of popcorn, which is easy to make on a whim.

There are a TON of resources for planning meal prep, some of which I’ve included at the end of the article. Recipes made for meal prep can be particularly useful, as not all dishes hold up well over the course of a few days. They may be safe to eat, but less enjoyable or lose their texture.

Batch Meal Prepping

batch meal prep example menu

Batch meal prep differs from daily meal prep primarily in that it involves cooking, or at the very least, assembling meals before you eat them. This may be more suitable for someone who has the desire to cook dinner every night, but may be short on time. Meal prepping this way saves cooking time and allows you to throw together delicious, homemade meals in minutes.

Here’s an example menu, where chicken breast and ground beef were batch cooked before the workweek.

Setting aside time to wash, dice and prep vegetables for the week is also a way of batch meal prepping. This type of meal prep allows for more flexibility, as well as fresh-made meals, but does require more time and planning. To do batch meal prep well, you’ll need a plan for the week on what you’d like to make. Now, that can always change, but it’s much easier to prep when you have an idea of what you’ll be cooking for the week.

Why Meal Prep?

Have complete control over what ingredients go into the food you are eating.

For some, meal prep is a way to control what goes into their food. I’m lactose intolerant, so having prepped meals that I knew contained not one trace of dairy was a relief, and much easier on my body. If you have specific dietary needs, such as gluten intolerance or practicing veganism, meal prep can be an easy stress-free way to eat with confidence.

Meal time convenience.

With your meals already prepared, no thought is required when meal time comes. Heat up your meal (or not, if its a no-reheat meal like salad or a fun bento box) and you are ready to eat. By having a homemade, prepared option, you’re less likely to eat out, grab fast food, or even substitute a granola bar for dinner (no shame intended, but you are worth more than a granola bar!).

Saves money.

Buying groceries in bulk and preparing your own food undoubtedly saves you money, particularly if you shop what’s on sale and in season in the grocery store. Saving money on weekday cooking means more funds for weekend fun! Personally, I’d rather save during the week and go somewhere special on the weekends.

Less dishes throughout the week/on days with prepped meals.

Need I say more? Typically, I deep clean my kitchen once a week, after we’ve completed prep. All it needs is simple maintenance throughout the week to stay clean and organized.

Improve your cooking skills.

Tackle basics you’ve been wanting to learn or branch out and try something new. Additionally, meal prep will improve your budgeting and planning skills, a completely unanticipated but warmly welcomed side effect of meal prep I discovered a few months into it.

100% customizable.

It’s YOUR meal prep… make what you want to eat! Whether it’s low carb, vegan, high protein, all greens, you name it, you can prep it. There are some incredible resources available to assist with your meal prepping journey. You can choose to have meal plans created for you to follow, use a meal-planning service like Blue Apron, or do it all on your own. It’s up to you.

meal prep

How does meal prep work in real life?

My husband and I both work full-time. Certainly having breakfast and lunch made work days easier, and saved us the time, effort, and money of going out to eat for lunch every day. Having dinner meal prepped allowed us the opportunity to heat and eat, and have more time to relax and enjoy each other’s company at the end of the day.

Honestly, when we first started meal prepping, I hated it. It takes a few hours on the weekend, and at first I felt I was wasting time. Despite my discontent, I increasingly appreciated being able to come home from work and have dinner ready. I didn’t have a mound of dishes in the sink, only our meal prep containers and plates to rinse and throw in the dishwasher. Eventually, I learned to love meal prep and couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.

Whichever way you choose to prep, the most important part is finding what works for you. Otherwise, you won’t be consistent about it. Whether that means carving out a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, or prepping for only three days at a time, find what works for you and run with it.

Everyone has different reasons for meal prep. For us, it was a time-saving, convenient way to enjoy homecooked meals. Additionally, it helped us save money, which we’d prefer to splurge on a nice evening out or stash away for a vacation full of fun new foods.

crop cooks preparing pasta in kitchen

A note about time management

Depending on what and how much you meal prep, you may find yourself with all four burners occupied on the stove and both racks in the oven full. This can be overwhelming at first, cooking three full meals for multiple days at once.

My best advice, start slow. You’ll learn what you can do at the same time as you go, and you’ll get better at kitchen multitasking in the process. Here’s a basic method to tackle meal prep:

  1. Dice your veggies and measure ingredients — In the world of foodservice, this is called mise en place meaning everything in its place. Have everything ready to go, so that once you start cooking, its a seamless process of adding ingredients. This way you won’t be rushed to chop an onion when you’re pot of water is boiling and the chicken is ready to be taken out of the oven. It can get hectic, fast.
  2. Start with the oven — Once your ingredients are ready, start with the recipes to be made in the oven. Whether it’s roasted veggies, or a sheet pan pork chop, get the oven heated and get those things in there first. Oven recipes are great for meal prep, because once their in there, the oven does all the work.
  3. Move to the stove — While your food bakes away in the oven, turn your attention to the stovetop. Start anything you’ll be cooking and keep a close eye on it. In the meantime, clear counter space to place those hot pans once they’re ready to come out of the oven.
  4. Let everything cool — Don’t store your food as soon as its done cooking. In accordance with food safety measures, it’s best practice to allow hot food to come to room temperature before placing it in the refrigerator. Otherwise, it may cool down unevenly and even leave food susceptible to spoilage. No one wants that. While everything cools, set out your containers.
  5. Fill and store — Once everything is cool, fill up your containers and stick them in the fridge. For no heat meals like salads, keep dressing separate and items that may cause the lettuce to get soggy, like tomatoes or cucumbers.
meal prep

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Don’t you get tired of having the same thing every day?

A: The honest answer is… sometimes! When we make something I don’t like that much, or that didn’t turn out as I had expected, it gets tiresome to eat it day after day.

But when we make dishes I truly enjoy eating, that are filling and tasty and cooked to my preference, I do not tire of eating it throughout the week. Make no mistake — I greatly look forward to the weekends, but I’d much prefer eating the same dinner five days a week without the stress of whipping up a healthy meal after a full work day. Chicken Enchiladas and the Lemon Miso Pork with Coconut Curry Vegetables were two meal preps I 100% looked forward to eating every single day. As I said before, it’s imperative to find what works for you and to start with flavors and dishes you already know you love!

Q: Can you ever eat out? Aren’t you committed to eating what you prep?

A: Yes, you can eat out and no, you aren’t obligated to eat what you prep for every meal. The flexibility of your meal prep depends on your own personal preference. I’d rather make meals for the week and have that option. When plans change, or the opportunity arises to eat out, or with friends/family, it is simple enough to put the planned, prepped meal into the freezer to eat at a later date. By doing this, you’ll eventually build up enough meals to eat for a week without prepping! Believe me, it happens faster than you’d think.

Q: Does all of your prep really keep for five days?

A: It depends. Some ingredients hold up much better than others. An easy way to think about it: any food that would hold up to a trip to the beach, or a picnic is a great candidate for meal prep. There are also ways to preserve your food, like dressing salads only right before you eat them.

Foods that, once cooked, get mushy or undesirable in a day are not recommended for meal prep — my number one example: zucchini! Additionally, if you are concerned about the freshness of your food, you can prep for three days a time only, instead of the full five.

Ultimately, start small to learn what you are comfortable with. We’ve prepped this way for over a year and have never had issues with food going bad. There were some things that just weren’t tasty after a day, but those were experimental and things we won’t do again. Okay, so it was the one time I tried making roasted radishes. The internet made it look tasty but I do not recommend. Ever.

meal prep

Meal Prep Resources

Workweek Lunch

meal prep

My all-time favorite meal prep resource. Talia, founder of Workweek Lunch, provides kitchen-tested meal prep recipes, sized and ready for you to cook. The website is full of free recipes, but to unlock all of the meal prep potential, including weekly meal plans complete with recipes and a shopping list, a subscription is required. I’d recommend starting with the free recipes if you’re new to prepping and consider a subscription if you’re having difficulty planning what to make each week.

Budget Bytes

Budget Bytes has an entire section on their website dedicated to meal prep recipes. Beth, founder of Budget Bytes, creates tasty recipes on a budget that don’t compromise nutrition or flavor.

The Kitchn

The Kitchn has a great list of meal prep plans to get you started prepping. All the meals are planned out for you, and they give you full recipes and cooking instructions.

Edible Ink

meal prep

Yep, that’s me! I have a growing collection of meal prep recipes available on the website, as well as an ongoing series of posts about meal prep (including this one). I also have two different meal planning templates available as free downloads on the Free Resources page.

Do you meal prep? If not, is it something you’re interested in? Let me know in the comments below.

Until then, happy prepping!

La Bodega – Pismo Beach, CA | Restaurant Review

La Bodega, (meaning The Cellar in Spanish) is a tapas restaurant & wine bar located in downtown Pismo Beach.

On a sunny summer Thursday night, the wait at well-known Giuseppe’s is 45 minutes long. Stroll down the block and across the street to La Bodega, an oft overlooked gem, hiding in plain sight.

La Bodega is fairly new to Price Street in Pismo, celebrating their one year anniversary this past April. The vibrant restaurant is frequented by faithful locals and curious tourists alike. Talented live musicians draw a crowd every Wednesday from 6-9 pm and Sunday from 4-7 pm.

Most recently, we visited on a Thursday around 6:30 pm, and it was relatively quiet, a few tables occupied and no more. Throughout the night, the place filled up as couples and friends alike wandered in for some delicious small bites and cocktails.

La Bodega’s menu changes monthly, highlighting local and seasonal produce. As a local foodie, I greatly support this monthly menu change, as it means I can come back time and time again and try something new!

The plates are small, as tapas should be. The lighter portions are intended to be slowly enjoyed between sips of your favorite wine, cocktail, or house special White Sangria. However, the ratio of each component placed on the dish is simply impeccable.

Take for example, the Layers of Dungeness crab cakes. The cakes stand tall, and are packed to the gills (pun intended) with fresh, flaky crab. They sit atop a bed of fire cracker slaw. There is just enough crab and slaw on the plate to eat together in every bite, and the perfect amount of sweet honey ginger sauce on the plate to drizzle on top. Nothing is leftover, and no bite must go without one component of the dish as a whole. This, my friends, is no small feat. Of course, it is up to you to eat with intention the perfect plate set before you.

The empanadas (your choice of beef or vegetarian) are a constant on the menu, and a classic in Spanish cuisine. As a first time visitor, start there.

Next, you’ll find an array of small protein-driven bites. On the July menu, we tried the Pork Tenderloin Bites, wrapped in Bacon served with a Cherry Port Reduction. With the feel of a five-star entree, sweet halved cherries adorn the juicy pork accompanied by fried polenta and the fresh crunch of green beans. Each bite so balanced it borders on the edge of bliss.

Order a signature flatbread, like July’s “Fig and Pig”, featuring Fresh Black Mission Figs, decadent chunks of prosciutto and a creamy, dreamy, goat cheese spotted bechamel base.

La Bodega is a tapas bar, one of high caliber, and to that end they succeed exceptionally well. A playful, unique menu full of quality ingredients, an extensive drink list and live music to entertain. However, dessert typically falls short of the standard the tapas plates set. It is a high standard indeed.

The tapas of La Bodega are playfully executed and wonderfully balanced with a flair for the experimental. Whether its in a drizzle of honey with a swirl of balsamic vinegar or the perfectly fried basil leaf atop a bed of burrata and warm grilled peach. Each plate is executed with utmost quality, crafted with a calculated consideration for each facet of the palate.

La Bodega has undoubtedly found its place in Pismo Beach — casual enough to stroll in from a day at the beach, comfortable enough to frequent with friends, and intimate enough to visit on date night. The atmosphere is as warm and inviting as the owners themselves, who make it a point to visit each table to ask -genuinely- about the food and your evening. They make you feel welcomed, and individually cared for. It is clear that La Bodega is a product of care and passion for quality. In that, they succeed exceptionally well.

La Bodega + 790 Price St + Pismo Beach + 93449 + 805.595.5400 + labodegapismo.com

Ember Restaurant Review | Arroyo Grande, CA

Ember is a wood-fired farm-to-table fine dining establishment, that boasts a monthly seasonal menu change.

I recommend Ember to everyone I meet.

The two things I hear most: the wait is too long; and skepticism of a menu that typically is an equal balance of the familiar (deconstructed, reconsidered and rearranged), the foreign, and the never-been-done.

Now, here, on the Central Coast, a restaurant like Ember, with a California casual cool atmosphere, and dishes so artfully composed, like mini edible symphonies, is seriously worth the effort to experience.

And so I present to you an easy-to-follow guide to enjoy this SLO County gem…

HOW TO EAT AT EMBER (in five easy steps.)

Lobster and fried green tomato salad
Lobster and Fried Green Tomato Salad

1. EARLY BIRD GETS THE SEAT.

No, Ember does not take reservations. They open at 4 pm. Arrive at 5 pm on a Saturday night, and it’s already packed.

You have two options. One, arrive early, at 4:30 pm, take a seat next to the wood fired oven and enjoy the view.

Second, arrive at usual dinner time (5pm – 7pm) and expect to wait. Take a seat at the bar for a drink, or enjoy the beautiful Central Coast weather outside.

Burrata prosciutto and peach salad
Burrata, Prosciutto. and Peach Salad

2. SMALL PLATES = BIG VARIETY.

Ember’s menu, while ever-changing, is broken down into the same categories each month. You have your Salads, Share Plates, Pizza and Entrees. (Check out the full monthly menu on their site, here.)

Try one dish of each category, at least. June’s recommended salad: Grilled Peaches & Baked Goat Cheese (with Prosciutto and Marcona Almonds).

The pizza is always incredible (from the June menu we chose the Six Cheese & Pancetta) and the rib eye is cooked over an open fire by a meat master — but to me, the share plates are where Ember shines. The most delicate combination of flavors, textures, local ingredients and creativity.

Lets take, for example, the Wood-Oven Roasted Sea Scallops with Harissa. A pan is heated into oblivion in the wood fired oven. The scallops are then seared on this pan, and if you watch closely, you can see them dancing in the heat before being cooked in the wood fired oven for mere minutes. They melt like butter.

Wood fired oven scallops
Wood-Fired Oven Scallops

3. GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE AND INTO THE TASTY ZONE.

Ember uses top quality, local ingredients. What does that mean for you? Well, that if there is a dish that includes an ingredient you don’t typically enjoy (let’s say cauliflower or fava beans for example) you should order it anyway.

You may say, “Why are you forcing me to eat those wretched vegetables, Lauren? I trusted you!”

Cauliflower steak with pine nut chili stuffing
Cauliflower Steak with Pine Nut Chili Stuffing

Because, my friend, they will be the best wretched vegetables you’ve ever had. They may even, dare I say, convince you that wretched vegetable actually has potential and encourage you to eat it again. Wow!

Pictured here is the Cauliflower Steak with Pine Nut-chili stuffing. (The picture is blurry because I was too busy drooling over this bounty of food to slow down and take a nice photo…)

Similarly, you may encounter combinations that seem counterintuitive. Do not be afraid! Pink peppercorn in a dessert, on a meringue?

YES. It is so good I once ordered a side of it for dessert and they graciously obliged.

Oink peppercorn meringue, strawberries, shortcake and balsamic pearls
pink peppercorn meringue, strawberries, shortcake, balsamic pearls

4. DESSERT IS MANDATORY.

I’m all about supporting individual choices. You do you. No judgement.

Except when it comes to dessert.

Dessert is mandatory.

It is not uncommon that in a restaurant with a fantastic dinner, the dessert is notably weaker. Or, vice versa.

Not at Ember. The desserts possess the same creativity, attention to detail and quality of ingredients as everything on their dinner menu.

See something that sounds common? It won’t be. I guarantee it.

Best examples: Mascarpone Cheesecake (left) and Strawberry Shortcake (right).

I must mention it here: the Coffee Trifle is a crowd favorite. Served in a coffee cup, it’s a decadent layered mousse dessert of coffee and chocolate.

Coffee. Trifle
Coffee Trifle

5. JUST SIT BACK AND ENJOY IT.

As with any fine dining experience, it’s important to sit back and simply enjoy the experience.

Sit inside with a view of the FOH kitchen, pizzas flying out of the oven, a mouthwatering spread of proteins on the open fire, pans precariously suspended above the flames, and the careful, delicate plating of salads and desserts.

However you eat at Ember, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I spent my 21st birthday dinner here, and recently, my 26th. 5 years later, I am a whole new person, the menu at Ember has changed over a dozen times and yet the things that remain unchanged — the quality of food, ingenuity of the dishes, and inviting atmosphere — are the steady constant that brings us back to Ember time after time.

Kori and I at ember

Wednesday, Thursday, & Sunday 4:00pm-9:00pm

Friday & Saturday 4:00pm-10:00pm

La Locanda Restaurant Review | San Luis Obispo, CA

all images via lalocandaslo.com

Off a quiet side street in downtown San Luis, La Locanda provides a quaint and relaxed dining experience.

The restaurant is small and leaves you feeling you’ve had an incredible meal at a close friend’s house.

We visited on May 12 (Mother’s Day) as a family outing. The pizza oven was in need of repairs and was inoperable for the night. Initially we were disappointed (we love pizza!) but as we browsed the menu and heard the multiplicity of nightly specials, all was soon forgiven.

To start: the burrata caprese, beef carpaccio and escargot. The burrata cheese was extra creamy with a hint of tang. Peppery arugula and sharp Parmesan cheese served as the classic complement to beef carpaccio. On a personal note, I do not eat escargot, however, those in my party who did highly recommend it!

Dinner was a mix of classic Italian pasta (Lasagne, Gnocchi and Cacio e Pepe) and French-influenced entrees (Duck L’Orange, Rack of Lamb with mustard sauce and Baked Salmon).

The pasta at La Locanda is fresh and handmade. You can truly taste the difference! Cacio e Pepe is a simple dish, and when done right like at La Locanda, simply irresistible. Sharp pepper, smooth cheese and fresh al dente tagliatelle. A delight!

The gnocchi is served in your choice of sauce, in this case a Gorgonzola cream. The pillows of gnocchi were impossibly fluffy. Lasagne is served with a whipped bechemel and bolognese sauce adding a layer of depth and richness. I recommend an order to share for the table, just to try it.

The special entrees were well-executed and equally delicious. For a first time visit, I highly recommend the pasta dishes.

Dessert was, like dinner, a mix of Italian and French influence. The chocolate mousse towered above all else, soft and rich.

For something out-of-the-box, try the poached pears for dessert.

We are looking forward to going back to La Locanda to try the rest of the menu — and a pizza or two!

La Locanda + 1137 Garden Street + San Luis Obispo, CA + 93401 + 805.548.1750 + http://www.lalocandaslo.com