This practical advice will set you up for success all week long. 

By Betty Gold
Updated March 17, 2020
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Here at Real Simple, we're all about meal prep. Spend a little time in the kitchen on Sunday and you save yourself from endless hours of slicing, dicing, sauteing, and searing during the already-exhausting work week. When lunches, dinners, and snacks are already made, you have more time with your family (or your Netflix account) when you really need it.

Often, though, meal prep guides are totally impractical. I'm supposed to do what with turmeric and apple cider vinegar? Here, we're sharing seven useful, easy-to-follow tips for prepping dishes ahead of time. If you're looking for tools to help you get started, check them out here.

1
Consider Your Family's Personal Preferences.

If you could happily eat the same thing for dinner every night for a week, by all means, whip up a giant batch of soup or stew. If, on the other hand, you like to choose from a variety of veggies, grains, proteins, and dressings, you’ll need to prepare an array of basics for a sort of weekly meal-prep smorgasboard. If the latter is your jam, check out our two-hour meal-prep plan for a week of meals. If the former is your style, make a big-batch main or two and grab some salad greens and healthy snacks or granola bars.

RELATED: How Long You Can Store (Almost) Anything in the Fridge and Freezer

2
Keep an Eye on Ingredient Overlap.

When selecting your weekly recipes, look for overlapping ingredients and prioritize making those in the same week. For example, if two recipes use quinoa, you’ll get more bang for your buck if you make one larger batch.

3
Embrace the Bowl.

Want a template for meal prep success? Opt for one or two veggies, plus one starchy carb, plus one protein. This combo will not only keep your blood sugar and energy stable, it makes for endlessly delicious grain bowls. Add an irresistible sauce or dressing, and you’re set.

4
Set Aside Sufficient Prep Time.

Not only do you need to make room on your calendar for meal prep, you need to look at the week ahead to figure out what and how much to make. Going out for a birthday dinner on Tuesday, and a business lunch on Thursday? Factor in these meals when you're determining your shopping list. Pro tip: writing everything down helps.

5
Make a List.

Once you’ve selected your recipes, put together a detailed shopping list. And before you head to the store, don’t forget to check your fridge and pantry to see if you already have some of the things you’ll need.

RELATED: How to Reduce Food Waste in Your Home

6
Invest in Quality Storage Containers.

Glass, stainless steel, or BPA-free plastic with locking lids are all great options for storing food. Mason jars are great for salads and soups, too. Just be sure the containers you’re using are functional and nice to look at. You’ll have more fun meal prepping and eating if your food looks beautiful. Why not?

7
Keep Your Fridge Organized.

With all of your prepped food, you’re going to need to create a system. Produce to the front, protein to the back—and always remember: first in, first out. Move the foods you’ll eat first towards the front, along with fresh and roasted veggies. Foods you’ll eat later in the week, as well as proteins, go towards the back of the fridge. Separate ethylene producing fruits and veggies (bananas, apples, avocados) from ethylene-sensitive produce (eggplants, carrots, yams) to keep your groceries from ripening too quickly. And clean your fridge weekly, as you'll be grateful for the fresh start.

RELATED: This Is the Secret to Storing Every Type of Fruit and Vegetable So They Last Longer

8
Think Outside the Box.

The premise of meal prepping is readying big batches of ingredients that you'll use in various recipes all week long, right? Sanity, saved. But your taste buds need saving, too—from the exhaustion that is eating the same roasted broccoli, barley, and beans at every meal. The solution is simple: stock up on ingredients that'll keep flavors fresh and interesting at every meal, like fresh herbs, spices, citrus fruits, nuts, seeds, and sauces.