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Meal Preparation: Starting Simple

May 28, 2021

Meal preparation is the process of planning and preparing whole meals ahead of schedule. The initial time investment for meal planning and preparation can be daunting, but the benefits outweigh the challenges.

Meal prep can help you:

  • Control your portions
  • Increase your fruit and vegetable intake
  • Save time cooking during the week
  • Save money. All of these benefits also contribute to your health goals.

Meal preparation requires planning and patience, but the time you save on the back-end will be well worth the investment. Below are key principles of meal prep to help you achieve a solid foundation of healthy eating:

Meal preparation is the process of planning and preparing whole meals ahead of schedule.

Meal preparation is the process of planning and preparing whole meals ahead of schedule.


To help build a solid meal prep foundation, start with preparing one meal (i.e., breakfast, lunch, or dinner) for 3-4 days of the week. Consider a tried-and-true recipe you know you will eat or a simple recipe that allows you to modify for increased variety. Once you find a recipe you like, purchase pre-chopped or ‘pre-prepared foods that do not require cooking. For example, if a burrito bowl recipe calls for chicken and rice, buy canned chicken and microwavable brown rice vs. cooking your own. You can also find canned or pre-prepared ingredients like black beans, chopped onions and peppers, diced tomatoes, salsa, shredded cheese, guacamole, etc.


Look in your refrigerator and pantry to see what ingredients you need to purchase. Write a list of what you need to purchase from the store. Based on how many servings your recipe makes and how many in your household will be eating the meal, you may need to double the recipe. So be sure to calculate the change in the amount and add this to your grocery list. If you don’t like planning and writing lists, there’s an app for that. Check out Mealime for recipes with an in-app shopping list and nutrition information.


Glass and/or plastic containers with lids are essential for safely storing prepared meals and meal prep ingredients. A sharp knife and cutting boards are essential for preparing and cooking safely. Other equipment to help meal prep includes:

  • InstaPot (multi-cooker)
  • Slow cooker
  • Gas or electric grill
  • Mason jars


Multi-task while chopping and cooking. Call a friend or family member or listen to music or your favorite e-book/podcast to help the time pass. Include family and friends to help chop, mix, or cook other recipe parts. Research shows this can help create healthy eating patterns for youth and adolescents1.


As you build confidence in your weekly meal planning and preparation routine, start adding more meals and snacks into the preparation plan. This can be as simple as increasing the variety of ingredients you purchase. Change the amounts and combination of ingredients from meal to snack and day to day to create variety and even more meals you don’t have to worry about throughout the week.

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1. Berge JM, MacLehose RF, Larson N, Laska M, Neumark-Sztainer D. Family Food Preparation and Its Effects on Adolescent Dietary Quality and Eating Patterns. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2016;59(5):530-536.

About Duke Health & Well-Being Nutrition & Lifestyle Services

Our individualized nutrition services treat specific health conditions, manage weight healthfully, and attain optimal vitality through a wholesome diet. Our nutritionists understand that getting on the right path toward your health goals is a process that requires support, adjustment, and taking small steps to make lasting and positive changes. Work with a nutritionist to discover the connection between food, movement, stress, and rest and make strategic changes to your diet to help you achieve your goals.

Integrative Nutrition at Integrative Medicine →
Diet & Nutrition Counseling at the Duke Lifestyle & Weight Management Center →
Nutrition Consultations at the Health and Fitness Center →


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