I have learned so much along my journey through meal planning and prepping. Sharing the knowledge I’ve gained is a big and important part of what I do. The best part for you is that you get to learn from all my past mistakes!
When I first started out, I found lots of articles online about how to meal plan and prep. So many. Too many, really. When I read these articles, one thing stood out to me over and over again: these tips seemed untested and designed to be ‘one-size-fits-all’.
Of course, not everything works for everyone and when you’re starting out you need advice you can actually use.
That’s why I’ve put together my list of 6 rookie mistakes to avoid when meal prepping. You can use these on their own or combine them with advice you’ve found and wanted to try. Either way, these tips will save you time, energy, money, and most importantly, frustration!
1. Know what kind of foods you like to eat.
Sounds simple, right? Maybe.
When people start meal planning and prepping, they are often doing it for a reason. Whether they’re looking to save money or want to create more time in their week or just want to reduce the stress of figuring out what to have for dinner every night, they’re often mainly motivated by wanting to eat better.
That’s a great goal! The trouble is that when they go to do their meal planning, suddenly they start working with recipes they don’t know and foods they haven’t tried.
This is not the road to success, my friend.
When you start meal planning, go with foods you already know you like. Are you a pizza and burgers person? Great! Make your pizza and burgers at home. When you make things at home you get to choose the ingredients, so you can choose extra lean ground beef or low-fat cheese – not to mention you can control your sides and choose delicious coleslaws and salads instead of fries with dip.
Don’t buy a huge amount of an ingredient until you’ve tried it and know you like it. Maybe you’ll love zucchini, but if you don’t know that today, don’t decide to buy a ton of it and put it in everything. You’ll end up with a bunch of zucchini you can’t stand eating.
Once you’re comfortable with the process, you can start to make changes to the things you like. Maybe beef burgers turn into turkey burgers (with zucchini!). And once you’re comfortable with the meal plan and prep process, add one new dish a week until you’ve shifted your eating to clean foods you love.
2. Don’t try to do too much.
I guarantee that the first time you meal plan and prep it will take a long time.
Sorry about that, but it’s true.
When you started your job, or became a parent, or learned to drive was it easy the first time? Did you master it on the first day?
Nope. You did not.
Meal planning and prepping is exactly the same.
People come to me looking for support after they’ve tried meal planning and prep a couple of times and hated it. When I start asking about what didn’t work they tell me they tried to do a month of meal the first time. That’s not a great way to set yourself up for success.
If you did a month of meals – or even two weeks! – not only will it take you a very long time to plan and prep, a lot of your food is likely to go bad and you’ll probably get sick of whatever it is you made because you’re eating it too much. That’s not a great way to get started.
So, my best advice is to start small. Start with a single week of meals, look through your pantry and see what you already have, and make meals you already know you like. It will take longer the first time than it will the fourth time, but at least it will be easier to learn (and enjoy).
3. Having an unorganized space to work in.
Okay, so this is true of everything you do. If you’re trying to get something done in a space that isn’t well suited to what you’re doing, it will be hard and take more time.
Your kitchen, freezer, and pantry are no different. If you’re fighting a cluttered counter and a freezer full of old, dead food you’re not going to eat anyway you won’t have an easy time trying to do this thing you’ve never done before!
I’m not suggesting a full kitchen remodel here. Even the smallest apartment galley kitchens are perfect spaces to meal plan and prep in – you just have to be smart.
Look at your counters. What’s there that can be stored in a cupboard or on top of the fridge? Can you buy an inexpensive hanging produce basket to keep things off the counter? Do you have any decorative items that can move to another room while you work? Evaluate the space and see what you can do to make it work.
Do your dishes and a general tidy before you begin. Trust me, this will help you so, so much.
4. Not keeping your pantry stocked.
This is a big one, but it’s also one that happens over time. If you’re just starting out meal planning and prepping, you probably don’t have a well-stocked pantry and fridge because you probably don’t know what needs to be there.
Start by grabbing the things you’ll need to have a good, basic pantry and then add to it from there. Getting this right is a big part of your success because the basics are things like oils and spices you use all the time. (It’s so important, in fact, that as soon as you join my Fired Up Meal Plan Subscription, it’s the first thing I tell you to do!)
While you’re putting together your pantry and fridge basics, try to figure out a system that works for your to keep track of it. Is it a running list of things getting low on your fridge? Is it a shopping app that everyone in the family has access to? Start playing with systems to keep his a low-stress thing to manage.
The last thing you need is to not have the cup of milk you need when you’re making your dinner because you didn’t know you needed it. That’s the worst.
5. Not including other people in your plans.
Just like everything in life, communication is key to succeeding at meal planning and prepping.
When you start, you might just be starting with breakfasts and lunches for yourself. But trust my experience when I tell you that once your family sees the delicious stuff you’re making (and how easy it is), they’ll want some, too. Keep your family in the loop about what you’re doing and let them know they need to let you know they want in so you can plan appropriately. (You can also get them in on it, because things are always more fun when done together.)
This also keeps your schedule clear to have the time you need to get the meal planning and prepping done. If you have too many things going on while you’re trying to plan and prep, it will be chaos. Keep your family up-to-date on when you’ll be doing these things, so they don’t plan activities during that time or on the same day. Can you imagine trying to meal prep on the same day you have to make food for a big family birthday? That won’t set you up for success in the beginning.
6. Being worried about perfection.
The other advice I’ve given you here is definitely good, but this is the biggest, most important thing.
If you start out trying for perfection, you’ll be easily discouraged when things don’t turn out. Whether it’s just that the taste is different than you imagined or that the whole dish went sideways and you had to improvise, the best advice I have is: Don’t worry about it.
Amazing dishes come from mistakes and experimentation. Your first few plans will definitely not have enough of something or way too much of something else. There will be dishes or leftovers you really don’t like. But the best thing you can do is roll with it. There’s no magic potion for this – it’s just trial and error, so surrender and enjoy the process!
As you can see from this advice, meal planning and prep is more than picking your meals and gathering ingredients. It’s about organizing your kitchen, pantry, and fridge; picking the foods you like; starting slow and easy; and communicating with your family about what’s up. Then it’s about creating your meals that work best for you that week.
I’m Kandice-Lee! I am passionate about the impact food can have on your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I help people lead bigger, bolder, and better lives through teaching meal planning, meal preparation, and clean eating.