A Step-By-Step Guide to Meal Planning and Prep

So, you’re convinced that it’s at least WORTH A TRY to see if this meal prep thing can save you tons of time, money, and help ensure you level up.

That’s awesome! Because it can do ALL of those things, and more.

Today we’re going to start with the easiest version of meal prep, which we’ll call “level 1.”

Now, make no mistake, just successfully accomplishing this meal prep every week can be an enormous aid in effortlessly leveling up.

In fact, it was the exact meal prep that we are going to go over today that helped Staci lose fat and build strength years ago:

So, let’s get to it: In today’s step by step guide we are going to make five meals: lunch every day. I highly suggest you start off with just one daily pre-prepped meal, and I suggest lunch. Why?

  • If you work a 9-5, it’s most likely the meal you have the most control over, since you’re away from your family.
  • Many people are already looking to bring their lunches to work or school with them.
  • Going out to lunch every day is expensive and the options are often extremely unhealthy.
  • When you’re stressed at work, it’s so easy to just go to the break room and grab some leftover pizza or cake (or anything else) – but if you have your meal with you, it’s much easier to say no.

Staci (pictured above) fell in love with fitness and health so much that she joined Team Nerd Fitness, and is gonna handle the rest of this article:

When I first started, I just swapped out my lunch with a healthier “planned ahead lunch” and I lost about 10lbs in the first month.

Everything else was the same, I was still going out to eat every night and was still working on (and failing at) creating my workout habit. Now, everyone’s schedule is different, so feel free to start with a different meal.

The idea is the same: start small. No matter what meal or what your needs are, following the steps in this guide will set you up for success.

And if you want to do more later, great; think of this like the tutorial level. Once you get this down, we can start adding more meals and variety to it.

You can combine this meal strategy with our 10-Level Nerd Fitness Diet and start to change your life one level at at time!

Grab our 10-Level NF Diet strategy guide free when you sign up in the box below, pick the level that works for you, and start leveling up TODAY:

Level 1 Meal Prep: Equipment and Sample Shopping List

ingredients_1024x768

Sample Shopping List

  • Chicken – (In this guide I grabbed thighs, but feel free to grab any 2.5 lbs of meat. I usually grab what’s on sale.)
  • 2 large bags (16oz each) of veggies of your choice. I like the broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots mix the best because it gives some variety, but really any vegetable or vegetable mix will do here.
  • 3-4 sweet potatoes, around 2.5lbs. Variety does not matter.
  • Salt and pepper or your favorite seasoning mix(es)

equipment meal prep_576x768

Equipment needed

  • Baking sheets (2)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Large pot
  • Colander
  • Cutting Board
  • Knife
  • Non-stick spray or olive oil (optional, but recommended)
  • Tupperware, individual containers or bags

Don’t have something above? Check out our article on kitchen essentials, complete with our recommendations!

The Process

Step One:

Take your large pot and dump both bags of veggies in. Add water until the vegetables are covered, and put on the stove on medium high heat.

veggies in pot_576x768

Quick tip: You can skip this step all together if you buy 5 bags of steamfresh veggies and put one with each meal.

While you’re at the stove, turn your oven on and pre-heat to 350 degrees farenheit.

Step Two:

Take one of the baking sheets and cover it with aluminum foil, and then spray it with the non-stick spray.

Take the chicken thighs and line them up on the baking sheet. Season them with salt and pepper or your seasoning of choice.

I like to use two different seasonings to change things up a bit (in this photo I’m using Weber’s Beer Can Chicken and Fire and Flavor’s Everyday Rub).

If you aren’t sure what to use, use salt and pepper, or just grab one at the store that looks good that says CHICKEN. If you are feeling adventurous, we wrote a whole post on diverse spice options to fit any occasion!

Your oven should be at 350 degrees now – pop the chicken thighs in on the middle rack and set a timer for 25 minutes (or note what time it is)

chicken on cookie sheet_1024x768

Step Three:

Wash your sweet potatoes, and then grab your cutting board and knife and (carefully!) cut up your sweet potatoes.

I usually cut into slices and then cut each slice twice to create small chunks.

The exact way you do it isn’t important, but the goal is to get the chunks around the same size (they bake more evenly that way).

cutting a sweet potatoe_1024x768

Grab your second baking sheet, line it with foil, and spray the foil with your nonstick spray.

Lay the potato pieces out evenly across the sheet.

sliced sweet potatoes_1024x768

I like to get multiple types of sweet potatoes to add color and variety and because it’s more fun that way. Obviously this is totally optional.

Next, put them in the oven on the other rack. Note the time or set a second timer for 30 minutes.

chicken and potatos in the oven_1024x768

Step Four:

At this point, you’ve got two things baking away, and your veggies should be done by now. So, grab your colander and strain them.

collander veggies_1024x768

While those are cooling, grab your five containers and lay them out, like this:

tupperware

And then add the vegetables into the containers.

I like using a food scale purely so I can portion easily, but you can also use a serving spoon, measuring cup, or just eyeball it.

Meal portioning

Step Five:

At this point, it’s time to check on our chicken. At 350 degrees, chicken thighs usually take around 25-30 minutes. They’re done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, just cut one of the thicker ones open and look.

Done chicken should look like this [1]:

It shout NOT look like this [2]:

If it’s not done, you can spend the time cleaning up a bit, playing a game of Smash Bros, or dancing around your apartment to whatever floats your boat.

If it IS done, pull it out of the oven and set it aside. Be careful, because chicken thighs tend to have a lot of juice in the pan, and it’s easy to splash and burn yourself.

I usually like to let the chicken cool a bit before portioning it, so this is usually another good cleaning (or dancing) opportunity, because you’ve probably got another 10 minutes before the sweet potatoes are done.

After a few minutes, I portion the chicken thighs out. I usually do 1.5 thighs per container (for those of you into the numbers, one full chicken thigh is usually between 3 and 4 oz, so 1.5 is usually around 6oz). Feel free to adjust portioning depending on your caloric needs, but one full chicken thigh is a great starting place for many. If I have any left over, I’ll put it in a side container and eat it as a snack, or put it in the freezer.

Step Six (last one!):

Meal portioning

Ding! Sweet potato timer goes off – so open up the oven and poke them with a fork. Are you able to poke all the way through? Then they are done!

Pull them out, set them aside, and add a handful or two to each container (using tongs if you haven’t waited for them to cool).

These will last 4-5 days in the fridge. Looking for specifics? Check out stilltasty. If you’re nervous about those last few days, just put 2 in the freezer and pull them out Wednesday night in preparation for Thursday and Friday.

And that’s it!

Five delicious ready to eat meals that will help you keep on track with your nutrition throughout the week, even when you get stressed out or things don’t go quite as planned.

As noted above, if you like the idea of following this meal prep and you’re looking for more support and guidance, I got you covered.

Remove the questions and confusion, and give yourself an actual blueprint to follow! When you sign up for the Rebellion (it’s free), I’ll send you a few few guides to keep you on track:

  • Our 10 Level Nerd Fitness Diet Strategy Guide
  • Our Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet
  • 5+ other free guides designed to help you level up your life.

Grab those guides when you sign up in the box below, and start leveling up your diet today!

That should hopefully answer EVERY question you have about getting started with the tactic that changed my life: meal-prep!

What questions or tips do you have?

What’s your favorite meal to meal prep?

What did I miss in this article that I can cover in the future?

Now, get cookin’!

-Staci

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  • Michael Leonard

    They also last longer, they don’t stain, and the top brands (Anchor and Pyrex) can go straight into the oven from the fridge so you can prep a family meal, store it, cook it, and store leftovers in one dish.

  • Amanda

    Great Article. I am not a fan of sweet potatoes at all. I do love regular(?) potatoes. Would that be an ok substitution or do you have any suggestions on what I can use to substitute the sweet potatoes? Thanks for this article, I am wanting to meal prep as finding a decent meal solution that is cost effective is quite hard.

  • DianaBreeze

    If this is level 1 prep, I think my lunch is at 0.5! I eat pretty much the same thing, but I make a salad instead of cooked veggies and don’t pre-cook my sweet potato. I set my chicken to marinate in the morning, and then in the evening, while the chicken is cooking, I put salad in Ziploc sandwich baggies with some pre-cut carrots, three grape tomatoes, and then I chop up some cucumber. Then I cut my sweet potatoes into fist-sized chunks, wrap each one up, and set it aside. When the chicken is done, I wrap up each portion and set it aside, so each morning I just grab a piece of chicken, a bag of salad, and a sweet potato and put it in my bag.

    When I’m at work, I wrap the potato in 2-3 very wet paper towels and stick it in the microwave on the “potato” setting — about 3 1/2 minutes — while I eat my chicken salad, and about halfway through eating, bing! Steamed sweet potato! It means my Sunday lunch prep takes about a half hour.

  • Max Wasatch

    Please please please buy a thermometer and don’t try to eyeball it! You can get a cheap digital for around $10. It will not be as fast as the more expensive ones, but will work.

    Especially with meat, temperature is the only way to be sure you are safe. if you are just guessing you can either get sick (or die) or just waste money on overcooking food. It is the most important tool in the kitchen.

  • Valerie Rodriguez

    This looks great but I am one of those persons that can’t eat the same thing everyday. Any recommendations for that? Also I am a little skeptic about leaving the food even in freezer that long I feel the taste will not be the same, and not fresh anymore.

  • Another amazing post. Thanks for sharing this guide.

  • Bouncer333

    A reminder of a meal I usually made all the time… at last oven can only handle one at a time. Planning on throwing the potatoes with the chicken and see how many meals I get out of that.

  • moohanda

    This is amazing! I prep nearly all of my meals, but this is a much better way to do it!

  • Melissa Hailey

    If you do go the steamfresh route, do you use the entire bag? It seems like so much!

  • This is great! Love how you broke every step by step on meal planning and also prep.

  • Great post and it made me hungry. I think at different stages or health in life we need different types of nutrition to fit our needs and maybe it isnt one size firs all. But with all the fast food options out there I really like this post which focuses on cook at home types of meals. Great info here!

  • Beth

    Glass, my friends, not plastic. Just because it doesn’t have BPA doesn’t mean it isn’t impacting your hormones or health. I recommend a trip to the Corning Outlet Store or Amazon for a box of Corning square dishes with lids. Its your health, dammit. Hormone disruption is a real thing. P.S. Use really fresh meat to start with. Talk to your butcher…learn what meats are previously frozen. Learn what is processed in a factory far away. My Whole Foods and Sprouts both make their own sausage on premises. (Sausage, pepper, onion, tomato…quinoa or the ancient grain in the bottom).

  • Northstar

    This is awesome! I finally got to read the article. I did have a question concerning healthy meals without a microwave. Where I work we don’t have one (though I hope we will get one soon!) are there healthy options that don’t require reheating them? Often I would make salads with mayonnaise (egg salad, grape and chicken salad) but I’m not sure if these would be the healthiest options. Thanks so much!

  • Leslie Garcia

    Wow. I never realized meal prepping is this easy! I can just do it on Sunday and never have to worry the following days. I wonder if you have other links of easy to cook recipes like this one? Thanks so much!

  • Mike

    Questions…what do you budget for food? Because I’m trying to figure out the cost. Is this the cheapest meal prep?

  • Isarian

    Any chance you could share more meat/veggie/starch mix ideas? My level of creativity in the kitchen is usually about nil but I’m good at following lists!

  • rhiannion

    Instead of cooking the veggies in water – steam them; more nutrients stay in the veggies and not leached out by water cooking. If you are buying your pan for the first time, find one with a steam insert already in it or one that a metal colander will fit in or a tupperware/rubbermaid veg cooker with steamer insert (I have one of these for the microwave). Or use the steamin bag vegetables as suggested for a time saver and for more nutrition. I always load up on my favorite steam veggies on sale for the freezer. Also, I’ll double up on sweet potato cooking, and freeze the chunks and pull from freezer bag as needed if I know that the next week may have an event and cooking may be rushed.
    Great article! Thank You!

  • rhiannion

    Instead of cooking the veggies in water – steam them; more nutrients stay in the veggies and not leached out by water cooking. If you are buying your pan for the first time, find one with a steam insert already in it or one that a metal colander will fit in or a tupperware/rubbermaid veg cooker with steamer insert (I have one of these for the microwave). Or use the steamin bag vegetables as suggested for a time saver and for more nutrition. I always load up on my favorite steam veggies on sale for the freezer. Also, I’ll double up on sweet potato cooking, and freeze the chunks and pull from freezer bag as needed if I know that the next week may have an event and cooking may be rushed.
    Great article! Thank You!

  • Røxy

    I strive to be this level of Prep Master.

  • Corey Hinde

    Great article. I find that my clients are always desperate for help with getting good planning done to allow them to eat the way they want to eat. This is practical, thanks guys.

  • Faye

    Staci, I just want to say thank you so much for this post! After a long gym hiatus, I was looking for a solid plan – something other than what I used to do, which was just show up and do what I felt like. I could never make it to the gym more than once a week. I found your blogs on strength training and I decided to do the starting strength program. It’s the first time EVER I’ve found myself consistently in the gym 3 times a week… and that’s been going for almost a solid three months. Because I actually like going now and I have tangible goals! Since I go in the morning, my breakfast has gotten under control, because if it’s not, I can’t work out effectively. Lately my work lunches have been a struggle. I love cooking complicated stuff, but thank you for reminding me how simple it can be. I literally have my chicken thighs in the oven right now. 🙂 Same goes for strength training. Simplicity and consistency are key for me. I’ve seen lots of meal preps that look so epic and beautiful, but spending an entire day on cooking is not something i’m ready for. But this post makes it so easy it forced me to ask myself why I don’t do this yet. Thanks for inspiring me!! <3

  • Dana Myles

    This is my second week with the meal prep system (Level 1) and I love it. The first week, for less than $20 I had lunch for the week where as eating out every day for lunch cost me on average $12 – $15 dollars a day! Not counting the gas I used up driving to and from where ever I had lunch. I’m looking forward to posts on how to level up the meal prep to where I’m fixing a week’s worth of breakfast and dinner as well. 🙂

  • Dana Myles

    I’ve found some tasty combinations of roasting spices and sauces at World Market. I haven’t done the calorie counting to see how much they add to my dish so definitely take a gander at the labels before you make your selection if you’re being strict on your caloric intake.

  • Pullum

    Thanks for sharing. I’m always looking for processes to simplify my meal prep. I think sometimes we make it harder on ourselves then it has to be.

  • Jarrod CL

    We do the same with boiled eggs…we cook them, peel them, roll them in herbs/spices and then bag them up, ready to go 🙂

  • waywardsister

    Late to the party, but my husband works construction and has no access to a microwave. He has a little plug-in food warmer – looks like a little crock pot. It warms up food in about an hour or so. Great for soups and stews, but also meat/veg combos. He brings spicy chicken breast and rice, works great. You could plug it in right at your desk and eat right out of the warmer!

  • Northstar

    I didn’t even know those existed! Fantastic, thank you so much!

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  • A slow cooker/rice cooker is also great for prepping meats, carbs, and vegetables. Cooks them all perfectly and requires virtually no time or effort. Every Sunday I put a few pounds of Chicken in a slow cooker with fat free Italian dressing to last me through the week and it turns out absolutely perfect every time!

  • ~Jeska Joy~

    Love this article! This pretty much how I roll. I’ve been cooking for a loooong time, and just wanted to point out that if you dice and roast the sweet potatoes first, then get your chicken ready, and put it in, they’ll be ready at the same time. (Start on the item that takes longest to cook, first) Maybe not helpful for packing lunch… But it’s nice for making a meal you’re going to sit and eat right away ; )

    As for veggies, for those who can’t stand boiled or microwaved, you can roast fresh veggies easily by dicing like the sweet potatoes, toss in a little oil (coconut oil or olive), sprinkle spices. (I pre-made a mix of my faves, granulated garlic, smoked paprika, salt pepper) In either case, watch for weird additives if you get a pre made spice mix! Read the label. Many (most?) have msg derivatives.

    Also, you can get one of those flower steamers (google it yo) and steam fresh veggies while the rest is roasting. Same amount of time, except a little time spent chopping. Worth it!

    The flower steamer changed my life! (Once I started, you know, actually using it for vegetables instead of costumes ; )

  • Megan Sideropoulos

    Hi Staci! This is so helpful. Do you have any suggestions for prepping multiple meals at once (i.e. lunch and dinner or lunch, dinner, and breakfast) without taking an incredibly long time? Thanks!

  • Ashventurous

    This is awesome!!!! Did almost this exact meal last week (but with a wild rice instead of potatoes). I do have a question/concern though.

    I really really really don’t like the taste of sweet potatoes. Are there any other types of potato that can be semi-healthy and still work with this meal prep?

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  • nick

    great guide! thank you for sharing!

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  • Mario Avila

    Is this just for one day ? Or a week