Guide to Meal Prepping and Freezing

Most Americans report they prefer home cooked meals, but finding time to shop and cook often turns best intentions into calls for pizza delivery. Get a handle on a few simple strategies to make preparing healthy meals much less daunting. This guide to meal prepping and freezing helps you save time, money and some calories.


Make A Plan

Healthy food take away in boxes, top view at wood

A little planning can go a long way. Sit down for a few minutes over the weekend and map out meals for the week ahead. Consider your schedule and pinpoint which days you can cook and which days you will be squeezed for time. For dinners, have nights follow a theme and be sure to make extra for lunchbox leftovers. Make one night vegetarian, another night chicken, and then one for fish and pizza or pasta. The busiest night of the week should be a low prep or no prep meal—something in the slow cooker or pressure cooker or from the freezer to the microwave.

Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore

  • 1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • ½ cup marinara sauce
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 green or red bell pepper, sliced fresh basil
  • Red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese for serving

Add chicken thighs, marinara, chicken stock, onion, garlic, and bell pepper to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and taste for seasoning; add additional salt if needed and top with fresh basil. Serve with red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese, if desired.


Soup It Up

Soups can serve as a make ahead, one pot meal using all kinds of ingredients. Toby Amidor, registered dietitian and author of "The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook," makes batches of soup for busy weeks and to cut down on food waste. “During the winter months, I love a warming soup. Plus it’s an easy dish to prep a double batch of and freeze the rest for a busy week. Soups are also a good way to use those extra vegetable scraps, like hearty leafy greens and squash, which can help reduce food waste.” Here’s one of Toby's time-saving recipes:

Root Vegetable and Bean Soup

  • 1 packed cup baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 medium parsnip, chopped
  • 1 medium turnip, chopped
  • 1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Stack the spinach leaves, roll them up, and then slice into ribbons. Work in batches if needed. In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, carrot, celery, parsnip, and turnip, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the beans, and stir to combine. Add the vegetable broth, mirin, and bay leaves, and stir to combine. Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the beans are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Stir in the spinach ribbons and black pepper.

Recipe copyright Toby Amidor, The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook: Easy and Wholesome Meals to Cook, Prep, Grab, and Go, Rockridge Press, 2017.


Get Equipped

Cook off large batches of things like brown rice in advance to make the pre-meal prep minimal, and choose simple one-pot (or pan) options to cut down on cleaning too.

Sheet Pan Drumsticks With Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli

  • 6 chicken drumsticks
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
  • 2 cups broccoli florets

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and a piece of parchment paper. Place drumsticks on one side of the sheet pan and the sweet potatoes on the other. Season everything with olive oil, salt, pepper and seasoning mix. Place in the oven and cook for 25 minutes. Open the oven and add the broccoli on top of the sweet potatoes; cook for an additional 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

It’s hard to make an easy recipe without the right tools. Invest in staples like a cast iron skillet, a large sheet pan, and a Dutch oven with a lid to master the art of one-pot meals.


Befriend the Freezer

Storing food in the freezer allows for meals at a moment's notice. For best results, make sure your freezer is at the proper temperature (0 degrees F) and use specially designated freezer bags and containers to keep foods protected. Some of the best items to freeze include sliced bread, casseroles of baked ziti or chicken Parmesan, baby food purees, cooked pancakes, sauces, stews, and chili.

Favorite 2-Bean Chili

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey breast or extra lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ medium red onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup chicken broth or water
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels

Heat oil in large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add meat and cook until browned. Add chili pepper, celery salt, and cumin. Then add onion, peppers, celery and garlic; season with salt and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in broth, crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes and bring to boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Stir in beans and corn, and cook uncovered for minutes, stirring occasionally.


Keep a Well Stocked Pantry

It is a lot easier to cook healthy meals if you’ve got the right ingredients on hand. Keep your pantry stocked with staples like pasta, canned tomatoes, honey, rolled oats, canned tuna, and canned beans. Keep these foods at your disposal and a healthy meal is only minutes away.

Tuna Pasta Salad

1 (5 oz) can chunk light tuna in water, drained
1 (5 oz) can solid white albacore tuna in water, drained
½ cup chopped celery
1 small apple, diced
Juice of ½ a lemon
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups cooked whole grain pasta, cooled

In a large bowl combine tuna, celery, apple, lemon juice and mayo; season with salt and mix well to combine. Toss prepared tuna with cooked pasta.

By Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is an author, registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer, and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc.