Whether you’re here because you’re ready to get started with meal prep for your family or you’re looking for ways to make your meal prep easier and more effective, I’m super excited! Because I know firsthand just how life-changing meal prepping can be.
Not only does it save time and energy, but it also makes it easier to eat healthy meals and save money.
Truthfully, if you’re a busy parent, you don’t have time to NOT meal prep.
You can stock your fridge and freezer with kid-friendly foods, which saves you tons of time and effort. That way, at the end of the day when you’re exhausted and everyone is complaining of hunger, you’re not staring in the fridge trying to find inspiration or shelling out money for takeout for the whole family.
Meal prepping is amazing because it:
- Saves time & energy – You chop, prepare, and clean up ONE TIME
- Makes it easier to eat healthy – With a fridge and freezer stocked with healthy make-ahead meals, it’s easy to feed your family healthy foods.
- Saves money – Limits food waste and you avoid take-out on nights you’re too tired to cook.
Busy families don’t have time NOT to meal prep. Instead of resorting to expensive and unhealthy trips through the drive thru on busy weeknights, you can get delicious meal on the table.
And in this guide we’re going to go over exactly how to get started with meal prep. And even if you’ve already started with some meal prep, this post will give you loads of ideas and help you do it more efficiently.
We’ll go over:
- How easy and versatile it is to meal prep (it can be whatever works for you)
- Supplies you may need (spoiler: it’s not as much as you may think!)
- Easy make-ahead meal ideas and easy recipes
- The exact steps to get started without feeling overwhelmed
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What Exactly Does Meal Prepping Mean?
“Meal Prep” can mean a whole lot of things. But it basically means anytime you prepare food to be eaten later. This can mean leftovers from dinner that you plan to eat as lunch the next day.
It can mean doubling your spaghetti sauce recipe and freezing half for another meal. Or it can also mean making all your lunches for the week on Sunday.
Meal prep can be foods you make-ahead to eat in a few days or in a few months.
Here are basic keys to meal prepping:
If you’ve got a family, you’ve got a lot of bellies to fill and therefore a lot of food to prepare. And meal prep makes that a whole lot easier, no matter how you choose to do it.
- Variety: You can meal prep foods for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks.
- Stick with Favorites: It’s best to start with recipes your family already loves
- Fridge Meal Prep: Foods you plan to eat within the next few days go in the fridge.
- Freezer Meal Prep: Make-Ahead foods you plan to eat in the coming weeks and months will go in the freezer
- Partial Meal Prep: Meal prepping doesn’t have to mean throwing together a complete recipe. It can mean partially preparing foods so it’s easier to cook and complete later on.
- Start small: Try one recipe at a time and don’t feel like you have to do anything huge. The key to making meal prep work, is to start small and just do what works for you.
- Work it into your weekly routine: Try to do some meal prep every week. That way you can slowly build up your food reserve in your freezer.
- Don’t try new recipes in bulk: Do not meal prep a NEW recipe that your family hasn’t tried. Otherwise your freezer will be full of make-ahead meals that makes your kids think you’re trying to torture them.
- Don’t go out and buy a bunch of stuff: Try and use what you already have.
Meal prepping can be a million different things and the key is to figure out what is easy for you and works well for your family.
Is Meal Prepping Actually Cheaper?
Generally speaking, meal prep can most certainly save you money as you avoid food waste and getting takeout when you’re just tired.
However, this 100% depends on what meals you make. If you purchase expensive cuts of meat or expensive ingredients for meal prep you can spend more money. But if you purchase similar food items that you normally eat, then meal prep can absolutely be cheaper.
If you follow the methods I suggest below, then meal prep will most definitely save you money and help you stick to your food budget.
Supplies Needed to Meal Prep For a Family
If there is one point I want to make abundantly clear, it’s that meal prep can be extraordinarily easy and simple. Chances are you have everything you need at home to get started.
And the key really is to just GET STARTED.
After making a few things, you’ll get a better idea of what you actually need to meal prep for your family. While some people purchase fancy glass containers for everything, that can get pricey REALLY fast.
So while it’s great to check out supplies that you may want to purchase in the future to make meal prepping easier…
(again, making it easier and more convenient is the key to all your supplies)
…don’t feel like you need to rush out and buy stuff to prep family meals.
Meal Prep Supply Basics
These are the basic supplies you want to have to get started with meal prep. But chances are, you already have them on hand. If not, don’t rush out and get them unless you plan to immediately use them.
For freezing MOST things, freezer bags are my go-to. Both quart and freezer bags are good to have around. Get bags that give a really good seal and don’t have leaks, or else you’ve got food dripping all over or freezer burn on your food. They are great for:
- Spaghetti sauce
- Marinated chicken and meats
- Plus a million other things
You need goot permanent marker to label everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found something in my freezer and I have no clue what it is. I love Sharpies.
Disposable Aluminum Casserole Dishes
These are great for lasagna, casseroles, enchiladas and anything of that sort that you plan to make ahead. When it comes to freezer meals, anything I don’t put in a freezer bag goes in one of these. Top with tightly secured aluminum foil. When you label the top, also include cooking time and temperature.
- 9×13 Aluminum Pans are great for main dishes
- 8×8 Sized pans are great for small dishes or if you’re cooking for 2 or 3 people.
Air-Tight Storage Containers
For anything going in the fridge, you’ll need some sort of storage dish or airtight containers. If I’m prepping lunches to go in the fridge, I love these glass containers.
But if you’re just starting out, use something you already have on hand. Gradually build up your supply of the nicer containers as you can.
Other Meal Prepping Supplies to Consider
Depending on what kind of meals you’re preparing, there are other supplies to consider. Here’s a few with what meals they works well for.
Mason Jars & Lids
For overnight oat and smaller foods, I like these mason jars.
And these lids are a must if you’re using mason jars for meal prep.
If you plan on meal prepping muffins, I highly recommend getting silicone muffin tins because they make clean up so much easier.
If you’ve tried to put soups or sauces in plastic baggies and ended up with a mess, then these handy gadgets are for you. They help you fill the freezer bags without awkward spills.
(Personally, I have them but I NEVER use them. I just got more careful with the soup ladle.)
One of the issues with making large batches of food is simply having large enough cooking equipment and space. Which is why my go to for making spaghetti, chicken pot pie filling, or anything else saucy is to use my large electric skillet.
This gives me ample space to cook large batches of food all at once.
Large Pot for Soups
If soups are on the list to meal prep, you will want to have a pot large enough to accommodate a large batch.
The Best Meals for Family Meal Prep
Frankly, the sky’s the limit for meal prep meals. You can make comfort food, super healthy foods, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, desserts…so many options.
You just need to make sure you’ve got a good recipe that freezes or refrigerates well (and the right containers).
For example, you can’t freeze salad and expect to get great results…
…But you can make a week of delicious mason jar salads that stay amazingly fresh in the fridge all week!
Here’s some healthy meal prep ideas for both freezer and fridge broken down into the 4 following categories:
- Breakfasts that meal prep well
- Meal prep lunches
- Dinner Meals that freeze & reheat well
- Partially prepared foods/meal ideas
Meal Prep Breakfasts for Fridge & Freezer
As morning tends to be a crazy time for families (especially during the school year), prepping breakfast foods can go a long way to simplifying your morning while also giving your kids quick and healthy food options.
In fact, if you’re a busy parent and your mornings are crazy, I highly suggest you start with meal prepping breakfast.
Here are awesome make ahead breakfast food:
Healthy, fiber filled muffins make for a great breakfast (or snack) food. You can basically take any great muffin recipe, make it in bulk, then after cooled off put them in gallon freezer bags and freeze. Then all; you have to do it pop them out one at a time
2. Waffles or Pancakes
The same applies to waffles or pancakes. Pick your favorite pancake or waffle recipe, make in bulk, and freeze in gallon freezer bags.
Personally, I prefer waffles because you can freeze them together in freezer bags without them sticking together like crazy. But you can meal prep pancakes!
In fact, my family loves these pumpkin pancakes. I just have to cut up parchment paper to go in between each pancake before sticking in the freezer bags.
3. Overnight Oats
I love overnight oats. It’s a great way to make healthy breakfasts for my husband and I all at once. Here’s a great guide to overnight oats with some tasty recipes.
4. Egg Muffins
These are great for protein and veggie filled breakfast or snack foods that can last in the freezer for days.
(I know some people freeze them–though I never have)
While the internet is full of great recipes for egg muffins, all you really need to do is fill greased muffin tins (I always use silicone pans for easy cleanup) with whisked eggs and water add-ons you want (ex. veggies, cheese etc) and cook them at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
I like to saute finely chopped onions, zucchini and bell peppers, grate some cheddar cheese, and mix everything with eggs for a veggie-packed egg muffin.
5. Smoothie Packs
Basically throw everything you’d put in a smoothie in a freezer bag so all you have to do is throw it in the blender with some liquid.
Looking for some fabulous meal prep breakfast recipes? These 7 Healthy & Delicious Make-Ahead Breakfast Recipes are absolute staples in our house.
Easy Meal Prep Lunches Ideas
Meal Prep Sandwiches (Great for Kids’ Lunches)
With 4 kids who pack their lunch everyday, we’re a big fan of freezer sandwiches. They are SUPER easy & versatile and they give my kids tons of energy in the middle of their school day.
Here’s a video of how I do it:
Don’t want to watch? Here are the written instructions:
- Buy lunch meat, cheese, and bread of your choice (we like to use hoagie/sub rolls)
- Put desired meat and cheese combo inside the bread
- Wrap in plastic wrap or in a plastic baggie with as much air taken out as possible
- Label with the combo (ex. Turkey & cheddar, Roast beef and havarti) so people know what’s in the sandwich
- Stick them in the freezer
- Throw them in lunch boxes in the morning – they will act as your ice pack while also defrosting by lunch time.
- You can throw in packets of mustard and packets of mayo for those who want them.
Pizza Rolls (Great for Kids’ Lunches)
Pizza rolls are basically just making pizza the way you’d make a cinnamon roll and baking it. They freeze great, and make for amazing school lunches.
Mason Jar Salads
The beauty of mason jar salads is that they keep in the fridge for several days without going bad. It’s all about the order of adding ingredients and packing the mason jar tightly (less oxygen). They really are miraculous.
And it makes them an amazing option if you’re looking for healthy meal prep ideas. You chop all the veggie once, yet end up with a bunch of tasty salads. They make for great lunches.
If you take it to work, be sure and bring a bowl and utensils with you. My husband has a dedicated “work salad bowl” for when he brings salads to work.
Protein, Carb, Veggie Combo
Like mason jar salads, these meal prep meals are great for lunches for the week as they store well in the fridge. These meal prep meals have a protein, a carb/grain, and a veggie of some sort.
The possibilities are near-endless. You can pretty much do whatever floats your boat. But with som simple food prep your can have nutritious meals for lunch each day.
- Grilled chicken breast (this is our go-to)
- Sauteed flank steak
- Pork tenderloin, divided into portions
- Brown rice
- White rice
- Sweet potatoes
- Roasted Potatoes
- Steamed broccoli
- Roasted cauliflower
- Green beans
- Roasted bell pepper and onions
Looking for more lunch ideas? Here’s Over 40 Lunch Meal Prep Ideas from Girl on Bloor
Dinner Meals that Freeze & Reheat Well
While a lot of foods store well in the fridge for a few days, having a freezer stocked with make-ahead foods is where you’ll really start to reap the benefits of meal prepping. Prepare foods once, and have meals for several months to come. Especially when it comes to meal prep dinners for your family.
(Just make sure you label everything)
Here are some foods that freeze really well:
- Chili: A classic freezer meal that tastes even better after reheating.
- Spaghetti Sauce: Make a big batch and freeze it for future pasta dinners.
- Lasagna: Portion it into individual servings for easy reheating, or put in disposable aluminum casserole dishes.
- Soup: Most soups, like chicken noodle or minestrone, freeze well.
- Stews: Beef stew, chicken stew, or vegetarian options all work.
- Curries: Many curry dishes, such as chicken tikka masala, freeze nicely.
- Casseroles: Dishes like baked ziti or shepherd’s pie are perfect for freezing.
- Enchiladas: Make a pan and freeze individual servings for quick meals.
- Meatballs: Freeze cooked meatballs for meatball subs or spaghetti. Flash freeze and stick in freezer bags so you can grab just what you need.
- Baked Pasta: Dishes like macaroni and cheese or baked penne are great options.
- Sheets of Quiche: Freeze individual slices for breakfast or lunch.
- Stuffed Bell Peppers: Prepare, then freeze for a convenient dinner.
- Meatloaf: Slice and freeze portions for easy reheating.
- Chicken Pot Pie: Freeze individual pies for quick dinners or even just freeze the filling and put in freezer bags.
- Taco Meat: Cook and season ground beef or turkey for easy taco nights.
- Pulled Pork: Make a big batch and freeze in portions for sandwiches. This is a great pulled pork recipe we use.
- Ratatouille: A versatile vegetable dish that freezes well.
- Homemade Pizza: Partially bake the crust, add toppings, and freeze on cardboard cake rounds and wrap in plastic wrap.
- Burgers: Freeze cooked patties for quick burger nights.
- Lentil or Bean Dishes: Dishes like lentil soup or chili are excellent for freezing.
Do you have any family favorites that fit these categories? Consider starting with one of these kinds of foods.
Partial Meal Prep Ideas
Not all meal prep has to be actually making a whole recipe. You can do small and easy things to partially prepare food that makes it so much easier to get food on your table. Here are some ideas:
Marinated Chicken Breasts
This is one of my favorite meal prepping strategies, hands down. Because it takes minutes to throw together, saves money, yet makes putting tasty meals together so much easier.
Essentially, you’re portioning out meat in bags, adding marinade, and then freezing. Then all you have to do is throw the bag in the fridge the day before you want to use it and once defrosted you have perfectly marinated meat ready for the oven or grill!
(Or if you’re like me, you stick the bag in a sink full of cold water the morning of to defrost, but don’t be like me!)
Pair with a frozen veggie and some rice and you’ve got an amazing meal.
Basically, what you do is:
- Buy Meats in Bulk: Buy chicken (we also do pork tenderloin) in bulk when you can get a great price. Search ads locally because chances are chicken breasts are on sale somewhere.
- Prepare/Buy Marinade: Either buy prepared marinades (or BBQ sauce), or get ingredients to make your own. Here are some great marinade recipes. If you want to make it crazy easy, just pick up some marinades from the store. By the way, Wegman’s store brand marinades are soooo good.
- Label Freezer Bags: When home, get sharpie and label freezer bags with meat and marinade BEFORE adding anything (it’s easier this way)
- Put in Bags: When home, separate meats into freezer bags based on how much you’ll want to cook up at one time.
- Add Marinade: Add marinade to each bag and work in by massaging that bag a bit
- Seal: Remove as much air from the bag as you can and seal making sure it’s completely shut with no leaks.
- Freeze: Then stack in the freezer! Be careful how you put them in as they will freeze in the exact shape they are put in.
All those steps above take just minutes. I do this with pork tenderloins and chicken breasts. When I use store-bought marinades, I can prepare meat for 10 meals easily in under 20 minutes.
Make Bread/Pizza Dough and Freeze
Bread dough freezes wonderfully if properly stored (plastic bags or wrap works great). All you have to do is to make the dough, let it rise for about 30-45 minutes and then stick it in the freezer. Defrost in the fridge and then use! This is great for rolls or pizza dough.
Fresh Fruit/Veggie Baggies
Another way to partially prep food for eating is to clean and portion out fresh fruits of veggies into bags or containers in the fridge. That way, kids can just grab fresh healthy foods without having to do anything!
How To Start Meal Prepping For Your Family
Whew! We’ve already covered a lot. And right now we’re going to dive into the exact steps of meal prepping. However, given what you’ve already learned, all this stuff if going to be a breeze.
While I go into a lot of detail with each step, note that some of these steps will take you approximately 10 seconds.
(I just want to be super thorough. )
Step 1 – Pick the Food/Meals You Want to Start With
You should already have a bunch of ideas from the information above. But you may also consider asking your family members for feedback. Some things to consider:
- Tried and true recipes your family already likes
- Foods that kids can prepare (warm up breakfast foods)
- Recipes that freeze & reheat well
- Easy & healthy recipes
Step 2 – Decide: Refrigerate or Freeze?
So you’ve got the recipe you’re going to prepare. Is this going to be something you freeze for use in the coming weeks or months? Or something you’ll refrigerate and use over the coming days?
Figure out where you want to start.
Step 3 – Inventory Containers on Hand
Select the appropriate storage container. See section “Supplies Needed to Meal Prep For a Family” above for tips and more information.
Step 4 – Make Grocery Shopping List
Get out the recipes, look through your pantry/fridge to see what ingredients you have on hand. Then make a list to get anything you don’t have.
This is crucial. There is nothing worse than settling in for a nice meal prep session and realizing that you are 1 or 2 items short.
This is another reason why I highly recommend starting with tried and true favorites because chances are you’ll have a lot on hand already.
(Like spices. I mean, it’s not budget friendly to have to purchase 3 new species for a new recipe.)
Also, be sure you have enough of any ingredient. Consider how many times you are doubling a recipe. Only buy as much as you need (to eliminate food waste).
Want a grocery list printable? Here’s a bunch a bunch of Free Printable Grocery List Templates
Step 5 – Plan When to Do Shopping and When to Prep Food
Scheduling when you’ll do something is how you take your to-do list and actually make it a reality. So grab your planner or calendar and actually figure out when you’ll do the shopping and when you’ll make your recipe.
You’ll want to make it as easy as possible to follow through with your plan.
Step 6 – Purchase Any Needed Supplies
Make sure you have the cooking equipment and containers needed.
Step 7 – Go Grocery Shopping
Now it’s time to actually do the shopping! I highly recommend using grocery pickup if you want to avoid roaming the aisles of the grocery store. Try and pick a store where you can get all the items you need.
Step 8 – Prepare the Food
Now it’s time to actually make the food. Make it fun! Put on a podcast or some good music and get in the zone.
Step 9 – Label Everything
Label with description and date. This helps you not get mixed up and everyone else know what’s in there. If you want to go above and beyond, you could also write brief instructions.
For example, when I make lasagna, I also write in: put in fridge to defrost day before, cook covered at 350 for 45 minute, uncover and cook until cheese bubbles.
Label freezer bags BEFORE putting anything in. Trust me on this. Your marker just won’t work all the well and the words come ou
If you use aluminum foil pans for casseroles, lasagna or whatever be sure to top with tightly secured aluminum foil. When you label the top, also include cooking time and temperature.
10 – Put Food in Appropriate Containers
Once cooled properly, put the food in the appropriate containers. Then place in the fridge or freezer.
Step 11 – Feel like a Absolute Badass
Truly, there are few things that are more satisfying than a freezer or fridge full of meal prep. So take a moment and enjoy the beautiful sight of your meal prep.
Other helpful Meal PLanning Resources
If you’re looking for other resources to make meals easier fr your family here are some to check out:
- How to Start Meal Planning for Your Family – This includes free meal planning printables including a weekly meal planner, monthly planner, grocery shopping list, and a family favorite template.
- 20 Low Carb Slow Cooker Recipes for Healthy & Easy Dinners
- 7 Healthy & Delicious Make-Ahead Breakfast Recipes
Simple Meal Prep for Your Family
When you meal prep for your family you can save money and time while making it so much easier to get healthy kid-friendly meals on the table for your family. Just follow the simple steps and tips above and you’ll be golden.
Happy meal prepping!
Free Meal Planning Starter Kit
Ready to save time, money, and effort by planning your meals? Grab the free Meal Planning Starter Kit which includes:
- Weekly Meal Planner
- Monthly Meal Planner
- Favorite Recipe Template
- Grocery Shopping List