Meal Prep 101

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

Prepping meals for a family can feel like a lot of work. But it doesn’t have to be! Follow these simple steps, Meal Prep 101, to stock your fridge for a week of meals in under an hour

meals prepped in plastic containers

At our house, an hour of meal planning / prep is all we need to transform a crazy week into a smooth ride. As I learned fast after becoming a mom, nothing escalates the craziness quite as fast as a hungry toddler. (Well….except for two hungry toddlers.) Follow these simple steps to prep the top types of foods that will make your week a breeze. 

meals prepped in plastic containers on a white countertop

Meal planning doesn’t have to take a ton of time or planning. In fact, most weeks, I use the same formula to prep meals. With these items in the fridge, we can talk ourselves out of picking up pizza or eating out because we know we are only a few minutes away from a healthy meal at home.

The Food for Meal Prep

Most weeks, I stick to this list. Sometimes I’ll throw in a few extra items that I know we’ll need for dinners, but I find that having these seven things on hand can get us through many breakfasts, lunches and dinners without any extra planning needed.

1. Baked Goods.

Like Whole Wheat Pancakes4-Ingredient Chocolate Peanut Butter Oat Bars, or Weeknight Banana Bread. Aim for breakfast items that can be served room temp or reheated in the toaster (like pancakes, waffles, or muffins). I also love to make a healthy-ish treat that I can add to lunch boxes for the kids. 

muffins on a wire rack

2. Hard Boiled Eggs
3. Sliced Vegetable Sticks

These come in handy for lunch boxes for the kids or for my lunches and snacks. On busy work days, it’s so handy for me to run down to the kitchen and spend 5 minutes making a plate of hard boiled eggs, veggies, hummus, and whole grain crackers. 

boiled eggs and sliced vegetables in a plastic container

4. Cooked pasta, rice, or grains

This week it’s cheese tortellini. Since it’s already cooked, it’s easy to add to soup, toss with store-bought pesto, or put in lunches with no sauce (it’s great finger food for little hands!). Quinoa, farro, brown rice, or orzo pasta are all favorites in this category.

cooked tortellini in a plastic container

5. Soup

A vegetable-packed soup is one of the best things to have in the fridge at the start of the week. It’s great for dinner in a pinch with a loaf of crusty bread on the side. Or perfect for healthy, nutritious lunches. The one shown below includes Italian sausage and kale (add the tortellini right before serving). Other favorites are butternut squash, potato soup, lentil soup, or chili. (Butternut is super easy if you buy pre-cubed squash from the produce or freezer section.)

Italian Sausage Soup with Tortellini and Kale

6. Berries (or other sliced fruit)

Berries will store best if they’re unwashed until shortly before serving. However, I do like to wash and dry a small batch to use early in the week – like over oatmeal on Monday morning. 

blueberries and raspberries in a plastic container

7. Sauce / Salad Dressing

I try to make something that can be used on salads, tossed with pasta or whole grains and used as a dipping sauce for vegetable sticks. Thai Peanut Sauce (shown below), roasted red pepper dip, or avocado crema are always winners.

butternut squash soup in a plastic container

One Hour of Meal Prep = Many Meals

When I meal prep for the week, it goes something like this. I turn on a podcast or a show on Netflix, pull everything out of the fridge and go to work. If I use a few shortcuts, like a mix for muffins and do a simple pureed soup, I can be done in under an hour. If I make everything from scratch, it can take 90 minutes.

  1. Preheat the oven and boil water for eggs / grains.
  2. Mix baked goods and pop in the oven.
  3. Cook grains and boil eggs.
  4. Slice vegetable sticks (finely chop half the sticks if making a vegetable soup).
  5. Cook soup.
  6. While soup simmers, slice fruit (if applicable).
  7. Make sauce / salad dressing.

I like knowing that I’m only one Gilmore Girls episode away from a week of prepped meals.

cookie bars in a plastic container

The Meals

The most exciting part of this whole meal prep thing?  Those items turn into SO many meals! Here’s what a couple days might look like with meal prep:

Day 1

Breakfast – Oatmeal Muffins + Berries

Lunch – Egg Salad Sandwiches + Vegetable Sticks with Peanut Sauce for Dipping

SnackChocolate Peanut Butter Oat Bars

Dinner – Vegetable Soup with Tortellini

Day 2

Breakfast – Mixed Berries over yogurt + toast

Lunch Green Salad with Sliced Eggs, Chopped Vegetables Oat Bars

Snack – Oatmeal Muffins

Dinner – Thai Peanut Pasta (stir-fried vegetables tossed with cooked pasta and peanut sauce)

Thai peanut sauce in a plastic container

Family Meal Planning Basics with 8 ideas for easy family meals
Want to save this recipe?
Get it emailed to you directly! Enter your email below.

About Jess Smith

Jess is the recipe creator and photographer at She spent nearly a decade as the Chief Recipe Developer for the award-winning meal planning app Cook Smarts. Her colorful, healthyish recipes have been featured in popular online publications including Parade, Hallmark, and HuffPost.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. I need you to come over every week and force me to do something like this… ahh I would be so prepared! Alas… I am a terrible meal planner. (lazy). lol

    1. Lol – I wish I could do this for everyone I know, Lauren! Most people hate it and I love it. I’d trade all the meal planning in the world for someone to come do my dishes. 😉

  2. Normally I’m all about glass storage containers, but these Rubbermaid Brilliance containers look great. And so does all the food in them…yum! My favorite part of this post though was your. Moment about being one Gilmore Girls episode away from prepped meals.

    1. I know Joy! Before I agreed to do this post, we stored everything in glass containers. But these really are something special. Hope you guys are doing well – I know you’ve got your hands full with that new cutie-pie!

  3. new to the blog and so happy you posted about meal planning. most other blogs always mention how helpful it is but without clear guidance. looking forward to cut back on our last minute thai deliveries…

    1. I’m so glad you found us Avani and liked the meal planning post! I’m hoping to do more of these in the future. It’s taken a long time and a lot of practice to feel like our meals are organized for the week, and I know I always love learning how other people organize themselves to make cooking go easier. Not that we have it mastered every week for sure – we still sometimes end up with a last minute Thai delivery too!