Soon, you actually start to believe your fridge could be just as organized as the pictures on your screen. Behold, the brightly colored rows of meticulously labeled containers providing a week's worth of clean eating options!
Energized and inspired, you go to the grocery store with list in hand, ready to become a meal prepping pro. But, by mid-week, the fresh food you've prepped ends up moldy, wilted or just downright unappetizing.
Depending on how you go about it, meal prep can be a saving grace or the bane of your existence--especially if you're prepping foods you don't actually want to eat or that won't last the full week.
Never fear. We're breaking down the tastiest, longest-lasting foods to cook in advance, so your money and prep time won't go to waste.
Overnight Oats1 of 12
How many times have you heard someone exclaim, "I was in such a rush this morning that I grabbed something incredibly healthy for breakfast!"
That's what I thought.
When we are stressed and pressed for time, we often make poor food choices. The rush of the morning routine is prime time for grabbing donuts or muffins instead of a healthy, balanced breakfast. Overnight oats are here to save the day.
This trendy make-ahead meal is simply raw oats soaked overnight in lemon water, milk or yogurt, and eaten uncooked, topped with fruits and nuts. With a million variations, this breakfast provides both the convenience (it's ready when you are) and the health benefits (oats are a fantastic source of fiber and nutrients) to start your day off right.
Mason Jar Salads2 of 12
The days of eating wilted salad at your desk are over! Mason jar salads are here to rescue us from a lifetime of sad, soggy greens.
The basic idea is to pack your salad in a mason jar, starting with the dressing, then the heaviest and most non-absorbent ingredients layered on next. Follow with additional layers of lighter ingredients, and end with the salad greens on top. As long as you keep the jar upright, the delicate greens will be protected from the dressing, and will stay fresh until you're ready to eat.
If you enjoy soft ingredients or perishable proteins, like tomatoes, avocados, hard boiled eggs or chicken, wait to add them until the day you plan to eat the salad. Most jar salads will stay fresh for five to seven days in the fridge, allowing you to prep and pack salads for the week.
Frittata3 of 12
A good frittata is the ultimate versatile egg dish. It can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and tastes just as good cold as it does warm. Plus, it can be packed with just about any veggie or protein, making it a fabulous way to use up leftovers.
Completely customizable, there are countless frittata recipes online to tempt your palate. If you'd like it to last all week, choose a veggie version, so it won't be as perishable as those made with meats.
Smoothies4 of 12
When you want something quick and portable, but don't want to sacrifice nutrition, smoothies are just the ticket. To make this healthy snack even easier to prepare, portion out ingredients like fruit, greens and protein powder into Ziploc bags and store them your freezer.
By pre-assembling and measuring the ingredients ahead of time, you avoid accidentally super-sizing your smoothie—and the calorie count that goes with it. When it's time to grab and go, just dump the prepackaged contents into your blender and add liquid for a perfect smoothie every time.
Vegetarian Chili5 of 12
Chili is a fantastic make-ahead dish that can feed you all week, but versions with meat can spoil after only a few days. To get the most out of your meal prep time and effort, choose a vegetarian chili with hearty ingredients that remain tasty even after several days in the fridge. Add some variety by serving the chili over a baked potato one day, or with a side of cornbread the next.
Homemade Frozen Pizza6 of 12
Pizza is the ultimate crunched-for-time dinner, but it's not usually the healthiest choice. Swap out a store-bought frozen pizza, full of refined flours and processed meats, for a homemade one to increase the health factor. Plus, prepping and freezing a homemade pie can also save the day when you're tempted to call the local delivery place.
As part of your meal prep, make a quick dough and sauce, add your favorite toppings and freeze on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Once frozen, pop the pizza into an extra-large plastic bag or wrap it in aluminum foil, then store in the freezer until you're ready to bake. Note: Cooking time increases for a frozen pie by about eight to ten minutes.
Sweet Potatoes7 of 12
Roasting a few sweet potatoes on Sunday is an easy way to make sure you have a healthy side on hand for lunches, dinners and snacks. Full of antioxidants and vitamin A, sweet potatoes are a fantastic source of carbohydrates. Having a few already roasted and waiting in the fridge can save you from making a poor food choice (we see you, potato chips!) when you're looking for something to accompany your lunch.
Granola8 of 12
Store-bought granola can often include more sugar in a single serving than a can of soda. Increase the health factor by preparing your own low-sugar version with whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds. This version is high in minerals and happens to be one of our favorites. Enjoy it as a snack on its own, or mix with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt for a quick, healthy breakfast.
Grains9 of 12
Preparing grains like rice, quinoa, millet or farro in advance is a great way to have a complex carbohydrate on hand. Perfect for use in stir-frys, wraps or salads, the versatility of grains allows you to incorporate them into almost any dish. By prepping them ahead of time and storing in the fridge or freezer, it's easier than ever to throw them into a quick meal and boost your fiber intake.
Veggies for Salads and Omelets10 of 12
Spending a little time peeling and chopping your produce can make it much easier to put together a healthy meal. So, pretend you're a sous chef for 30 minutes, and get that knife ready.
Harder vegetables such as carrots, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower are great to prep in advance, and they usually last through the week. Softer veggies like tomatoes and cucumbers max out at three to four days in the fridge, so schedule a second prep session mid-week. By taking the time to prep, cut and store vegetables, you'll be rewarded with fresh snacks and healthy recipe additions. This strategy also makes it easier for you to eat more veggies each day.
Snacks11 of 12
You may have the best of intentions to eat healthy all day, but when the afternoon snack attack hits, all bets are off. Stop yourself from making a bad food choice once the hunger pangs take over by prepping some snacks in advance.
Hardboiled eggs, individual bags of almonds, veggies and hummus and even homemade fruit and nut bars are all great make-ahead options. It's a lot easier to turn down a vending machine candy bar when you have healthy, tasty snacks at your fingertips.