2 Simple Meal Prep Strategies for Beginners

New to meal prep? Even Googling ‘meal prep’ can make you feel overwhelmed (you’ll find 15,700,000+  results!) You may have wondered – Aren’t there any simple meal prep strategies? What are you supposed to buy? How many things do you need to make? Won’t it get boring? Are you doing it wrong? 

To simplify things, I typically recommend two simple meal prep strategies. I’ll cover the pros and cons of each approach as well as how to get started.  As a bonus, I’ll tell you my secret to successfully meal prepping every week.

There are millions of ways to meal prep, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Once you figure out what works for you, prepping meals can be a lifesaver. When life gets busy, you’ve gotta make things easier for yourself.

In my opinion, these are two of the best simple meal prep strategies:

  1. Mix-and-Match Ingredient Prep
  2. Complete Dish Prep

Strategy #1: Mix-and-Match Ingredient Prep

cutting green beans
Photo by Meghan Schiereck on Unsplash

This is probably what you picture when you think of ‘meal prep,’ right? A counter full of food storage containers, each with a ton of one ingredient in it (i.e. a large container of chicken breasts, another container filled with rice, three with vegetables, and a couple with fruit). 

With mix-and-match meal prep, you can prepare all of the individual ingredients beforehand and combine them in various ways throughout the week.


  • Various combinations keep you from getting bored
  • Good for families or couples with different dietary needs or preferences
  • Leaves flexibility based on what you’re in the mood for each day
  • Usually doesn’t involve elaborate or complex dishes, which makes it a great option if you’re not comfortable in the kitchen (yet)


  • Without sauces or seasonings, your dishes may be a bit plainer
  • Can lead to more food waste if complete meals are not planned
  • Requires assembling each dish before eating


FYI: These tips will assume you’re cooking for 1-2 people, feel free to multiply or add additional options.

  1. Decide on foods for lunches/dinners:
    • Choose 3 proteins (ex: chicken, salmon, chickpeas)
    • Choose 3 or more vegetables (ex: spinach, broccoli, tomatoes)
    • Choose 3 starches (ex: potatoes, rice, quinoa)
    • Optional, choose 2-3 sauces and seasonings (pesto, lemon pepper)
  1. Decide on foods for breakfasts/snacks:
    • Choose 2 fruits (ex: apples, bananas)
    • Choose 2 protein sources (yogurt, protein bars)
  1. Shop for the foods on your list.
  2. Wash, chop, and prepare each ingredient. (Intimidated by the prep step? I put together a list of meal prep gadgets that will save you time! Read it here.) Store all of them in separate containers
  3. When ready to eat, combine any way you’d like!

From the example foods listed above, here are just a handful of the lunches and dinners I could make:

  • chickpea quinoa salad (chickpeas, spinach, tomatoes, quinoa)
  • chicken quinoa salad (chicken, spinach, tomatoes, quinoa)
  • salmon quinoa salad (salmon, spinach, tomatoes, quinoa)
  • lemon pepper chicken with rice and broccoli
  • pesto chicken topped with tomato and a side of rice and broccoli
  • lemon pepper chicken with potatoes and broccoli
  • lemon pepper salmon with rice and broccoli
  • pesto salmon topped with tomato and a side of rice and broccoli
  • lemon pepper salmon with potatoes and broccoli

I could go on for days, but I’ll spare you. Hopefully, you get the point I’m trying to make – mix-and-match ingredient prep can be a great strategy for people who need variety in their meal planning.

Strategy #2: Complete Dish Prep

vegetable and salmon dish
Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Alright, I’m gonna let you in on my big secret. Are you ready?

Every week, I make 3 random complete dishes I feel like eating for lunches or dinners.

Yep. That’s seriously it. 3 dishes. (Usually a hearty salad or soup and 2 entrees in a large portion.) I prepare most (if not all) of my meals on Sunday night, portion them out, then rotate through them for lunches and dinners. Breakfasts are usually just a couple of basic options – more on that in a bit.


  • Allows you to experiment with creative recipes
  • Less likely to leave you with food waste
  • Each meal is pre-portioned and assembled before eating


  • Often requires more ingredients
  • Fewer meal combinations than the mix-and-match strategy
  • This method may be intimidating if you’re not comfortable in the kitchen (yet!)


FYI: These tips will assume you’re cooking for 1-2 people, feel free to multiply or add additional options.

  1. Plan 3 lunch/dinner options (ex: stir fry, fajitas, and a summer salad). Usually, I will search on Pinterest for recipes that sound good or choose from some familiar favorites. Make sure each meal includes a source of protein, a vegetable, and a carb source.
  2. Plan 2 breakfast options (ex: oatmeal, avocado toast)
  3. Plan 2 snack options (ex: trail mix, smoothies)
  4. Make a shopping list from the ingredient lists of the planned meals above. (Pro tip: try to find some recipes that have some similar ingredients. I could make my stir fry and fajitas with chicken and bell peppers, then I could use tortillas for fajitas and salad wraps. Avocados could be used as a fajita topping, in my smoothie, and on the avocado toast.)
  5. Shop! (I like doing this on Saturday or Sunday)
  6. Prep your meals. (I leave a few hours on Sundays to do this. Need ways to make meal prep faster? I wrote about that here.) Portion them in individual containers.
  7. Throughout the week, rotate through meals in differing combinations.

This type of meal prep lets me try new things every week, which I love. Does trying new recipes sound intimidating? Start with these super simple ones:



Need more help? I put together a 3-Step Meal Planning + Grocery Shopping Guide! (linked here)

When you sign up for my email list, I will send it to you for FREE. (Yippee!)



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