Have you hopped onto the meal prep train? Or, maybe the food prep train? Maybe you’re currently wondering, what the heck is the difference?! Is there a difference? Well, today we’re chatting all about meal prep versus food prep! I’ll explain how they differ, overlap, how you can implement both (as I do) and how to get started if you’re looking to simplify your kitchen cooking time.
What is meal prep?
Meal prep is just that: prepping a meal in advance so that when the time comes that you plan to eat it, you don’t have to cook it right before. It could be prepping the meal and fully cooking it, or preparing all the components and assembling it all right before it’s meal time. I think of meal prep and prepping with the intention of a specific meal.
What that looks like in my house: cooking a frittata for breakfast, making a big chicken salad for lunches and fully cooking meatballs and bell peppers to go with rice for a dinner. If you are eating ingredient meals (ex: a protein, a starch, a veggie on a plate), making these ingredients in advance is meal prep!
What is food prep?
Food prep is preparing components that can be combined into meals, but may not have a specific purpose. Instead of preparing full meals, you are preparing parts that can be combined into meals as you need them. You may go into food prep with a meal plan, or you may just know you like to use the prepared ingredients in different ways throughout the week.
What that looks like in my house: roasting a sheet of sweet potato cubes to have on hand for lunch bowls or to eat along with breakfast, hard boiling egg, making overnight oats to grab when needed, chopping vegetables and fruits, cooking a whole chicken and shredding the meat, making an aioli for dipping and sautéing vegetables in advance.
Do you have to do it all in one day?
No way! In fact, I tend to spread prep over 2-3 days during the week.
Honestly, it takes so much pressure off of me. I focus on the most helpful items first, then continue adding on. Maybe you have one afternoon that you can prep food and that’s great. But maybe you don’t want to dedicate a weekend afternoon to that time.
A simple way to food prep is this: do something extra when you’re already in the kitchen. Chop extra veggies when you’re making dinner. Make a double or triple batch of lunch when you’re preparing it. Cut all the fruit for the week at breakfast time. Little bits add up!
What system do I use?
I use a combination of meal prep and food prep! Here’s what it looks like for me.
I love to meal prep breakfast and lunch options. I don’t want to just crack the eggs for a frittata, I want that frittata cooked and waiting to be simply warmed in the morning and eaten. Not having to cook for a few breakfasts and prepare school lunches during the week is a game changer for my mornings!
I love having a leg up on the day by simply being able to pull a pre-made breakfast out of the fridge when my kids inevitably wake up earlier than normal and someone needs breakfast NOW.
I also love to meal prep snacks like muffins or breads. They come in handy as a simple grab and go option.
Food prep on the other hand gets used more often with dinner. I love having the protein prepped in advance – whether that means that chicken or ground beef is already cooked, or the meat is cut up to be cooked that evening. Simply getting a step ahead is helpful.
Along with having protein prepped, any vegetable cutting that I can do ahead of time is such a time saver! The most challenging place for me when cooking with a baby that wants to be held is cutting up produce. If there is one thing that helps me the most in food prep, it’s chopping vegetables, 100%.
I will also food prep a bit batch of roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes to have on hand to quickly use when I build a lunch or breakfast. I love prepping rice or quinoa in advance to use as an easy carbohydrate source. I may have it in mind for a meal, or I may just want to have it as an already prepped carbohydrate option. It really depends on the week.
Cutting fruit in another simple food prep time saver, along with making a dip or sauce in advance. Pretty much weekly I am making homemade kefir ranch. We use that so often during the week. It’s a staple food prep item for us.
Which option is best for you? Meal prep or food prep?
Friends, here is something beautiful. You don’t have to pick! Try making a few meals in advance whether it’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner and see if you like it. Maybe try cutting up your vegetables and focus on dinner prep work and see if that’s more helpful for you.
It doesn’t have to be one way or the other. Some weeks you may slant in one direction, and then flip flop the next week. Some weeks it may be a beautiful balance of both and some weeks you get absolutely no prep in at all. That’s all okay!
Meal prep is meant to simplify your life, not add stress. Remember to make it work for you!
I would love to hear what’s been working for you, or what you’d like to try! Leave a comment below and let me know if you have a favorite system you use.