8 meal-prep mistakes you’re probably making and how to avoid them

Meal prep can be complicated but rewarding.

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Meal prep can be complicated but rewarding.
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iStock
  • Meal prepping is a popular way to ensure you have ready-made dishes waiting for you to eat throughout the week.
  • But if you go into meal prepping without a solid plan or ingredients stocked in your kitchen, you could waste your time and money.
  • Trying to make all of your meals at once might not work for everyone, so you may want to be open to having two or more prep sessions a week.
  • Portioning out your food before storing it in air-tight containers will ensure that you get the correct number of meals.
  • Don’t make more than you can eat in a week, but if you do, make sure you remember to freeze the leftovers so they last longer.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Meal prepping can be a handy way to ensure you have ready-to-eat dishes waiting for you throughout the week. Plus, it can save you time and take the guesswork out of figuring out what to eat each day.

But properly preparing meals isn’t always foolproof.

Here are some common meal-prep mistakes you’ll want to avoid.


Not keeping your kitchen stocked can lead to disorganization and last-minute shopping trips.

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A well-stocked pantry might save you time down the road.
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Shutterstock

The first rule of meal prep is to keep your kitchen stocked with the essentials, especially when it comes to ingredients with a longer shelf life.

Registered dietitian Becky Kerkenbush said a kitchen ready for meal prep will have staple ingredients like rice, oats, frozen fruit, frozen or canned vegetables, cooking spray and oil, frozen protein (chicken, fish, etc.), herbs, spices, and canned legumes and beans.

To figure out how long these ingredients will last in your pantry, fridge, or freezer, check out the US Department of Agriculture’s FoodKeeper app.


Insisting on prepping all of your meals at once for the week might be too stressful or impractical.

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Prepping twice a week could be a better method for you.
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Although it’s nice to be able to knock out all of your meals in one go, don’t be afraid to prep more than once per week if it suits your lifestyle better.

Kerkenbush told Insider that for tastier meals, and possibly better food-safety practices, a good rule of thumb is to aim for prepping twice a week.

And if the idea of prepping multiple times per week seems a bit overwhelming, consider starting slow.

Monica Auslander Moreno, registered dietitian and former nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition, said if it feels like you’re committing too much too soon, consider taking on one breakfast, one lunch, or one dinner at a time.

“Don’t try to launch a full week’s worth of meals at once, that’s very stressful. Instead, build your repertoire as you go,” she told Insider.


You’re potentially wasting money and food if you’re not doing your homework before you shop.

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Making a shopping list is one of the easiest meal-prep hacks.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty

It’s wise to have a plan before you hit the grocery store so you can avoid wasting time and money.

In terms of preparing to grocery shop, Moreno recommends choosing your recipes ahead of time and create shopping lists based on the number of people you need to serve.


Not storing food properly could lead to wasted or spoiled meals.

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Try opting for reusable containers.
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Shutterstock/Julia Mikhaylova

Aluminum foil and plastic wrap may not be the best tools for meal prepping.

To keep food fresh and properly portioned, Kerkenbush said you should store meals in individual containers that have a tight seal. It’s also useful to label and date your prepared containers before putting them in the fridge or freezer.


Preparing more food than you need might lead to waste and stress.

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Be realistic about how much you’re going to eat.
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If you’re not feeding a large group, you likely don’t need to create dozens of meals in advance, especially if your prep time is limited.

“Make as much food as you’re comfortable with and that you really need to help minimize stress and food waste,” Toby Amidor, registered dietitian and author of “The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook” and “Smart Meal Prep for Beginners,” told Insider.

When deciding how many meals to prepare each week, consider whether or not you might tire of a dish after eating it multiple days in a row. It’s also a good practice to plan ahead for any upcoming trips or social engagements that won’t require you to bring ready-made dishes.


Not following a schedule could make meal prepping more difficult.

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You might want to prep breakfasts on one day and lunches on another.
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iStock

Amidor recommends creating and following a proper schedule to make meal prepping easier.

“From selecting recipes and creating your weekly menu to food shopping and cooking, you need to schedule when you will do each of the steps involved in meal prepping,” she told Insider.

She said that when you leave important tasks until the last minute and scramble to get everything done, you’re more likely to give up on meal prepping altogether.


By not freezing extras, you’re missing out on bonus meals.

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Freezing leftover meals can save you time and money later.
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Shutterstock/Linda Bestwick

Although the containers stacked high in your fridge may not look like a lot of food, there’s a chance you may end up with more meals than you can eat in a week, especially with heartier dishes like lasagna or chili.

“This is the perfect time to freeze individual-sized containers so you can have a delicious dish ready when you are busy down the road,” said Amidor.

Fortunately, per Foodsafety.gov, you can safely freeze most cooked meats and leftovers for at least a month. Keep in mind that some foods don’t freeze well or shouldn’t be frozen for a long period of time, so you’ll want to check the food-safety guidelines before stowing away your prepared meals.


Failing to pre-pack meals into containers could mess with your portion sizes down the road.

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Be sure to portion out the dish before storing it in your fridge.
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iStock

It’s important to portion out your food as soon as you make it. By not doing so, you’ll likely throw off your meal-prep schedule.

“If your plan is to get four meals out of a dish but you don’t pre-pack them into containers, you may end up with one or two meals less than you planned,” Amidor said.

Plus, by not planning out your portions you may end up consuming more or fewer calories than you’d planned, she added.

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