Having practised a form of meal prepping for several years now, this is my honest experience of meal-prepping and the time it is really possible to save by doing it.
Does meal prepping save time?
Yes and no!
I have meal-prepped to varying degrees pretty much since I had kids, and I bet you have too if you think about it.
- Have you ever double-cooked one time so you can ‘earn’ a night off cooking?
- Have you ever put your crockpot on in the morning so that you can enjoy a delicious meal that evening?
- Have you ever prepared a meal in advance, and set the timer on your oven to have it ready just when you arrive through the front door?
If you have done any of those things, then congratulations, you already know meal-prepping can save you time.
Meal-prepping can of course be taken much further than this by planning, shopping, preparing the ingredients and having it all ready, either cooked or raw, to eat each day.
I know I talk about meal-prepping a lot on this blog, but here’s the truth … full-blown meal-prepping is not for me!
- I don’t want to spend several hours of my spare time preparing food in one go.
- Meal-prepping means less spontaneity. You have to eat what you planned, I don’t always want that.
- It gets too complicated when the whole family eats different things (I’ll talk more about my breakfast and lunchtime failures later).
So whilst I do meal prep I don’t go full out on it because it would be too much of a chore for me. As in most things in life, I think it is sensible to take an idea and apply it to your life in a way that works for you.
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What exactly is meal prepping?
Meal-prepping is essentially preparing your meals in advance. You can follow it by simply preparing ingredients beforehand or take it much further by preparing your meals for several days.
The prepared ingredients can be cooked or raw and kept in the fridge or freezer depending on what it is and how long you need it to last.
The benefits to meal prepping
There are several benefits of making your meals ahead.
- You can potentially save money and time.
- You can put healthy eating on autopilot.
- There is less work to do at mealtimes.
How much time does meal prepping save at breakfast time?
It’s pretty impossible for me to meal prep at breakfast time. I have tried making overnight oats, but to be quite honest I find cold oats gross, anyone else?
I love to eat oats in the morning, but they must be warm. It’s super easy to make creamy porridge in the micro in 3 minutes flat, so that is what I do. The trick is to choose the right oats for the time you have available to cook them.
Steel-cut oats and rolled oats take much longer to cook than instant or quick oats. Steel-cut oats have more nutrients in them and are best cooked on the stove, whereas quick or instant oats can be cooked quickly in the microwave.
My husband will only eat muesli of a particular type at Lidl, so no opportunity there to save time.
On school days I make my kids an omelette and they finish off with a bowl of cereal. I’ve never tried to reheat an omelette, but I imagine it would be leather-like. Omelettes are so quick to make it hardly seems worth the trade-off.
At the weekend, I don’t see my boys until lunchtime at the earliest (they are teenagers 🤦♀️).
As you see, breakfast meal-prepping is a complete fail for me 😢.
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How much time can you save meal prepping breakfast?
For me, there is no time to save by meal-prepping at breakfast time. If you think you might be tempted to skip breakfast in the morning, then it is very worth making an effort at this time of day with a little preparation.
If you are finding you are popping into a cafe for a bacon sandwich too often, then be sure to check out the grab and go flapjack recipes below. There is a lot of money to be saved when you add up your cafe spending over the year.
How to save time meal prepping – some ideas to try
Get your day off to a healthy start with this idea – overnight oats with yoghurt and banana.
Here is another great idea – overnight oats with yoghurt and frozen fruit.
Get creative as you dare!
Choose the healthier steel-cut or rolled oats and have them bubbling ready for the morning with this overnight slow cooker steel cut oats recipe.
How much time does meal prepping save meal prepping for lunch?
I think yes. But again not for me 😞.
Both my boys take a sandwich to school. I don’t make their sandwiches the night before because they like their bread toasted, which isn’t so good stored in the refrigerator overnight.
Yes, I could prepare them a salad to take and be a super conscientious mummy but to be quite honest they hated me for it. Winning the vegetable battle at dinner time is satisfying enough.
Getting my kids to eat vegetables at dinner time is an achievement for me. I would never push my luck that way on their lunch too. I’m a firm believer in choosing your battles.
If you have your kids eating a salad for lunch I have total respect, you are doing an amazing job.
My husband and I both work from home. Sometimes there are leftovers to finish up but if not, we make ourselves a sandwich. Making lunch (as is meal-prepping the evening meal) is a nice break from work. If I had something to grab and go I would probably be very tempted to take it back to my desk and not have a proper break.
If I went out for work each day. I would make myself a sandwich or take in some leftovers because the potential for saving money is tremendous.
Think about it.
You could easily spend £5 per day or more on lunch. Allowing for holidays adds up to approximately £1,200 per year saved, a whopping amount!
How much time can you save meal prepping lunch?
I don’t think there is much time to be saved meal-prepping your lunch, but there is potential to save money. If you are buying lunch each day, think of the time you spend preparing lunch as money paid to you and it will be much easier to get yourself motivated.
You can save time by making all your lunches for the week in one fell swoop. I think the time you actually save is minimal, but it means you can get it all done and off your mind at once, and I can certainly see the attractiveness of that.
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Meal prepping lunch ideas
How much time does meal prepping save for dinner?
I actually like cooking. Cooking every day isn’t a chore because I like it.
When my kids were smaller I was out most evenings taking them to after-school clubs. Dinner needed to be ready to eat when we arrived home, or in a state where I could just flick a switch and have it ready soonish.
How much time can you save meal prepping dinner?
Here’s the truth.
I don’t think you save much actual time over the whole week whether you meal prep a couple of hours ahead or a few days ahead. What you are doing really is deferring the work so you can do most of the cooking at a more convenient time of the day.
I am a big fan of this 10-minute cleaning strategy, and I apply the same principle to cooking. When I have a few spare minutes in the day, I take the time to chop some vegetables, make lunch for the next day, or lay out breakfast for the following morning.
This is how you can save the most time with meal-prepping.
If you can plan your meals out for the week, and then visit the store only once, then you will save shopping time, and very probably save money too. Stock up on these cheap foods with high nutritional value to make your money go further than ever.
Good planning will put healthy eating on autopilot and, you will find yourself eating out far less than you did before.
Meal prepping dinner ideas
Here are my favourite meal-prep ideas for weeknights.
Check out these 31 ideas to fill up your freezer for every day of the month.
For meal-prepping beginners, these simple ideas and directions will get you on the right track.
So, how much time does meal prepping save really? It really depends on how deep you go with it. Mostly you are simply deferring food preparation to a more convenient time of the day, so it will seem like you are saving a lot of time when actually you are not.
Planning your meals can save a lot of time if it means you have to visit the supermarket less.