When you're busy juggling work and family schedules, figuring out what to eat often gets pushed to the back burner. Grabbing something on the go or hitting the drive-thru on the way home from work isn't ideal for your wallet or your waistline, and meal prepping puts an end to the constant cycle of meal indecision. Although it does take a little legwork on the weekend, prepping means your meals are ready and waiting, saving you time and money during the week. Here are 5 easy meal prep ideas to make the endeavor easy and efficient.

1. Start With a Game Plan

The most important component of successful meal prep is to make a plan before you start. Decide what meals you'll prepare ahead — just dinners, or lunches and breakfasts too? Compile recipes to prepare for the week, but keep them simple — complex or difficult meals quickly lead to burnout. As you plan, look for recipes with overlapping ingredients. For instance, make a big batch of shredded chicken, and then use that chicken for multiple recipes. Keep in mind what kind of access you'll have at work to a refrigerator or microwave for food storage and reheating.

Woman smiles as she checks off her grocery list on a notepad while shopping in a grocery store for meal prep ingredients.

2. Shop Smart

Create a shopping list for the items you need and check your pantry for any staples that might be running low. Although you only want to make a big grocery trip once, you may need to plan a quick mid-week shopping stop for foods that don't have a long shelf life. If you'd rather skip this extra trip to the store, then plan end-of-week meals that keep well in the freezer, such as soups or casseroles, and be sure to set a reminder to transfer them to the fridge a day or two before you plan to eat them.

Woman stands over a stove with a variety of vegetables as she uses a knife to scrape chopped vegetables into a pot of water from a cutting board.

3. Cook Efficiently

Meal prepping is all about making the best use of your time. Get out all of your ingredients and storage containers, and then map out the best way to cook things. Try cooking multiple foods at once. While you're baking a chicken and roasting veggies, chop all your vegetables for the week. When everything is orderly and organized, it cuts down on the time you'll spend running back and forth to the pantry or searching for the lid to your favorite container.

Three different types of healthy salads are lined up on a table in mason jars while meal prepping.

4. Store It Right

Much of the success in meal planning comes with proper storage. If you're prepping five meals for the week ahead, then keep three days' worth in the fridge, and put the other two in the freezer. Opt for glass containers for refrigerator storage, since these keep food safe, allow for portion control, and transfer easily to the microwave. Mason jars are also a popular option for salads, smoothies, and oatmeal, since they're sturdy, pack easily, and have an excellent seal.

5. Have a Backup Plan

When you first start out, meal prep might be a little more work upfront than you're used to. When unexpected delays crop up, it's tempting to give up altogether. To combat defeat, keep some grab-and-go staples in your pantry at all times. Cans of healthy soup are filling and portable enough to take and heat up at work, while pasta and marinara sauce always makes an easy go-to weeknight meal. With just a few ready staples as your backup plan, you increase the chance that your meal prepping is a success.

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