In a world filled with convenient fast-food wherever you go and a focus on instant gratification, it can be a serious challenge to eat healthily and keep your food waste to a minimum. For many of us, our busy lives cause us to make daily food decisions that fill our diets with highly processed foods, which are often wrapped in single-use packaging. But there is a way you can not only eat healthily, but you can reduce food waste while saving time and money, too. The answer is meal prep. In an effort to reduce food waste, the Save the Food campaign has launched Meal Prep Mate, a free online program that helps with meal prep no matter if you are brand new to prepping meals or a seasoned pro.

fresh vegetables in clear containers

Save the Food

Back in 2016, a public service project called Save the Food began after the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) partnered with the Ad Council. The goal was to reduce food waste with a print ad campaign featuring close-ups of different foods that have the label “Best if used.” The ads also included food waste statistics.

Now, the campaign is going further with Meal Prep Mate, a free, online resource that helps with every step of the meal prep process: meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking and portioning.

The new Meal Prep Mate website “walks you through step-by-step guides of ‘what to know,’ ‘what to have’ and ‘what to buy,’ and it allows you to choose pre-designed plans or build your own plan.”

No matter which route you take, you can plan your meals for up to five days each week and up to three meals each day.

desk with containers of veggies, rice and a sandwich

Meal Prep Mate

The new website offers four different pre-designed plans that include a variety of dishes from meat-based to vegan and everything in between. Once you choose how many days you want to plan for and how many meals and snacks you want to prep for each day, the website will give you recipes, a shopping list and nutritional information.

There is a bit more work involved if you want to build a customized meal prep plan. You start the same way that you would with the pre-designed plans by choosing how many days and meals you are prepping for. Then, you must select proteins, produce and grains for each meal before getting your shopping list and ingredient quantities.

To further reduce food waste, the website also includes ingredient storage tips, ideas for scraps and leftovers and recipe suggestions.

container with star-shaped sandwich inside

Portion control

Meal prepping can definitely help with eating healthy meals each week, but one of the biggest challenges is portion size. Meal Prep Mate aims to help with that by suggesting portion sizes, so you don’t buy too much or too little at the grocery store and prep too much or too little food.

Because everyone’s nutritional needs are different, Meal Prep Mate’s suggestions could be too large or too small. The first time you use the tool, be aware of how the portions work for you, and make any necessary adjustments.

muffin tin with egg breakfast muffins

Getting started with meal prepping

Have you seen those Instagram food prepping accounts that look like they prep 21 meals plus snacks every Sunday? They make it look so beautiful in the pictures and seem so easy in the captions. But these posts really just give many people visions of a time-consuming grocery shopping excursion on Sunday morning and hours of hard work over a hot stove.

Food prepping shouldn’t be intimidating; you just have to start small. There is no need to prep every single meal and snack for an entire week. Instead, try just two or three days each week and aim for one or two meals each day.

Katie Lolas, the expert food prep Instagrammer behind the popular Lady Lolas page, said that when you get started with prepping, think about what gives you the most trouble.

“Pick your problem areas,” Lolas said. “For example, if you don’t have an issue cooking dinner, but always seem to make unhealthy snack choices, or you skip breakfast, then spend your time prepping options that will make those times easier for you.”

If unhealthy snacks are the biggest problem in your diet, then focus on prepping those. If you always find yourself in a drive-thru after work or ordering take-out every night, then consider prepping a few dinners on Sunday.

Yes, meal prep is important for healthy eating and reducing food waste, but it should make your life easier, not harder, said Lolas.

trashbags filled with produce

The environmental impact of food waste

Every year in the United States, Americans waste 40 percent of their food, according to NRDC. That is equal to 400 pounds per person. To make things worse, many Americans toss everything in the garbage, which means the food winds up in a landfill and releases methane.

The great thing about food prepping is that it not only helps you live a healthier lifestyle while saving you some cash, but it also is a big help to the environment by greatly reducing food waste.

+ Meal Prep Mate

+ Save the Food


Images via Shutterstock