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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

May 14, 2024 - 9:36am --

I’ve had those days when I spent my drive home from work thinking about what to make for supper. Either I stopped at the grocery store for the ingredients or tried to find what I needed at home. Possibly, I got back in the car and made a quick trip to the store.

If only I had done some meal prepping.

Preparing meals in advance can help save money; ultimately save time and remove a stressor from a busy day. It also can help with weight control, as you decide the ingredients and portions served. For the same reasons, it may lead to more nutritious meals over the long term.

Meal prepping does not mean you have to spend all day in your kitchen cooking meals for the week ahead. You can choose a method that works best for you based on your goals and daily routine. Make-ahead breakfasts might work best if you’re looking to ease your morning routine. Overnight oatmeal recipes are popular. I like to freeze smoothies in canning jars then thaw one in the refrigerator a few hours before I’m ready to drink it.

Here are popular ways to meal prep:

  • Cook full meals in advance which can be refrigerated and reheated at mealtimes.
  • Make large batches of a specific recipe, then split it into individual portions to be frozen and eaten over the next few months. 
  • Prepare fresh meals and portion them into individual grab-and-go portions to be refrigerated and eaten over the next few days.
  • Prep the ingredients required for specific meals ahead of time as a way to cut down on cooking time in the kitchen. Chop vegetables and fresh fruit, or wash and dry salad greens for later in the week.

Before you get started with meal prepping, discuss with your family what types of foods and favorite meals they like to eat. Use a monthly calendar or spreadsheet to record your meal ideas, favorite recipe sites and food shopping lists. Consider specific meals or foods for different days of the week. Some families enjoy the consistency of knowing what to expect and it can help ease meal planning. A few examples are Taco Tuesday, Stir-Fry Friday, and Slow Cooker Sunday.

Storage considerations come into play

The storage of your prepped foods is where food safety comes to play. An Ohio State University Extension Live Healthy Live Well blog provided these guidelines to ensure a safe and quality product.  

  • Label all prepped items with a date so that you can track when to use them by.
  • Rotate stored items so that the oldest foods/meals are kept up front.
  • Cooked meals tend to freeze well in airtight containers.
  • Foods with high moisture content, such as salad greens, tomatoes, or watermelon, are not recommended as they tend to become mushy when frozen and thawed.
  • Blanching vegetables for a few minutes before freezing can help.

The recommended storage times with refrigeration at 40°F or lower cooked foods are:

  • 1-2 days; Cooked poultry or ground beef
  • 3-4 days: Cooked whole meats, fish, and poultry; soups and stews
  • 5 days: Cooked beans; hummus
  • 1 week: Hard boiled eggs; chopped vegetables if stored in air-tight container
  • 2 weeks: Soft cheese, opened
  • 5-6 weeks: Hard cheese, opened

The recommended storage times with freezing at 0°F or lower cooked foods are:

  • 2-3 months: Soups and stews; cooked beans
  • 3-6 months: Cooked or ground meat and poultry
  • 6-8 months: Berries and chopped fruit (banana, apples, pears, plums, mango) stored in a freezer bag
  • 8-12 months: Vegetables, if blanched first for about 3-5 minutes (depending on the vegetable)

As our schedules get busy heading into summer, it’s a good time to start to practicing meal prep. Try some of these techniques and tips to help ease your stress in the kitchen.

Laurie Sidle is an Ohio State University Extension Family and Consumer Sciences and 4-H program assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or
This article was previously published in The Daily Record.