Meal prepping isn’t just a smart strategy to avoid that last-minute rush to figure out what’s for lunch or dinner — it can also set us on the path toward a healthier lifestyle. For example, having a plan in place for lunch will save us from making last-minute choices out of convenience. Plus, research has shown that food prepping is associated with a diet that includes more vegetables, salads, and fruits. 

Teri Pyles of Red Bluff, CA has seen the benefits firsthand: Pyles says she once considered herself “the queen of fast food.” Now, she has added more vegetables and protein to her diet, and she’s feeling great. “I haven’t gone near a drive-through, and I’m very proud of that,” she says.

While meal prepping does take some planning at first, it can save us tons of time in the long run — and in challenging or busy periods like this one, getting time back for ourselves means a lot.

Once we figure out what we need, and schedule some time to whip up a few days’ worth of our favorite healthy meals, it only takes minutes to pack our lunches for the rest of the week. Amanda Frederickson, a professional cook, recipe developer, and author of Simple Beautiful Food, likes to batch cook on Sunday nights. “I like to cook off a ton of vegetables as well as one or two proteins and a pot of rice on Sunday afternoon, and store in containers in my fridge,” she says. “That way it makes throwing together a lunch super easy, whether it is a salad, grain bowl, or even a sandwich.”

We can also prep healthy, quick-grab items for snacks or as part of a lunch, like hard-boiled eggs or chopped veggies.  

Heather Kelly, of Seymour, IN does exactly that. She works at a large store where she has access to lots of sweets. “But by loading up my purse with healthier alternatives, I don’t make those spur of the moment stress eating decisions,” she says. “I’m sticking to making meals at home and meal prepping for lunches at work and bringing protein packs to work for snacks — like P3’s from the dairy department to give me that extra boost of energy. Hard-boiled eggs are a go-to for me as well.” 

Try it for yourself, and get started with these Microsteps:

As much as you can, bring your lunch and snacks to work. 

You’ll ward off impulsive eating and save money! 

Choose unprocessed foods whenever you can. 

If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, it’s probably not good for you. 

Reframe your next healthy choice as a challenge. 

Eating well and exercise doesn’t need to feel like a chore. A challenge is much more fun.