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/ March 2020
Mari Levine, America’s Test Kitchen

Go From Work to Workout with These Meal Prepping and Planning Tips

Planning your meals can help you reach your fitness goals. And you don’t have to sacrifice precious workout time to do it efficiently.

You want to have a productive day at work and fit in a quality workout, and in order to make that happen, you need to stay well fueled. Whether your goals are to eat better, hit a certain fitness milestone, or just save money and time, doing some meal prep will keep you on track. And you don’t have to sacrifice precious workout time to do it efficiently.
When it comes to working out, you stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. The same can be applied to meal prepping and planning. Use these tips to keep that meal prep momentum going.

Prep Vegetables Once, Use All Week

Don’t worry if your knife skills aren’t quite sharp enough to make prepping veggies a breeze. Onions, leeks, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots can be prepped once and held in an airtight container for up to a week so you don’t have to chop a fresh batch every day. (Most of these vegetables also freeze well and can go directly from freezer to skillet.) 

Pick Your Protein

No matter your fitness goals, protein is one of the most essential macros. Not only do proteins help build bone and muscle, but they also keep you fuller longer. Here are some easy ways to add more protein to your meals so you don’t run out of steam in the middle of a workout or workday:
Fresh meat, poultry, and fish: rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Tofu and tempeh: high in protein, cholesterol-free, and low in fat
Chia seeds: combine with milk (or soy milk), fruit, and coconut to make a fun, filling, make-ahead breakfast
Hulled hemp hearts: a plant-based complete protein that blend without a trace into smoothies
Sprouted wheat flour: makes protein easier to absorb and can be substituted for whole-wheat flour in most recipes
Legume pasta: packed with protein and fiber.
Nut and seed butters: make a tasty, quick snack when spread on fruit, vegetables, or bread
Cream, cheese, and whole-milk yogurt: keto-friendly, high-fat sources that also contain healthy proteins

Pack Like a Pro

Making food look as good as it tastes is a great way to keep up the meal prep motivation. To preserve the quality of your salad or grain bowl and prevent it from turning into a sad desk lunch, pack it properly. Here’s how.
Hearty greens hold up better to advance prep than more delicate greens. So opt for kale, arugula, and Romaine over mesclun or Boston lettuce.
Don’t buy pre-cut greens. As soon as you cut lettuce it starts to spoil so take the time to buy whole heads (or Romaine hearts). To store them properly, core the lettuce and wash the leaves, spin them dry in a salad spinner, then use clean kitchen towels or paper towels to remove any lingering moisture. Wrap the greens in paper towels and place them in a zipper-lock bag. They should last up to a week when stored this way.
Layer your salad ingredients in order of heartiness. That means placing heavy or moist ingredients, including heartier fruits and vegetables, in the bottom of the container. Lighter greens and vegetables go above those, and delicate ingredients like cheese and nuts go on the top. Make sure to keep wetter ingredients, such as goat cheese, away from ingredients you want to keep crunchy.

Invest in the Best Food Storage Containers

How many precious minutes have you lost searching for the proper lid to a container? One of the easiest ways to eliminate any potential meal-prep frustration is to invest in quality food storage containers. America’s Test Kitchen has done several reviews of food storage containers, and here’s what they say you should look for when purchasing them:
• Make sure the containers are leakproof. Flaps that click into place or gaskets that tighten the cover to the container are good features for that.
• Wide, flat containers create more efficient chilling and heating.
• Containers with flat tops store more easily in your fridge and freezer.
• If you’re going to be heating up your food in the container, opt for glass containers and ones with taller sides so you can stir in them without the food overflowing.
• Consider what type of make-ahead cook you are. Sets that include a good variety of sizes are great for people who cook for the week ahead, while fewer sizes might be perfect for someone who’s only looking to prep meal by meal.
• Think about how you like to organize your storage containers. Some empty containers nest inside of each other and others don’t. 

Don’t Feel the (Freezer) Burn

If you’re batch cooking dishes and freezing them, you don’t want all that work to be compromised by unwelcome ice crystals. The best way to prevent freezer burn is to cover the dish with plastic wrap and then cover the plastic wrap with aluminum foil. Containers destined for the freezer should be mostly full with about ½ inch of headroom to allow for expansion; if there’s more than ½ inch of headroom in the container, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the food to prevent freezer burn.
You might not think twice about the type of plastic wrap you stock in your kitchen, but you’ve probably noticed that some plastic wraps stick easily to dishes while other brands don’t. That’s because plastic wrap can be made from two distinctly different substances: food-safe version of PVC and low-density polyethylene (LDPE). The main difference is that PVC clings but is not impermeable; LDPE is impermeable but has far less cling. Clingy PVC wraps are preferable if you are transporting food or are worried about spills and leaks, but to keep foods fresh longer, select plastic wrap made from LDPE. If the plastic wrap doesn’t adhere easily to the dish, dampen the edge of the dish with a wet paper towel to help the plastic stick.
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/ March 2020
Mari Levine, America’s Test Kitchen