So, you’ve been meal prepping for a while and now you’re something of an expert. Such an expert, in fact, that you’re thinking about meal prepping for longer than a week. Maybe you could do two weeks. Three. A month. Whatever you decide, it can be a daunting prospect to get your head around. But don’t worry, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about meal prepping far in advance.
How far in advance can I meal prep?
Depending on several factors, including the recipes, storage solutions, individual ingredients, and how committed you are to meal prepping well ahead of time, you could realistically make a meal today that you can eat in 6 months. But you have to know how to achieve this in a safe and responsible way, as you will see below.
The first question you should ask yourself is, ‘How far in advance are you willingto meal prep?’. Because this does matter. There’s no use meal prepping for the month if you know you aren’t the sort of person to stick to it. Then the next question you should ask yourself is, ‘Am I prepping for the fridge or the freezer?’. That affects how far in advance you can meal prep from a food safety perspective.
Prepping for the fridge
You might think that prepping meals for the fridge isn’t prepping far in advance, and that’s true. But, whenever you are meal prepping, you need to think about different storage methods, so you aren’t just loading your freezer up to bursting point. If you’re meal prepping for the fridge, then it’s generally advised that you only prepare meals you’ll consume within 4 days.
If you meal prep on a Monday, then don’t eat any of the meals you’ve stored in the fridge past Thursday. The reason for this is because pass this point, you run the risk of high level of harmful bacteria being present in the food. This can make you sick.
Prepping for the freezer
Most food can be frozen for 3-6 months. Frozen food taste just fine when thawed and cooked correctly. Some foods last longer simply because they retain their flavor. For example, meat and fish can be frozen for 6 months safely and still taste great. Breads, cakes, and pastries, however, can only be frozen for around 3 months before their texture becomes grainy. Herbs lose flavor after 2 months.
If freezing entire meals, consuming after 3 months is best because you can guarantee that every ingredient will be at its best. If freezing individual ingredients, some may need to be handled differently to avoid being disappointed. Some ingredients should neverbe frozen, but more on that later.
Challenges of meal prepping far in advance
As great as meal prepping may be, doing meal prep far in advance creates several unique challenges. You have to be prepared for this. It might sound like a breeze, but meal prepping for more than a week might not be for the faint-hearted. But if you know the challenges, you can try to combat them, so here are the key problems you’ll need to overcome:
Having the space to cook multiple meals at once
Meal prepping far in advance means meal prepping more meals. This can be difficult, especially with limited space. If you want to cook a curry, Bolognese sauce, soup, and a hearty stew for instance, you may to struggle to do them simultaneously. That means you are limited either in your recipes or in the time it’ll take you to cook everything. Part of the appeal of meal prepping is cutting down time in the kitchen, not increasing it.
Prepping in advance requires even more organization. It’s easy enough to think about what you might want to eat in a week but thinking further ahead can be difficult. If you’re prepping ingredients rather than entire meals too, then you’ll also need to remember what you have in the freezer already to avoid buying duplicate items. Avoiding food waste is the main aim of meal prepping, so you have to be cautious here.
Finding a specific day to do it
Meal prepping far in advance can take a lotof time. Finding a day that you can set aside for the kitchen can be difficult. Especially if you have a hectic schedule. It beneficial because we don’t have to spend that time in the kitchen every day, but it can be hard sometimes to set aside a large chunk of time up front to prep lots of meals for the future.
Foods to avoid when meal prepping far in advance
Some food just shouldn’t be used when meal prepping far in advance because they won’t keep as well as others. Below you will find a detailed list of foods you should avoid when meal prepping far in advance. Be aware that there are others too. It may be the case that you do a little trial and error for yourself. While most foods are safe to consume after being frozen for a month or two, but some certainly aren’t pleasant to eat. As a starter guide, you may want to avoid the following:
- Green salad vegetables (cucumbers, lettuce, etc.)
- Meringue based desserts
- Creamy soups and sauces
- Any fried foods
- Fully cooked pasta and rice (will overcook if cooked thoroughly before freezing)
- Mayonnaise based sauces, salads, etc.
- Sour cream
Tips and tricks for prepping for many days in the future
It’s good to know that meal prepping for the future is difficult at times. However, the positives can outweigh the negatives, and there are even certain things you can do to make meal prepping for many days in the future much easier.
Mix up recipes to keep it interesting
Mix up recipes in terms of the flavors and dishes so you always have something you can eat if you don’t feel like having a specific dish. But if you want to make your life easier when prepping, make sure to choose meals that can be cooked in different ways.
Batch-cook and freeze individual portions
Batch-cooking and freezing individual portions is the best way to make sure you have food that is readily available. If you’re cooking for family, then you may not know what your schedules will look like in a month. If your children are having dinner with friends or your partner has to work late, then you might need to cook a meal for yourself. There’s no use cooking an entire family casserole for one, so save these for special days where you know you’ll all be together.
Get a meal plan
You need to keep a detailed meal plan, or at least an up-to-date inventory of everything you have. This will help you stay organized and let everybody in the family know what’s available for dinner each night. Sometimes you won’t be there to serve dinner, so let everybody know where the inventory is so they know what they can have.
Prep positively (but cut yourself some slack)
It’s motivating to recognize all the good you’re doing by meal prepping to keep yourself on track. Yes, meal prepping is great, but more importantly, cut yourself some slack too! Sometimes you’ll want to mix things up and head out to a restaurant or order food to your door. That’s OK. You don’t want to fall off the wagon entirely but stepping off to stretch your legs sometimes is good!
Tips and tricks for portioning and storing for many days in the future
If you’re looking for some additional tips for portioning and storing food, then this section is perfect. Combine these with the tips above, and your meal prepping days will be a breeze!
Get high-quality storage containers
You want storage containers that are airtight for even better preservation. You should also look at buying freezer safe, ready to cook storage containers too. Anything that can be taken from the freezer, thawed, and cooked in the same container is time saving and you save on the dish washing too! Also, look for leakproof containers that can be used for soups, etc. The better the quality container, the better your food will taste.
Know the portions you need for each dish
You have a few options for meal prepping:
- Full meals, e.g. casseroles for the entire family
- Batch cooking split into individual portions
- Ready to go ingredients
- Meals for one
Know how you are going to portion each dish you make so you don’t get confused. This will also help you decide which containers you need for storage.
Store your meals appropriately
Storing meals appropriately means knowing when you plan to eat them. Meals consumed within 4 days can be kept in the fridge for ease of access. Anything over 4 days should be in the freezer for no more than 3 months, for best results. But storing meals appropriately also means knowing the best way to store them:
- Cool meals before placing in the fridge or freezer
- Use airtight containers to prevent bacteria
- Wrap storage containers to prevent freezer burner
- Leave the freezer door shut for several hours after placing new food inside to allow it to freeze completely
Meal prepping far in advance is something anyone can try. With that we can stay organized, prevent food waste, and save yourself time and money. Doing so presents some challenges, but if you are organized and stay on top of what you have and where it’s stored, then you can absolutely prep months in advance without worry.