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Meal Prep vs. Meal Plan—What's the Difference?

Created June 28, 2019
Cutting board, knife, chopped carrots onions
You can plan without prepping, but you can’t prep without planning!

Whoever is in charge of how much time there is in a day really dropped the ball. What is it about getting older that makes time feel like it’s sped up? Whether it just seems like the days are flying by or we are really trapped in a time warp, we’re all looking for ways to optimize our free time more efficiently. One way to save minutes during the week is with meal prepping. You can also save time with meal planning—so which is better? Can one exist without the other? And is the hype really worth the effort?

What is Meal Prep?

Meal prep is exactly what it sounds like. You’re prepping elements of meals (or even whole dishes) ahead of when you want to eat them. For instance, spiralizing a whole bunch of vegetables to prepare for a week’s worth of zoodle dinners. By prepping ahead, or prepping in large batches, you’re saving yourself work down the road. Individual definitions of meal prep vary depending on who you ask. For some, proper meal prep means making an entire week’s worth of meals ahead of time. For others, it means doubling a recipe so you can have leftovers later in the week. Whichever way you prep, there’s no wrong way to do it.

What is Meal Planning?

You can’t meal prep without planning first. Meal planning is the framework that prepping operates under. Just because you can’t prep without planning, that doesn’t mean you can plan without prepping. Either method is going to save you some modicum of time. Meal planning is where you plot out the dinners (or lunches and breakfasts, if you’re extra ambitious) you’ll be eating over the course of the next week or two. Planning like this allows you to buy the exact groceries you need, and it should ensure that you have well-balanced meals planned all week long (unless you’re planning for eating ramen all week, which is technically meal planning but it kind of misses the whole point).

Side note: you don’t have to be a huge household to benefit from meal planning. Couples and those cooking for one will appreciate the stress-relieving effects of planning ahead.

Hand in Hand—Benefits from Both

Both planning and prepping on the weekends can help you save money, time and energy during the week. Planning and prepping dinners for every night of the week means you won’t have to order expensive take-out or hit up the drive-thru on your way home. There’s no wrong way to prep and plan, and you certainly don’t need to go to the extremes of meal prep and planning to reap its benefits. Freezing a casserole for later is a simple way to prep ahead when you have some spare minutes on a Saturday. Planning a week’s worth of chicken dinners will not only give you hot, delicious meals to look forward to every night of the week, but you can also prep the chicken ahead of time, making weekdays extra painless.

Start off simple. Plan a few dinners, freeze a casserole for later and make a big batch of quinoa. Meal prepping and planning can seem like a daunting task. Start small and pay attention to the benefits of planning ahead. Future You will be grateful for the time you put towards healthier, more wholesome weekday dinners.