The Ingredients-Up Approach to Meal Prep

When deciding what you want to prep, resist the urge to think in terms of finished dishes such as “breakfast burrito”, “pasta salad”, or “stir-stir-fry”.

Instead, think in terms of mealtimes and components such as “three lunches, each made of two servings of produce and one serving of meat”.

Ingredients-Up vs. Recipes-Down

Here’s the order of events for the Recipes Down Approach:

  1. You browse for images of prepped meals, pick one you like, and say, “How do I do THAT?”
  2. You get the recipe
  3. You get a shopping list
  4. You follow the steps
  5. You now have THAT in your house.
  6. You realize THAT doesn’t meet YOUR goals.

The Ingredients-Up Approach is just the opposite

  1. You think about your goals
  2. You pick the raw ingredients needed to meet your goals
  3. You prep meals with those ingredients
  4. You take photos of your prepped meals and post them
  5. Someone asks for your recipe

There is no one-size-fits-all meal prep routine.

Build your meal prep routine from ingredients up to meet YOUR goals.

Shopping By Numbers

The Ingredients-Up Approach to meal prep leads you to shop for a NUMBER of components, rather than a LIST of ingredients.

Please review Cooking 101: Shop to get a refresher on the concept of meal components and how they relate to your diet type and family size.

How To Shop By Numbers

To shop without recipes or a list you need to know two things:

  • What are the components of your meals?
  • How many meals are you shopping for?

Once you know the components to one meal, it’s simple math to figure out how many of each component you need for two meals or 102 meals.

We will explore the concept of shopping by components and numbers throughout the course. For now, I want to provide you with a simple method to get going. Check boxes!

Use our Printable Shop By Numbers Guide to make shopping by numbers as easy as ticking boxes. You can find it under the Guides tab in your Members Area

KK-Shop By Numbers-final


Simply circle the number of meals you want to make and then check the boxes until you have enough ingredients.

The components of your diet don’t match the components on our sheet?

You’ve got options:

Amend. Cross out the offending components and write in the components that suit you better.

Start Fresh. Make a check-box sheet from scratch with a pen and paper. It takes all of two minutes!

How Many Meals To Prep?

In the Ingredients-Up Approach to meal prep, the question is not What to make? The question is How much?

Your answer will change slightly from week to week but you can get to a good baseline by thinking through the following factors:

  • Your bad-apple mealtimes
  • Everyday vs special meals
  • Your schedule
  • Your meal prep abilities

Let’s take a closer look at each.

Your bad-apple mealtimes

As covered in Meal Prep 101: Big Picture Stuff, it’s a good idea to target specific mealtimes with your meal prep practice. Knock out the bad apples first, then expand your practice from there.

Everyday meals vs special meals

When choosing what meals to make during your meal prep session consider the difference between your “everyday” meals and your “special” meals.

Everyday meals are your food-as-fuel meals. Special meals are food-as-entertainment.

Have you ever witnessed one of those poor souls who orders a salad instead of fries with their burger? That same person would order chips and soda with a salad. Mixing food-as-fuel with food-as-entertainment is a lose-lose. It’s not good for your diet. It’s not good for your mental health.

Make a hard divide between food-as-fuel and food-as-entertainment and you will excel at both. You’ll eat spot-on healthy meals most of the time and truly indulgent meals some of the time. That’s a win win!

Your everyday meals don’t need to be AMAZING. They need to be good enough.  And by “good enough” I mean that you actually reach for them over any other options.

What makes your everyday meals “good enough”?

During the busy workweek we make snap decisions about what we eat. No matter what our “plan” may be, when we wait until we are hungry to decide what to eat, our appetites rule. And our appetites direct us to the nearest best option. You want your prepped meals to be that nearest best option.

Be real with yourself.  Acknowledge your actual behavior around everyday meals and realize it’s not all about taste. Don’t hold your everyday meals to a higher standard than the corner deli. Do that and you will skip making homemade meals in favor of grabbing stuff on the go. That pits your will power against your appetite in a street fight behind the food trucks.  Your will power will lose that battle nine out of ten times.

Your everyday meals need to beat out other everyday options on all counts:

  • Convenience
  • Cost
  • Health
  • Taste

In contrast, your SPECIAL meals are all about what your mouth thinks. Thoughts of health, cost, and convenience melt away with that first mouth-watering bite. As well they should. Let your special meals be special and your everyday meals be “good enough.”

The 80/20 Rule

How many meals per week should be “everyday” and how many should be “special”? You’ll want to confer with your waistline and your budget on that, but a good rule of thumb is 80% healthy everyday meals and 20% indulgent special meals. If you are trying to lose weight you’ll want to hit closer to 90/10.

Meal prepping your everyday meals makes your special meals even better

People who love to cook and use it as a relaxing past time often fear that meal prep will ruin their hobby by reducing it to an exercise in efficiency that produces lackluster meals.

Just the opposite is true!  When you can knock out most or all of your everyday meals with meal prep you actually free up the time you need to INDULGE in cooking.

Also, prepping your everyday meals saves you from eating out at sub-par places throughout the week just to get by. All the money you save not eating mediocre take-out allows you to go out for GREAT meals more often.


Again, when shopping, the question is not WHAT to get but HOW MUCH.

This has everything to do with your schedule. It goes back to the question of WHY are you meal prepping. Which meals are the bad apples in your week? What problems are you trying to resolve?

If you are like most people it’s hard to keep a routine schedule, and so your answer for HOW MUCH to prep will change from week to week. This is not a problem when you meal prep from the ingredients up.

Meal Prep Abilities

The final factor to consider when planning your meal prep practice is your actual ability. Things like cooking skills, equipment, and space constraints affect how much and how well you prep.

This course is all about improving every facet of your meal prep abilities. You can become a Black Belt in Kitchen Karate much faster than you can become a Black Belt in real karate. But it still takes time and practice.

I want you to grow into your practice from The Ingredients-Up, tackling real problems in the real world. This will allow you to move from one victory to the next until you are unstoppable.

I do NOT want you to work from some abstract IDEAL (or recipes) downward. That will set you up for frustrations, failures, compromises, and ultimately quitting.

Questions and Comments on This Lesson?

Drop me a note in our private forum The Dojo Lounge. I will respond during office hours.

Up Next

The Power of 2 Hours