Yes, you can (and should) start prepping your meals for the week — even in your tiny space

a person over a stove cooking, pouring oil in a pot
a person over a stove cooking, pouring oil in a pot

Meal prepping for the week can feel like a big task on its own. Trying to do that big task in a small space (like a dorm or an apartment) can be another challenge entirely.

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Fear not, there are ways to make your tiny kitchen — or even your lack thereof — work for you. Your meal prepping doesn’t have to be Pinterest-perfect. It can be as simple as a week’s worth of fixings for healthy lunch salads or overnight oats for early mornings.

Evaluate your space and materials

Chances are your small space also has small storage options. Maybe you only have room for three dinners in your fridge, or maybe you don’t even have a fridge! (More on that later.) Determine what you have room for in your current space and, regardless of your square footage, make sure you have bowls (microwave-safe if needed), sealable glass jars and food storage containers.

Start small

“On weekends, when you feel you have a little extra time, start small by prepping whatever meal components are most challenging for you to get on your plate, whether it be proteins or vegetables,” says Kelly Jones, a performance dietitian who runs a nutrition consulting company for student athletes.

Jones recommends building your meal prep routine little by little in order to learn what you can feasibly store and prepare in your space. Start with one meal and a few core ingredients in mind. If you have an oven, take a Sunday evening to make a pot of quinoa and roast a tray of chicken breast and mixed veggies. Store five to seven servings in your fridge.

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If your appliances are limited to a mini fridge and a microwave, consider steamed greens and grains, rice, sweet potatoes, white bean salads and tofu. The following week, Jones recommends ramping it up by preparing two types of proteins, two veggies and two starches. From there, you can mix and match each meal. In the interest of changing things up, dressings and sauces are a must.

Keep building and adapting your meal plan each week. If space allows, add on breakfast. Make five to seven jars of overnight oats and buy a few toppings to change it up each day. (Think: blueberries, strawberries, cacao nibs, almond butter, coconut flakes.) Room for lunch? Prepare a few days’ worth of simple taco salads.

If you don’t have a fridge

For those without refrigeration, meal prepping might look more like pantry planning. Buy some pantry staples and write out easy recipes that you can refer to throughout the week. Keep some oatmeal, apples, bananas, nut butter and whole wheat bread on hand for breakfasts. Map out the potential food combos for any given day: peanut butter and banana sandwich on Monday, oatmeal with sliced apples on Tuesday. If you’re fridge-less but fortunate enough to have a microwave, work microwaved eggs (yes, you can do that) into your week, switching up the seasoning each day from Old Bay to chili crisp. Once you’ve nailed breakfast, move onto your lunch plan.

Related: 8 TikTok food hacks to help college students cook in any space

Buy enough fixings to make black bean salads, tuna avocado salads and canned vegetable medleys for your lunches. Prepare containers and baggies with nuts, dried fruit and dark chocolate chips for daily snacks.

Have a plan

“Many people believe meal prep has to mean cooking everything for lunch and dinner for the entire week, but any amount of preparation is beneficial, even if it's just a plan of what you'll cook or where to eat on campus,” Jones said. Your small space might prevent you from preparing a potluck dinner, but it shouldn’t stop you from planning nutritious meals.

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