It can be hard to find time to plan and prepare one or two healthy, home-cooked meals each week, let alone several. But if you have half an hour and the desire to do so, you can prep ingredients for many of your weekly meals in advance. We’re talking nutritious, delicious breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks that can save you money and reduce food waste.
If you’re ready to break up with your favorite server and toss your take-out menus into the recycle bin, check out these quick and easy meal prep tips:
Invest in proper tools
To make your meal prep quick and painless, consider adding the following items to your culinary arsenal:
- Plastic or glass containers
- Egg cooker
- Electric pressure cooker
- Mason jars
- Sandwich and freezer bags
- Rice cooker
- Sheet pan(s)
- Slow cooker
Gather your staples
Keep certain items on hand so won’t have to hit the grocery store every time you want to try a new recipe. Such staples may include:
- Assorted spices
- Chicken, beef or vegetable stock
- Olive oil
- Tomato paste
Also, stock your freezer with a wide variety of meat and seafood, from boneless, skinless chicken breasts to lean ground turkey and scallops. It’s always good to have options!
Plan your menu
Before you can begin prepping your meals, you’ll need to plan your weekly menu and make a shopping list. To save time, consider planning two weeks or even a month of meals at once and shopping less frequently.
Begin with three to four recipes per week and gradually introduce additional dishes as you become more adept at meal planning. Be sure to make a note of any favorites you want to keep in the rotation. And if you don’t mind eating the same meal twice, double your recipes. This will provide twice as much food for the same amount of effort. And who doesn’t love leftovers?!
Choose your prep time
Set aside time once a week (e.g., Sunday nights) to prep your ingredients. If 30 minutes simply won’t cut it, squeeze in a few minutes of meal prep whenever you can. Don’t be afraid to get creative. For instance:
- Throw together a quick trail mix while brewing your morning coffee
- Chop up a salad for tomorrow’s lunch while tonight’s dinner is on the stove
- Prepare breakfast smoothie freezer packs in between TV commercials
- Hard boil eggs while helping your child with homework
- Make overnight oats in the slow cooker while you sleep
Another time-saving tip? Make the most of your ingredients. You’ve chopped up a bunch of carrots and zucchini—now use them in a few different recipes. Look for ways to substitute items you have on hand (or have already prepped) for others you have yet to purchase or prepare. Ground turkey, for instance, is a wonderful stand-in for beef when you’re making meat sauce or meatballs.
Healthy convenience items, like packaged salads, chopped veggies and pre-cut fruits—even instant rice—can be lifesavers, especially if they prevent you from ordering a pizza. It’s also easy to build a meal around a store-bought rotisserie chicken on occasion.
Cut yourself some slack
Meal prep is meant to improve your organization and reduce your stress. But if something comes up (e.g. dinner invitation, school play) or just don‘t feel like prepping or cooking on any given night, give yourself a break. And when your motivation returns, start chopping those veggies!