Meal prepping is a great way to help you save time, money and calories if you’re avoiding fast-food lanes and $12 salads for lunch. Many people meal prep by cooking a whole week’s worth of meals on the weekends, while some people may just make a few dishes over their days off and pull them out on an especially tiring weeknight. Another way to meal prep is simply organizing leftovers for an easier breakfast, lunch or dinner. No matter how you do it, here are some meal prep hacks that will definitely save you time.
A messy fridge will already set you a few steps back on your meal prep journey. For a home organizing hack to keep you sane in the kitchen, declutter each separate fridge compartment by tossing anything that is past its expiration date or that you know you’re not going to eat regardless. When you start filling your fridge with ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat meals, it will look more enticing and you’ll know exactly where everything is.
Meal prepping can be overwhelming if you’re new to the process. Instead of attempting to whip out a week’s worth of food in one day, start slowly and make one or two recipes your first week. Pick one day of the week to do all the cooking, and as you get a feel for it, you can prep more and more.
When meal prepping, it’s essential to have a plan, otherwise there really is no point. You should pre-plan when you will eat the meals you are prepping. For example, you can do meatless Mondays and taco Tuesdays.
Grocery shopping with an extensive list is super efficient. Not only will it prevent you from aimlessly wandering the store and barely getting what you came for, but having a list will also make it easy to visualize the separate meals you want to make. Before you go shopping, write down every meal you plan on cooking and buy ingredients accordingly.
Wash and chop all your produce right when you bring it home to save time later in the week. For example, wash the lettuce, dry it and separate the leaves; chop up tomatoes, onions and peppers and put each in their own glass container or resealable pouch. The produce will most likely be consumed rather than thrown away if it's ready to eat.
If you can squeeze in a few minutes between the kids’ bedtimes and your own, try making breakfast the night before. Chia seed puddings are an ideal meal for this — simply combine your chia seeds, milk and any fruit you want, and pour into an airtight bowl or mason jar and let it thicken overnight. You can top the chia pudding with fresh fruit and granola for a heart-healthy and filling breakfast.
If you’re thinking about making pasta during the week, double down on the sauce and make enough for two dishes. For example, if you’re making classic spaghetti with tomato sauce on Monday, store the leftover sauce in the fridge to make pizza, lasagna or any number of comforting home-cooked meals a different day.
Cooking your protein ahead of time and storing it in the fridge or freezer is a huge time saver considering most meats and protein sources take time to cook. On your meal prep day, cook up at least two types of protein, such as chicken, lean red meat, eggs or black beans. Keep some handy in the fridge to use in salads, sandwiches, grain bowls or even to toss in pasta, and store the rest in airtight containers in the freezer. The possibilities for using leftover proteins are almost endless. The cooked proteins will last at least three to four days in the fridge if stored properly.
If you’re not into meal prepping for the whole week and aim to cook dinner most days, do yourself a favor and make extra the nights you’re in the kitchen. If dinner consists of roasted vegetables, throw a few more handfuls onto the tray for a sandwich or salad the next day. This is also a good way to save money since you’re making lunch instead of buying it.
Plastic containers, and plastic items in general, are some of the least eco-friendly things you can buy at the grocery store. Even if they aren’t intended to be single-use, the leftover food smell that collects inside plastic containers will likely be off-putting and ruin an otherwise appetizing dish. And if you’re storing food for a week, you want to make sure it lasts.
You're going to want to stock up on good-quality glass airtight food storage containers, which are incredibly eco-friendly. This will make your prepared ingredients and meals stay fresh longer and taste better by locking bacteria and odors out. Whether you buy them online or at the store, you can choose from combo kits, containers with dividers (ideal for veggies and dip), stackable storage jars and Pyrex glass containers that are perfect for reheating, and more.
Use ingredients that you can repurpose in different ways throughout the week. For example, a dinner of chicken, penne pasta and vegetables can be repurposed into chicken sandwiches for lunch, and a pasta salad for another weeknight side. If you focus on simple, easy-to-find grocery store items, you’ll save time while shopping and while cooking.
Frozen vegetables are one of the best foods to use when meal prepping. Next time you’re at your favorite supermarket, load up on things like peas, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and corn that can be made into a number of versatile dishes. And the best part is they last for months in the freezer.
There’s not much that beats coming home on a busy weeknight and knowing dinner is only a few moments away. If you take the time to make these freezer-friendly meals ahead of time, you can have anything from lasagna and casseroles to a hearty beef stew all stocked up and ready to go. The key, however, is defrosting these ready-to-heat meals well before it’s time to eat.
With the right ingredients on hand, you can make enough jar salads to cover lunch for a few days. Using a mason jar, layer your salad ingredients and dig in with a fork come lunchtime. But to keep your salad fresh and crisp, you have to layer your ingredients properly. The dressing should always go on the bottom followed by grains and proteins like chicken and chickpeas, which will help keep the dressing separate from all the top layers. After the protein, add your crunchier veggies like peppers or carrots, cheese and nuts, and then top it off with lettuce.
An Instant Pot can help you get meals on the table effortlessly since most of the actual cooking is hands-off. And if you have a few pantry staples and some easy Instant Pot recipes in your back pocket, breakfast, lunch and dinner will take no time at all.
Smoothies are an ideal quick breakfast packed with protein and refreshing fruits. To meal prep smoothies, all you have to do is wash and cut a combination of fruits like bananas, strawberries, pineapples or whatever is in season, divide them into resealable bags and pop them in the freezer. On any given morning, take a bag out of the freezer, toss the ingredients in a blender and have a smoothie ready to go in a minute.
One-pan lunches and dinners are perfect for meal prepping. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes and parsnips hold up really well to longer cooking times, which is great if you're hoping to cook everything in one go. You can roast a lean piece of chicken on one side and a combination of root vegetables on the other.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a shortcut or two when meal prepping — in fact, it’s encouraged. Rotisserie chicken is the classic pre-prepped food that people seem to love the most, and Costco’s chicken will only run you five bucks. You can make anything from Tex-Mex chicken tortilla soup to chicken pot pie using this shortcut. And when you’re in the frozen foods aisle, grab some premade pizza dough or a few cauliflower pizza crusts. Having a crust on hand makes getting dinner on the table considerably easier — just spread some sauce, shred some cheese and pop it in the oven.
If everything you prep is labeled accordingly, you won’t have to waste five minutes searching for the diced peppers and container of hummus. Another smart move is dating the container or bag so you know when you made it, and if it’s a freezer meal, attach a quick note with reheating instructions. A neatly stocked fridge is key to cooking and consuming more efficiently, and it can be a simple change to help you be more sustainable in your everyday life.
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