Food is one of life’s basic necessities, but when your schedule fills up, cooking can easily fall to the bottom of your to-do list.
Luckily, there’s a simple way to help save time throughout the week—meal prepping. Whether you’re new to planning and prepping your meals in advance or looking to streamline your current system, these tips can help you make the most of the process.
What is meal prepping?
Traditionally, meal prepping is a form of meal planning where you prepare in advance what you’re going to eat in a given week, which can ultimately save you time, money, energy, and stress. However, you can approach it in a variety of ways. You could prepare all your lunches for work on Sundays but still cook your dinners throughout the week. You could also simply cook your meats and veggies on the weekend and then prepare the rest of your ingredients each day. This activity is meant to make your life a little easier, so take whatever approach accomplishes that for you. Meal prepping can also simplify your shopping. For example, you could opt for simpler recipes to cut back on the number of ingredients you need to get or buy frequently used items like beans, grains, and veggies in bulk rather than in small weekly batches, which can add up to a greater expense. Also, consider finding ways to use more pantry staples that you may already have on hand. Whatever the case, meal prepping is a great choice for people who may not want to prepare three meals a day every day.
Prep like a pro
While there’s a lot of freedom within meal prepping, there are certain key elements that will make any method a success. Whether you’re preparing a week’s worth of lunches and dinners, cooking just the basics to use in different ways throughout the week, or simply looking to find out more, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Limit your ingredients
In addition to saving you money, picking simple recipes that utilize fewer ingredients can also save you time—if you’re choosing to make a week’s worth of meals in one day, you don’t want to have three different recipes that each use dozens of different ingredients. Rather, opt for quicker and easier recipes or even ones that have one or more ingredients in common.
Use the proper tools
When you lack the correct equipment, meal prepping can become a major headache. Make sure you have a good set of knives, a variety of cutting boards, and plenty of pots and pans to use. It also helps if you clean as you go so you can avoid having to deal with a huge pile of dishes at the end.
No matter what you cook, chances are some items will simply take longer to prepare than others. For efficiency’s sake, start with the foods that need to bake, simmer, or boil the longest, and then move on to items that require less cooking.
Choosing simple recipes doesn’t necessarily mean that you must make the same meals every time. Get imaginative with how you mix and match your items, such as by preparing meats, veggies, and grains that you can use in a variety of bowls, wraps, or salads. This can help keep you excited about the new and different possibilities of meal prepping.
Store everything properly
It’s essential that you use high-quality, reusable containers for the meals that you prep. Glass containers are a must-have for every meal prepper since they are more eco-friendly and tend to be microwave safe for a quick reheat when it’s time to eat. Also, label each container with what’s in it and when you should eat it by. And if you have any extra soups, doughs, or uncooked meats, utilize your freezer to save them for another week’s meals.
A sample meal plan
Your meals will vary greatly depending on your personal preferences and dietary restrictions, but here’s one example of a meal plan you can use as a starting point for your future meal prep.
- Breakfast: Make blueberry muffins or overnight oats that you can enjoy throughout the week. These are generally easy to prepare ahead of time, and you can simply grab them on your way out the door.
- Lunch: Bake a casserole such as one with hamburger, cheesy chicken and broccoli, or spaghetti squash. Divide the dish into microwave-safe containers once it’s ready, and store them in your fridge to quickly reheat when it’s mealtime.
- Dinner: Cook chicken, steak, or tofu via your preferred cooking method along with a variety of veggies like bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, or onions. Use these ingredients throughout the week in different ways, such as on a bed of romaine lettuce, in a whole-wheat wrap, or over your favorite grain or pasta. Add in different sauces and dressings, and you’re set for a week of tasty dinners.
No matter your lifestyle, meal prepping can help to save you time and money. Plus, it’s a wonderful way to try unique recipes and sharpen your skills in the kitchen.