If you think of meal prep as another begrudged Sunday activity (perhaps somewhere between folding laundry and balancing your checkbook), we get it. The idea of braving a populous grocery store and spending hours in the kitchen doesn’t quite fit in with your Netflix-and-chill agenda. However, spending a little extra time to prepare healthy food for the week is worth the effort. Not only can it curb the urge to call in your favorite takeout on a nightly basis, it also takes the guess work out of meals, giving you more time to dominate other facets of your week.
We asked some of the top health food bloggers to share their best meal prep tips to ensure your weekend prep—and weekday meals—are as efficient as they are delicious. A busy week has nothing on you.
Start with a clear kitchen
Take out the trash, empty the dishwasher, and put away stuff on the counter or in the sink. This makes it easier to work efficiently. Also, using a “garbage” bowl (thank you, Rachel Ray) can help you keep tidier counters and floors, and move more quickly, avoiding constant trips to the garbage can.
Invest in quality meal storage containers
Use glass containers to store prepped fruit and vegetables in the fridge. Place them front and center so your eye catches them when opening the fridge doors. It makes the produce more appetizing and research has shown using glass containers and proper placement leads to healthier diet quality.
Cook batch grains
Cook a few batches of whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa, cool it in the fridge, and then divide the grains into meal-size portions to freeze. When ready to reheat, you have your own healthy “minute” rice! As an added bonus, when rice is cooked, cooled, and reheated, some of the starch is converted to resistant starch, which acts as a prebiotic to feed the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Consider foods that make a great vehicle for leftovers for the nights later in the week that you might be sick of looking at the same stuff you’ve been eating since Monday. For example, a frittata makes a great vehicle for leftover vegetables when you’re trying to use up odds and ends in the fridge. Serve with a simple side salad and you’ve got a delicious, fuss-free meal!
Prepare ingredients that add variety
Cook or prepare several ingredients that could be thrown together in a variety of ways, depending on what you crave later in the week. For example, a large batch of grilled or roasted veggies, a grain (such as brown rice, quinoa, or pasta), and protein (such as meat, beans, or tofu). This gives you the flexibility to easily throw together a variety of dishes (i.e. salads, stir-fries, sandwiches, and even pizza) throughout the week and create quick, satisfying meals that honor your body’s cravings.
Prepare multi-purpose foods
Any sort of soup or chili can be lunch and/or dinner served with a robust salad side, bean dip can fill a wrap, be smeared on an English Muffin, or be scooped up by fresh veggies, and salad dressing can be tossed with greens, used as a dip, or drizzled over roasted veggies
Stock up on essentials
Focus on keeping key ingredients stocked in order to be able to put together a balanced meal at a moment’s notice. Do a mental checklist when you grocery shop and aim to have the following in your grocery cart (or already in your kitchen):
- 2-3 Protein Sources
- 2-3 Types of Fruit
- 1 Bag Leafy Greens
- 2-3 Pre-Cut Veggies
- Quick-Cook Whole Grain
- 1 Cheese
And if you’re short on time or prepping for multiple people, take shortcuts when needed.
Make it personal
Use your calendar as a guide so that your plan for meal prep actually works with your schedule. If there are nights you won’t be home in time to cook, plan ahead to put a meal in the slow cooker that morning, or make a larger meal earlier in the week so you’ll have leftovers to eat.
Lean on frozen foods
Don’t be afraid to make fresh meals out of frozen ingredients. Nowadays you can find every food group in the freezer aisle – frozen quinoa, frozen mixed vegetables, and frozen lean proteins – to help you make meal time easy, simple and balanced.
Plan a weekly menu
Even if it’s just 3 ideas for dinner, a weekly menu helps organize your shopping which can save money and time at the store and reduce food waste at the end of the week. Jot it down and post it in the kitchen.
Make Sunday sauces
Prepare 1 or 2 sauces like pesto, marinara, chimichurri, sofrito, or olive tapenade every Sunday. During the week, mix the sauces with the proteins and vegetables you prepped ahead of time to make a repurposed meal feel new without extra work.
Plan one fall-back meal
Whether you get home late or just don’t feel like cooking what you had intended, keep an easy fall-back meal on hand so you still have options. It could be as simple as a bagged salad paired with rotisserie chicken and crusty bread, whole-grain tortellini with salad, or a frozen cheese pizza dressed up with veggies.