The dreaded meal prep. Your friends post about it, your sister swears by it, but it looks overwhelming and time consuming! Despite how much food is being made all at once, meal prep doesn’t have to take up your whole Sunday, and there are many ways of tackling it to make it fit into your lifestyle! Here are a few tips that will help you meal prep like a pro!
1. Figure out how much prep is best for your family
There are those that make every single meal for the week on Sundays. Their fridges are often filled with matching containers, simple repetitive meals, and the only dishes they have to do Monday-Saturday are what they just ate out of. If this is you, that’s wonderful! Most of us don’t have quite this level of commitment to meal prepping, and that’s okay too!
There are a few methods that I cycle through depending on how much time I have each week. See if any of them speak to you!
- When I have a busy week ahead, I like to make a few big meals and serve it up family style. Making 4 or so simple dishes in big portions and keeping some quick chopped veggies for a salad on hand allows everyone to grab their own meals as they go. I still keep an eye on my portions for myself, but I spend less time packaging up the individual meals!
When I have a craving for something new and more time on week days, I pick simple breakfasts that can be pulled out of the fridge, make individually packed familiar lunches, and pick a couple recipes to make for the week’s dinners. Instead of spending hours trying to figure out multiple recipes on Sunday or struggling through piles of dishes every night, I determine which can be fully made in advance and if there are any ingredients I can prep for the ones that I want to make fresh.
- If I have no time on the weekends, I look at the meals for the week, and I pre-chop all of the veggies and pick proteins that I can cook in advance (such as several chicken breasts or roast beef that can be split up over several days). I make overnight oats or plan to make my superfoods shake in the morning. I may still have to spend time cooking each day, but the grunt work is done, and it majorly cuts down my time in the evening! On top of that, I can mix and match by pulling from each prepped ingredient to make whatever sounds good that day.
2. Plan Ahead!!
I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to start planning early! Whether you write out a list of meals and figure out how much of each you’ll need, like to shop and get inspiration around the store, or prefer to wing it during the week with a mix of ingredients, you need to have a plan before you start chopping. I like to decide what all of my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners will be for the week on Thursdays. It gives me time to fill the cravings from the week before, start get excited about something new, and I have Friday to finish if it I need more time. I grocery shop Friday or Saturday (or Zach does!), and take time to look over my recipes. Personally, I have found that I save a LOT of time by sorting my prep by how it’s cooked. Does it just need to be chopped? Baked? Grilled? This allows me to prioritize. Figure out where you can cut corners (buy chopped, frozen fruit for your smoothies, stir fry bags, and salad mixes!)
3. Cook as many things as you can at once
Normally, cooking a meal can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 6 hours to meal prep every Sunday – the point is to save time! By splitting up how you cook your meals, you can make many at once. Which meal has the longest baking time? Make sure to get that one in early! While it’s cooking, prep a skillet meal. Usually, you have a few minutes here or there between stirring and adding ingredients, so use that time wisely! Chop up your salad, pull out your containers, wash a few dishes, or get the next dish prepared! By the time your last meal is cooked, there will be half the number of dishes (if any!), and you’ll have a week’s worth of prep done in the time it would have taken to cook one or two!
Keeping the right equipment around makes a difference too, if it’s an option for you. You can absolutely meal prep with a pan, a pot, and a couple baking dishes, but having an insant pot or slow cooker on hand can reduce your time significantly. Instead of having to watch a pot of chili, clear up your stove by throwing it in the slow cooker and forgetting about it! Didn’t defrost your chicken breast? Throw them in the pressure cooker with some stock or sauces. Your protein will be done in 20 minutes, and you can use that time to prep your vegetables. Pressure cookers can also be used for multiple dishes over a couple of hours that otherwise would take all day! Even a rice cooker can make a difference!
4. Split it up!
Who said you HAVE to cook everything at once? Sometimes, I’ll cook up my proteins or prep all of the vegetables on Saturday night. I may make lunches for the week once on Sunday and again on Wednesday if they have a short shelf life. I always make sure to plan, shop, and cook on separate days if I can. Some people do a big meal prep one day and a smaller one for the end of the week because they can! Even if you only prep your first two meals of the day, you know that you’ll spend less time in the kitchen the rest of the week. If you have someone to share the work with, it takes some pressure off of you as well. My husband will often make one or two things for the week (often salmon cakes or cover his own lunches). If you have a partner, roommate, or meal prepping friend to split the work with, it goes by much more quickly. They can even provide interesting recipes for you to try and split the bill!
5. Start small
If you pick a bunch of new, time consuming recipes when you’re still getting the hang of things, meal prep is going to take a long time, and you may end up discouraged. Your first time, try just prepping your lunches or breakfasts for the week, or start by just prepping veggies and protein. Practice making a meal plan with foods you know that you enjoy even if they aren’t made fresh that day, and don’t leave all of the planning, shopping, and cooking for one day. Be prepared for a few recipe fails and to spend a little more time meal prepping while you get used to multitasking!
Hopefully, this guide will make your next attempt at meal prepping go smoothly! Welcome to the club!