How often do you find yourself in the drive-thru or ordering a pizza after a hectic day? If it’s less occasional and more of a weekly (or daily) routine, consider meal prepping! Having a fridge filled with healthy, ready-to-eat dishes or pre-cooked ingredients you can quickly throw together can save you time and money, all while keeping your family well fed. Having pre-prepared meals on hand can also help you control portion size and keep your dietary goals on track. It’s a great way to avoid unhealthy TV dinners or takeout, especially when you’re overwhelmed or exhausted.
What Is Meal Prepping?
When you meal prep, you take a few hours every weekend (or whenever you have a day off) to create pre-cooked dishes like soups or stews or to prep ready-to-cook components of healthy, delicious meals. One of the best things about meal prepping is that it’s flexible. You can customize it to include your family favorites or tailor it for specific food preferences. This is your meal prep. Tweak it to make it work for you.
7 Steps to Meal Prep Magic
- Plan your meals. Write out the meals you want to prepare and a grocery list of the ingredients you’ll need. Decide which meals you’ll pre-cook and what meal components you can make ahead of time.
- Start by shopping your pantry and freezer first. Then fill in any missing ingredients with a trip to the grocery store.
- Get ready to cook. Time to dust off your slow cooker, blender, mandolin, or any other appliance that will simplify your meal prep. Also, make sure you have your food containers ready. It’s also smart to have some labels or masking tape and a Sharpie on hand.
- Prep your protein. Having some pre-cooked chicken or ground meat stashed in the fridge is key for successful meal prep. Depending on the size of your family, roast at least two chickens. Eat one for dinner and cut up or shred the other for meals later in the week. It’s also smart to fry up a pound or two of ground meat (beef, bison, chicken, lamb, pork, or turkey). Having a stash of ground meat in the fridge can slash the weekday prep time when making casseroles, stuffed peppers, or tacos.
- Chop your veggies. Having a stash of clean, pre-cut vegetables can save time and your sanity after a long day. These colorful nutrient bombs can easily be added into casseroles, scrambled eggs, skillet dishes, soups, and stews. Want to save even more time? Partially steam hearty vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, green beans, kale, or summer squash. Once done, they are ready to be transformed into fast and easy meals. You can also arrange the veggies on a platter with a small bowl of ranch or garlicky mayo for dipping to create a fresh, nutritious snack.
- Set up a salad bar. Cut up your favorite salad ingredients and store them in glass containers for a DIY salad bar right in your fridge. Options can include arugula, romaine, spinach, beets, bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, red onions, and snow peas. Store each ingredient in its own container for quick assembly whenever hunger strikes.
- Soups, stews, and sauces. Soups and stews are a great way to use up leftover meats and veggies. Plus you can portion out the food into individual or family-sized meals which can be frozen until needed. Making your own sauces—think chimichurri, marinara, pesto, salsa, or tzatziki—and salad dressings is also a smart way to save money while avoiding unhealthy oils and additives often found in commercial varieties.
You can find a wealth of ideas and recipes by combing through your favorite cookbooks or with a quick search on Pinterest. Meanwhile, here are a couple of meal prep recipes to get you started!
Basic Roast Chicken
Having a stash of cooked chicken in the fridge is an easy way to ensure you’ve got the perfect base for an array of recipes whenever anyone asks what’s for dinner.
- 2 3½ pound chickens
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garlic cloves, herbs, and/or lemon slices (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 400° F. Rub each chicken with the oil. Sprinkle the chickens inside and out with the salt and pepper and fold the wings under each bird. If desired, place the garlic, herbs, and/or lemon inside the cavity. Tie the legs together with twine. Place the chickens on a rack in a roasting pan.
- Roast for one hour or until the thigh meat registers 165° on an instant-read thermometer. Baste every 15 minutes with the pan juices.
- When the chicken is cooked, remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes. Serve one of the chickens and, once cool, cut the other into pieces or shred for use later in the week.
Veggie Bin Soup
This versatile soup is a great way to use up the leftovers in your vegetable bin. Make it a meal by adding the pre-cooked protein of your choice.
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil or ghee
- 1 cup chopped onions or sliced leeks (white part only)
- 2-3 cups asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, green peas, mushrooms, spinach, or zucchini
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 can full-fat coconut milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Herbs of choice
- Heat the oil or ghee in a large saucepan. Add the onions or leeks and sauté until soft and translucent.
- Stir in the vegetables.
- Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through.
- Add the coconut milk and continue to simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
- Using a blender or a stick blender, process the soup until smooth.
- Just before serving, add the salt and pepper to taste. If desired, stir in a handful of fresh herbs like chives, parsley, tarragon, or thyme.
Create Your Own Adventure Vinaigrette
Salad dressings are a great way to express your creativity. Just remember these basic ratios:
- 3 parts extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
- 1 part vinegar of choice (you can sub the vinegar with lemon juice)
- Freshly ground pepper
- A teaspoon of dried herbs and/or spices
Combine the ingredients in a glass bottle. Cap and refrigerate for up to a week. Shake well before using.