Between pulling extra hours at the office, taking care of your family, and running life’s endless errands, it can feel impossible to find the time to cook nourishing food during the week. You end up reaching for whatever’s easiest (a frozen dinner? a slice of pizza?) and feeling less than your best only to repeat the whole ordeal a day or two later.
But there’s a brilliant way to break the cycle: meal prep. Spend just a few hours in the kitchen, and you end up with a week’s worth of healthy meals in your fridge—saving you time, money, and your nerves in the long run.
Here’s how to get started.
Grab your grocery bags.
Stocking your pantry with essential ingredients will cut down on grocery runs and give you the foundation for a successful meal prep. Start with high-quality, healthy oil (like extra virgin olive oil), your favorite spices, and red wine or balsamic vinegar, as nearly every recipe calls for those ingredients.
Whole grains make a nutritious, filling base for meats and vegetables, and they’re really easy to whip up. Pick up some wild rice, quinoa, bulgur, or oats to have on hand.
Tip: You can reduce your costs by shopping in the bulk section of the grocery store.
Finally, your weekly shopping trips will include fresh items. For protein, stick to lean meats that are on sale, or go vegetarian with beans and tofu. And don’t forget to grab some vegetables. While fresh, seasonal options are ideal, frozen veggies will work in a pinch.
Fill your culinary toolbox.
You don’t need a commercial kitchen to cook up a bunch of delicious meals, but investing in some durable utensils will help you achieve meal prep success. We’re betting you already have the basics, like pots and pans, measuring cups, spatulas, and serving spoons. Here are some other things you may find useful for meal prep:
- Microwave-safe containers with separate compartments
- A really sharp chef’s knife
- Stain-resistant cutting board with grips
- An Instant Pot
- A high-end food processor
Don’t stress if you’re missing one or more of these items—you can pick them up over time as you figure out what recipes and cooking techniques work best for you.
The Main Ingredients for Success
Even if you have cupboards brimming with stuff to make and all best cooking tools, you’ll need one more ingredient to master meal prep: organization.
Before you do your weekly shopping, spend and hour figuring out what recipes you want to try and getting clear about all the ingredients you’ll need. A list will keep you on track and in the zone at the grocery store.
Meal prep has a lot of components—you may find yourself chopping vegetables in between cooking chicken and boiling rice. Keeping a tidy, organized kitchen will help you multitask with ease. Dedicate spaces within your kitchen to specific tasks, such as a prep station and a wash area. We also recommend keeping a cutting board on the counter (so it’s always accessible).
We’ve got some more tips on organization (and how much easier it makes meal prep!) in this video.
Finally, ensure your dry ingredients properly labeled, stored, and sorted by type—that way you’ll know exactly where things are and when you need to restock.
You’re about to get hungry.
Collecting a list of mouthwatering recipes will inspire you to meal prep week in and week out without the routine ever getting old. Since each meal should consist of a protein, a grain, and at least one side, bookmarking recipes you see on social media or your favorite food sites is a good start.
Focus on healthy options that pack a punch of flavor and incorporate a variety of textures. Big-batch pastas, freezable burritos, roasted veggies, and slow-cooked meats are easy to whip up, and they’ll taste delicious all week. Here are a few of our favorite make-ahead meals:
Variety is the spice of life.
The biggest obstacle most people face with meal prep isn’t making all the food; it’s trying not to get tired of eating the same thing for the third, fourth, or fifth day in a row. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to stave off boredom.
When you pack up the meals, alternate which veggies and grains you serve each day. You can also switch up the flavors for every meal—try using Italian seasonings early in the week and Mexican spices later in the week.
Finally, don’t be shy with the condiments. Mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, hot sauce, and other add-ons can breathe new life into your meals. Experiment to find, make, pack, and enjoy whatever works best for you!
We’ve got some other tips on meal prep here.