Everybody has that friend who claims to be a meal prep master. They’ll batch cook all weekend and fill the fridge with colorful containers brimming with pre-cooked food. Then there’s the obligatory posting of pictures with all of the wholesome meals they’ve made ahead. But do you ever wonder, “Where do they get the time?!” or, “…that had to have taken all weekend!”
If you’d like to make it through the week without worrying what’s for dinner (but you don’t have all weekend to do so), here are five time-saving tips to give your meal prep process a makeover.
1. Write it Down
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” If you want to succeed in making meals ahead of time, you need a plan—preferably in writing. If your kitchen prep steps start by opening a cabinet or sharpening a knife, switch it up and get in the habit of reaching for you notebook instead (or an app on your phone).
Map out ahead of time what your upcoming week looks like and exactly for which meals need prepping. Do you have plans to go out with a friend one night? Do you have a work lunch on the calendar? Chart on paper how many breakfast, lunch and dinner meals you will need for the upcoming week. And don’t forget to include snacks.
2. Set a Timer
A successful meal prep plan includes multiple steps, such as outlining the number of meals and snacks, researching the recipes, purchasing the ingredients and putting it all together in the kitchen. Even the best-designed meal prep plan can fall flat if you don’t allot adequate time to execute all of these actions.
Consider that most people use part of their weekend to meal prep for the upcoming week. You may not accomplish a whole week of meal prep if you don’t start until Sunday night. Set aside a chunk of time earlier in the weekend to select the recipes you want to prepare. Setting a time limit or timer for yourself to get this step finished can be incredibly helpful. Many a well-intentioned meal prepper has gone down the rabbit hole of online recipe research never to return to actually prepare those dishes.
3. Reuse Recipes
The easiest way to streamline meal prep is to reuse recipes or meal ideas that already work for you. If you’re trying to knock out dinner for the upcoming workweek, it may not be realistic to try five new recipes. Try limiting yourself to one or two new recipes and relying on old standbys that you know you like and will actually eat.
Keeping track of meal ideas can be tricky in an age where every recipe is readily available at our fingertips. Go old school and print the recipes you’ve tried, taking notes on what worked and ditching those that didn’t work. Save time by keeping your recipes in a folder organized by breakfast, side dishes, slow cooker mains, etc.
4. Call on Convenience Foods
Convenience foods can get a bad rap as being expensive or unnecessary. But there are some really innovative items at the grocery store that can save you time when you get back in the kitchen.
While you could peel and scoop and chop and roast a butternut squash, buying pre-cut bagged vegetables (such as butternut squash) can save you hours in the kitchen. Other shortcuts to check out in the produce section include tubes of fresh herbs and spices and pre-washed, chopped salad mixes and greens.
When it comes to the middle aisles, bottled marinades and sauces can be a meal prepper’s savior. Check out lower-sodium canned beans and spice packets that can make whipping up flavorful foods a snap.
5. Befriend Your Freezer
If you’re going to take the time to cook it once, you might as well make enough to eat it twice. Double your efforts by doubling your recipes and freeze the leftovers for future weeks. You can even pre-portion your larger batches into containers or baggies before popping your food in the freezer.
Put these time-saving tips to work and get your make-ahead meals made faster.
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