6 Tips for Simplifying Weekly Meal Prep
Getting into a weekly meal prep routine is a great way to have healthy meals on hand and ease the stress of deciding what to eat every day. The meal prep process can seem overwhelming and complicated, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are some tips to simplify the process while also adding variety to your meals at the same time.
1. Use multiple kitchen appliances so you don’t spend all day in the kitchen
Does the idea of meal prep intimidate you because you don’t want to spend your entire Sunday in the kitchen? Many of us have multiple kitchen gadgets that can all be used at the same time to prepare different items. This can be a huge time saver.
Here’s an example of what a meal prep session could look like using different kitchen appliances – preparing all of this can take less than an hour!
- In the oven: on one pan, bake chicken, sweet potato wedges and halved Brussel sprouts
- In the slow cooker: start a batch of lentil and veggie soup
- In the Instant Pot: pressure cook a large batch of quinoa
- In the air fryer: air fry some broccoli
2. Make sure your knives are sharp
It’s important to use sharp knives for meal prep for a couple of reasons. The most obvious one is because it will make dicing and chopping your foods easier and less time-consuming. Sharper knives are also safer, and they last longer because less force is needed while cutting and chopping.
Knives can be kept sharp by regularly honing and sharpening them. Honing re-aligns the small teeth along the edge of the knife and should be done after every 1-4 uses. Sharpening actually removes steel off of the knife and should be done a few times per year. You can find more information about honing and sharpening your knives from your specific knife manufacturer. Often, recommendations are listed on the manufacturer's website. Your local kitchen shop can also show you how to properly hone your knives; plus, they may also offer sharpening services.
3.Create a game plan for how you can make different meals out of a few items
Instead of worrying about cooking many different food items, shift your focus to how you can prepare fewer items and still have a variety of meals. Meal prepping and eating healthy does not mean you have to eat the same meal over and over again, even if you’ve only prepped a few items.
Make a list of the individual foods you like to cook and think about how they can be used in different dishes. Here are a few examples:
- Baked chicken breast can be used to make chicken salad, barbeque chicken, chicken tacos or fajitas, or added as a topping on a salad or a loaded baked potato.
- Chopped broccoli can be eaten raw as a snack with hummus, shredded as part of a veggie slaw, included in a soup, or roasted to have as a veggie side.
- Quinoa can be eaten as a side with a meal, sprinkled on top of a salad, used as a base for a grain bowl, added to soups and stews, or cooked as part of the filling in stuffed peppers.
Almost any protein, whole grain, or vegetable can be used to make a variety of meals!
4. Remember, it’s okay to use pre-prepared or frozen items
One of the most overwhelming things about meal prep is the idea that everything has to be prepared from scratch. This can lead to an “all-or-nothing” mentality where we skip meal prepping entirely because it seems so time-consuming.
If you have experienced this thought process, don’t be afraid to incorporate frozen and pre-prepared items to ease the stress of meal prepping a little bit. Sometimes purchasing these items can be more expensive than preparing them yourself, but they are usually still cheaper and healthier than going out to eat or picking up take-out.
Here are a few meal prep hacks using pre-prepared and frozen items:
- Instead of chopping all your vegetables, purchase some pre-chopped vegetables instead. They are ready to use as soon as you need them.
- Plain, frozen vegetables and vegetable mixes are other options to have on hand. Produce is flash-frozen shortly after it’s harvested and contains the same nutrients as fresh options.
- Stock your freezer with frozen garlic, ginger, and herb pods. These are typically crushed when they are fresh and then frozen into individual portions. They can be kept in your freezer for several months and are great to have on hand if you need a quick time-saver.
- Remember, meal prep does not have to be all or nothing. It’s okay to purchase part of your meal as a pre-prepared item, such as a crab cake or a stuffed chicken breast, and make all of the sides at home – or vice versa.
5. Repurpose your leftovers into new meals
A great way to further simplify meal prepping is to purposely cook a little extra food with the intention of tossing any leftovers into a meal towards the end of the week. Most leftover vegetables and proteins can be used as a filling in an egg white omelet, in a frittata, as part of a stir fry, or even as components in a grain or buddha bowl.
6. If you feel overwhelmed, then start small
The best way to create new habits is to try new things and create processes that work for you. If cooking and meal prepping are new to you, then give yourself permission to start with small steps.
This process will look different for everyone. Maybe the right first step for you is making one meal a week, like a hearty soup, that you can have on hand for lunch for a few days. Another great idea is to practice how to prepare an unfamiliar protein, like chicken, fish, or shrimp. Or maybe the most realistic option for you is purchasing a pre-prepared protein option while you learn how to roast vegetables in a way that tastes delicious to you!
Once you get the hang of a few small steps, it will be so much easier to add new things over time and build on what you’ve learned.