Meal prep can sound daunting. It conjures mental images of cooking mountains of food and sorting through stacks of Tupperware.
Besides, setting aside an entire afternoon? To make food? No, thank you. Well, that’s actually not necessary.
In reality, meal prep doesn’t have to be that way. Preparing your meals for the week can be a short, straightforward, streamlined process.
With the help of registered dietitian Ilana Muhlstein, M.S., R.D., co-creator of the 2B Mindset™, we compiled time-saving steps that make meal prep easier.
Keep a backlog of recipes.
Whether this is a handwritten list, screenshots on your phone, or a Pinterest board, keeping track of healthy, delicious recipes simplifies future planning.
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Ideally, you’ll want to collect all the recipes in one place, making them easy to navigate. When it comes time to sit down and plan out your meals, you’ll have preselected recipes to choose from.
There’s no time wasted navigating the internet for a week of food you’ll enjoy and be able to make. If you’re not someone who finds recipes here and there, consider setting aside a few minutes every other morning to browse while you make coffee or eat breakfast.
If you have more time, search some food blogs or flip open a cookbook to find meal inspiration. When prep day rolls around, you’ll be one step ahead.
Map out your meals.
You have your week of workouts planned out—now it’s time to plan your meals. More planning steps may sound counterproductive (we’re trying to save time, after all), but hear us out.
Taking a few minutes to figure out what the week ahead looks like is crucial to successful meal planning. You’ll find out exactly how many meals you need to prepare, where you’ll be, and what works best for each situation.
Moreover, it’s your chance to consider how you’re spending your time throughout the week. Things to ask yourself include: When will I be working? When will I go to the gym? Do I have any plans where I’ll be eating out?
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These questions help you account for how many meals you need to prep, and you won’t purchase excess food that eventually goes to waste. This step also highlights important details to remember in the prepping phase.
For example, if you’ll be at work during lunch all week, plan portable meals that you can bring into the office. Take advantage of a day with some free time (likely over the weekend), pull out your calendar and recipes, and plan accordingly.
Write out a specific grocery list.
Once you choose the meals, create a shopping list. Don’t be afraid to get detailed—this will make things easier for you when it comes to shopping and cooking. A list of specific items ensures you go into the grocery store with a plan (goodbye, mindlessly walking the aisles!).
Try writing—or typing—your list in order of where you’ll find things in the grocery store: produce, meat, dairy, frozen, and so on. With this in mind, your next trip is sure to be fast and efficient.
If you’re feeling extra-organized, keep an ongoing list of staple ingredients. When you’re running out of something you cook with often (such as oils or rice), add it to the list and pick it up next time you shop.
Invest in kitchen gadgets.
Let’s face it—some tools will do things faster than we ever will. Kitchen appliances apply here. We’re talking about time-saving must-haves that prepare food or perform cooking steps while you do other things.
Gadgets to look into: food processor (chops, dices, and blends), slow cooker (cooks and simmers), hand blender (purees), and mandoline (slices, dices, and cuts).
Muhlstein was quick to mention her favorite meal prep tool—a hard-boiled egg maker (this one has the best reviews). “They are available at major retailers like Amazon for less than $20 and make the perfect hard-boiled eggs!” she says.
“You literally just place the eggs in, add the amount of water it suggests, press a button, and that’s it! No more having to watch and wait to boil them stovetop and risk them coming out wrong. Hard-boiled eggs can last a few days in your refrigerator and make for a perfect protein source for your meals and snacks.”
Appliances such as this save you time on two fronts: the time it takes to manually perform these steps and the time it takes to remake the food if you happen to mess up. Basically, there’s no room for error.
Take this as an opportunity to multitask. While your hard-boiled egg maker is boiling eggs for your breakfasts, pull out your hand blender and start making soup for your lunches or dinners.
Play around with the tools enough, and you’ll fall into a natural rhythm. Just remember to keep your space organized, so you instantly know where to reach for everything.
Purchase the right containers.
This may seem trivial, but the right containers can be a godsend and really make meal prep easier. Being the right size, having enough sections, and being freezable and reheatable are paramount.
Take your portion sizes and types of foods you’ll make into account. On that note, consider buying containers that come in a set. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending five minutes digging around for the right lid to that one bento box.
One more quick tip: Use clear containers that showcase your colorful, good-looking meals, so you’ll see them and look forward to them all week.
Use frozen foods.
“Frozen is your friend!” Muhlstein notes. “Frozen veggies are not only cheaper and just as nutritious, they are also usually prepped for you. They’ve already been washed and cut. In the case of firmer vegetables like broccoli and carrots, they’ve usually also been pre-blanched, which shortens cooking time. Some brands even make packs that can be microwave-steamed in the bag, making prep time a cinch! This simplifies cleanup as well.”
Whether you’re sorting cut vegetables into containers during prep or cooking them on the spot, prepackaged is your friend (cue the collective gasp).
“My favorite frozen veggie shortcut is cauliflower rice,” Muhlstein says. “I used to buy heads of cauliflower, then wash, cut, and prepare the ‘rice’ myself in a food processor. Buying it frozen has made meal prep so much easier for me! I now always have frozen bags of cauliflower rice in my freezer and whip up meals like cauliflower rice risotto, cauliflower fried rice, and more recipes you can find on 2B Mindset.” Purchasing frozen items prepared in this way is a major time saver.
Play with condiments.
To make meal prep easier and prevent midweek boredom, be prepared with an array of condiments and spices. “All-natural bottled condiments, dressings, and marinades are great,” Muhlstein says.
“There are so many brands that offer delicious sauces and dips made from more wholesome ingredients that you can find in large grocers and health food stores.” Not having to make condiments yourself can cut your cooking time in half.
Having a range of flavorings on hand also ensures you never get bored with your prepped meals. “This way, if you prepped chicken, quinoa, and mixed vegetables for the week, you can still make every night taste and feel different,” Muhlstein says.
“For example, one night you could accessorize your meal with teriyaki sauce and toasted sesame seeds for an Asian style. The next night, you can add pico de gallo and sliced avocado for a Southwestern flair.”
Enjoy your newfound freedom.
Sure, meal prep is largely about sticking to healthy meals and fueling your body. But at the same time, it’s about feeling free. After planning and preparing all your meals for the week, you’re left with more free time and less decision making.
You don’t need to think about what you’ll make for dinner when you get home because it’s already been decided (not to mention, made). You have every meal you need to be taken care of, when and where you need it.
If you find that meal prep is still impeding on your weekends or free time, implement a timer. Set it for an hour or two, and do as much prep as you can. Once the timer goes off, stop and enjoy the rest of your day.