Just as there are things that you should always keep in your car in case of an emergency, to make meal prep easier, the same applies to your kitchen. Depending on what recipe you’re whipping up for the week, chances are that you’ll need to load up on fresh groceries. But, there are certain meal prep ingredients that will save you on days when you’re low on supplies, or can’t make it to the store, preventing you from falling into a common meal prepping mistake of having nothing to cook—the worst.
“We all have busy lives that can get the best of us,” says Brooke Enchin, a holistic nutritionist and trainer at All Day Fit. “Meal prepping…ensures that we are getting all of our daily nutrients, and helps keep us on track to hit our goals. When we’re eating out, we don’t have control of the source or quality of ingredients.”
So, what should you keep stocked in your kitchen to ensure that you’re sticking with your health goals, and to keep you from ordering takeout one too many nights in a row? Here’s what two health experts have to say.
Grains are a must. They’re easy to store in your cupboard and long-lasting. Plus, grains like quinoa, buckwheat, or brown rice make for a great bowl base or side dish. “Having [whole grains] on hand is a great way to bulk up your meals and get essential nutrients like B-vitamins, protein, and fiber,” says Enchin.
Kim Arrey, a Quebec-based registered dietitian, says that whole grain pasta is a great option, too. It’s quick and easy to make. You can add veggies and a protein for a balanced meal in ten to 15 minutes.
A bag of frozen vegetables can be a lifesaver when you don’t have time to grab fresh produce—especially since it’s important to get your daily intake of greens. Arrey suggests keeping a variety of veggies in your freezer. This can include cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peas, or corn. Having frozen veggies is also a great way to make sure that fresh produce doesn’t go to waste. You can exercise better portion control and only cook what you need.
Frozen vegetables are ideal for last-minute meals, too, says Enchin. “I like to keep a bag of frozen broccoli or edamame to quickly steam up when I’ve run out of fresh produce and need some greens on my plate,” she says.
Beans are nutrient-dense and filled with protein. They’re perfect for adding to salads, curries, or mixing into a grain-based bowl. If you want to get really crafty in the kitchen, you can also make bean veggie burgers out of chickpeas or black beans. “I have chickpeas, six-bean mix, kidney beans, and white kidney beans. That way, if you want to make a mixed bean salad that becomes supper with some lettuce, that can be done really quickly,” she says. “By the same token, if you want to take kidney beans and chickpeas and a few vegetables and make a pasta, that’s also a quick meal. You have that variety [with beans].”
Eggs are great for many reasons. They can quickly be turned into an omelet, poached for toast, or hard boiled. When it comes to meal prepping, hard-boiled eggs make a great protein for salads or bowls. They can even be used in pasta dishes. Plus, boiling a batch of eggs at once is time efficient. (Eggs are also key for these easy 3-ingredient breakfast recipes.) “I keep a bowl of hard boiled eggs in my fridge at all times for quick snacks or [an] on-the-go breakfast,” says Enchin.
Different Soup Bases
Chicken broth isn’t just useful for when you’re sick in the winter. It’s a great ingredient to have in your kitchen all year long. Arrey suggests keeping either canned or boxed broth in your pantry. Or make a batch of your own homemade broth and freeze it in ice cube trays. That way, you don’t have to defrost an entire container when you just need a bowl. “I have vegetable broth, chicken broth, and beef broth so that I can either make a quick soup or have a glass of broth,” she says. Broth is also super handy for many recipes, and chicken broth can be used for cooking quinoa.
Keep these meal prep ingredients in your refrigerator or pantry to whip up quick, easy, and healthy meals on a whim or when the grocery store is out of the question.