Meal Prep For Busy People
Easy Healthy Meal Prep is the ultimate guide with tips and tricks for prepping and serving healthy meals. Quick and efficient weekly meal prep is your secret weapon for speedy weeknight dinners. Discover time-saving meal prep ideas and delicious family dinner recipes.
For the people who hate to meal plan, prepping for the week seems like torture. Here is the big secret: for people who swear by meal planning…prepping for the week is still sucks.
But with some tips and tricks and a few life hacks, I’ll show you how to make it manageable and realistic.
Step 1: Make a Meal Plan
Yep, sorry. You have to decide what to eat in advance before you know what to prepare. Planning will not only help you save you time and money but also help fight decision fatigue often connected to meal planning
Everyone has different ideas on the best way to create a meal plan. I say that the best way is what works best for your family.
I go old school and take a piece of scratch paper, and write the days of the week down. I then circle the days that my husband is working, knowing that I will want easier meals that night, and grilling won’t be an option.
Sure, I could learn to grill, but I refuse. Where does that leave me then? Doing all the cooking! That’s where.
After that, I make note if any events are taking place during the week. I also check the weather for the week. Is there a day coming up that just screams “soup”? Which day might be too warm to use the oven? I don’t want to serve a casserole with a side of boob sweat.
If you’re new to meal planning, you’d be well-served to try out a pre-made planning service like Momables. Momables provides you with a weekly meal plan, prep list, and shopping list.
Step Two: Make a List and Use the Pantry & Freezer
Think through each menu item/recipe and check your pantry essentials to see what dry goods you already have on hand. Also, do a quick scan of your freezer essentials and then make a comprehensive shopping list with the missing items. I love these Plan, Prep, and Shop printables to help keep me organized and on track.
Since you are shopping smart and only getting what you need, maybe you could take advantage of your grocery store’s shopping services. Usually, for a small fee (or even no charge!), someone else shops for you and either delivers it to your house or brings it out to your car in the parking lot.
You could also look into a service like Instacart. Letting someone else do the shopping will give you more time for meal prep.
Step Three: Prep Once, Eat Twice…or Thrice
I like to think about what I want to serve that week. Is there a dish that uses diced veggies or needs meat/protein defrosted? Can you double up on that and make two dinners that need similar ingredients? Even better, learn How to Freeze Garlic and about Freezing Onions, and half the prep is done for you!
Maybe you want to make Whole30 Beef Stew one night. Well, you’re going to need to chop up carrots, onions, and potatoes. Perhaps you also cut up some extra carrots for Zesty Instant Pot Quinoa to use as a side dish for another night.
And while you’re at it, chop up a few more potatoes and onions and make yourself some Crispy Ranch Air Fryer Potatoes with Make-Ahead Scrambled Eggs one night and Instant Pot Potato Soup later in the week.
With your protein source, think about how you can use it in multiple ways. Perhaps you really want chicken tacos one night. Could you make a Paleo Roast Chicken (or buy a rotisserie chicken) on Sunday to eat Monday, and then save the rest of the meat for Buffalo Chicken Fries or Instant Pot Chicken and Dumplings on Tuesday?
And perhaps once you’ve eaten all the meat from that whole chicken, it could be added to the crockpot or Instant Pot with some veggies, water, and a bay leaf to make your own homemade bone broth. Let it cook and you’ll come home to free chicken stock to be used in Chicken Gnocchi Soup.
Identifying trends and ingredients can help you streamline your process and prep.
Step 4: Freezer Cooking
Spending an afternoon once every few months doing large batch freezer cooking can set you up with at least one ready to heat meal per week. You can gather all the recipes you want to make, or use a service like Once a Month Meals to do all the planning for you.
I will say that your very first freezer cooking event will be easier with comfy tennis shoes and a friend experienced in the process.
Step 5: Meal Prep Containers
Having easy to use storage for all your prepared food makes a huge difference. I recommend something that is glass or at least clear so that ingredients are easily identifiable. This post on Zero Waste Food Storage is chock full of meal prep storage ideas and safe food storage suggestions.
Step 6: Designate the Time
Sadly, food isn’t going to prep itself. The first few weeks you meal prep, it is likely going to take longer than you anticipate. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
You learn to streamline the processes, figure out time-saving tricks, and generally just get smarter as you gain experience.
If possible, do most of your prep the same day and time every week. That may be a Sunday afternoon, Tuesday evening, or whatever. Setting aside that time gives you consistency in your schedule and lets you know what to expect each week.
Step 7: Make it fun. No, really!
While meal prep may seem about as fun as a root canal, there are things you can do to make it more enjoyable. Less torturous? I find my prepping is
less awful more tolerable when I am blasting great music or chopping along to a good podcast.
Some weeks I make it a game. I’ll set a timer and see if I can get everything prepped and ready before it goes off. If you were the type of kid whose parents could get them to do things by saying “I’ll time you”, you’re my people.
Step 8: Redefine Dinner
One mistake I see many people new to meal prep and planning make is over-complicating what constitutes “dinner”. Many families have the idea in their heads that dinner has to have a protein, a vegetable, and a starch.
Making three separate dishes can be a time suck both in prep and cooking. Imagine what dinner could be when you let go of conventional ideas.
One of my favorite “ah-ha” moments came when I learned How to Roast Frozen Vegetables. My mind was officially blown and my meal prep game was changed forever.
Step 9: Get some toys
One of the things that make meal prep easier are kitchen appliances that speed things up for you. Chopping, blending, and cooking can be made faster with the right gear. Are any of these things necessary? Nope!
You only really need a knife, a cutting board, and some storage containers and you’ll be good to go. But having some fun kitchen tech can cut your time in the process.
My favorite kitchen gadgets:
- Food processor. It slices, it dices, and grates! But wait…there’s more! The disc insert for the food processor means that I can prep veggies for stir-fry, soups/stews, and side dishes in a matter of minutes. I have had mine for ten years, and it still works like brand new, despite multiple uses each week.
- Instant Pot. This machine is the fifth member of our family. It cuts the cooking time dramatically for some of our favorite dishes, and yet acts like a slow cooker in its ease of use. It also has a slow cooker setting and can be used like a crockpot with an add-on lid. The Instant Pot can cook unsoaked dried beans in under 45 minutes, and heat up frozen chicken in 20. It is a cook’s dream.
- Good knives. Sharp, solid knives that feel great in your hand are invaluable. Hit up a kitchen store to get a “hands-on” tryout to see what knives work best for you. Keep them sharp and safe to use. Our local grocery store sharpens knives for free once a week, and I love to take advantage of this service.
- Multiple cutting boards. Even though I clean as I go, having a few extra cutting boards that aren’t dirty or drying in the dishrack helps so much.
- Stand mixer. I have a Kitchen Aid, and I use it multiple times per week. It mixes up whole wheat pizza dough, homemade bread, desserts, and so much more.
Step 10: Use Affordable and Convenient Resources
There are some amazing companies out there that can help you find healthy resources at affordable prices. And most will deliver right to your front door!
Companies that I use and love myself are:
Thrive Market is an online marketplace on a mission to make healthy living easy and affordable for everyone. They offer the highest quality, healthy and sustainable products available for every budget, lifestyle, and geography. You can shop for thousands of the best-selling organic foods and natural products at 25-50% below traditional retail prices, all shipped right to your door. Click here to try Thrive Market for yourself
I’m blessed that we have a local butcher for buying organic meat, but we also have a monthly Butcher Box subscription. Butcher Box sources only organic and free-range meat for their customers and ships them to your home once a month.
The meat is super high-quality and we’ve always had an amazing selection sent each month. In addition to what they pick for you, you’re able to add specific cuts and types of meat to your box. Click here to try Butcher Box for yourself and get some amazing freebies.
Everyone knows Amazon and living in a small town, it’s so nice to have things show up at my house two days after I order them. Click here to see my favorites from Amazon and get exclusive deals.
Step 11: Eat a simple dinner on meal prep night
Whichever day you decide to do your meal prep, make sure the dinner that evening is something simple and easy. The last thing anyone wants to do after spending time chopping, measuring, and prepping, is to cook a whole other meal.
So go easy on yourself and serve breakfast for dinner, pasta, eggs, or even clean out the fridge to make space for all your new prepped food.
Easy healthy meal prep is not the best moment of my week, but it is so vital to making sure we have clean, healthy, and affordable meals day in and day out. And that is undeniably great.
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I have been doing more lunch prep for the week on Sunday so that I am not hitting up the fast food places at the university union. I like to make egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad; get raw veggies ready to take, make hummus; and make something sweet for that afternoon craving. However, next is dinner prep to make things easier when I get home from work.
I love those kinds of salads for filling lunches! Not sure if you like avocado, but I love chicken salad in a halved avocado. I typically eat both sides because I like to eat. 🙂
I always make two “big things” on Sunday. This is usually a gallon of soup and something else like lasagna or pot pie in a large casserole dish. We eat it until it’s gone and then it’s sandwich night or fend for yourself. It may be 98 and humid but potato leek soup is still on the menu because I like it!
Anyone who makes soup in the summer is my kind of person! I love the concept of two big things.
The Lazy Genius said on a podcast to ask yourself the magic question: what can I do now to help out future me? I am not great about prepping for the week but I can take time in the morning to chop veggies or whatever so when my kids are bonkers and my husbands not home yet and I’m trying to make dinner, there’s a few less steps I need to do then.
Also Once a Month Meals has been a game changer for me. Worth the hassle to spend two days cooking (and washing dishes one million times) to have easy dinners ready.
I love that! I am doing a lot of prep for fall blog stuff and I keep saying “October me is going to be so happy I stayed up that extra hour”.
I’ve always been so pleased when I do a big Once a Month meals prep cook. Their stuff is really well tested and it’s so nice to have things ready to go. But yeah, the dishes. 🙁
This is a great post! And really inspiring. I always meal plan but have just recently tried to pick things I can prep the night before. I don’t usually do any chopping ahead of time but it’s a great idea.
There’s a book called The Nimble Cook that is all about using scraps and making components of meals so that you can throw something together easily. I’m waiting to buy it.
If you have a food processor it really makes the chopping part soooo much easier! I can prep so much with that machine.
Ohhh, let me know what you think of the book. I might want to check it out from the library.
I love reading about your Meal Prep…. but I am more of a “Chopped Chef” myself. Which means that I hardly ever make the same dish twice. Its always a general idea and then I improvise. I just shop for the freshest, most inspiring ingredients and usually try to buy less then what we think we need, then I fill up with things from the pantry and if we really run out of food there is always the well stocked freezer.
I love your ideas on redefining “dinner”. Sometimes a very satisfing dinner for me is fresh baked bread (by me or the good bakery) with ricotta and a salad (or even nuts and fruit) or scrambelled eggs with spinach and a side of grains. …. or any other things that sound simple and tasty.
Today we are having crepes, some with cheese and parsley and some with blackberry jam.
I am down for whatever works, and I love the idea of a chopped chef! Your dinners sound delicious.
I wonder if you might be willing to someday do a post on some of the different ways you use your food processor? Particularly, types of chopping/slicing/dicing/etc. that you rely on it for, with photos. And maybe a couple of ideas for recipes where it benefits you to have use of the food processor? My problem is that I got a food processor a few years ago but still have yet to use it! Wondering where to start, I guess . . .
I would love to!
We don’t meal prep much in the dinner department, but we do try to prep lunches for the whole week if we can. Sunday afternoon is usually dedicated to cooking some sort of chicken for the next couple of days. It’s incredibly boring and annoyingly time consuming :-/ but anything that helps keep us from buying lunches during the week is a good thing! The extent of my meal planning for dinner is to make a schedule of what I plan to make that week and then make sure I buy those ingredients over the weekend.