From your watch to your wallet to your waistline, the act of weekly meal prepping has an incredible ability to slim. When you meal prep, you get all the hard stuff out of the way upfront so you can skate through the busy week ahead without barraging yourself with extra tasks or setting yourself up to experience decision-making fatigue. At the same time, meal prepping helps you tailor your diet to the needs of you and your family, whether you’re creating a low-fat menu or an IBS diet plan that goes easy on the gut.
But though it’s meant to help save you time and effort, meal planning can take a ton of time itself. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to speed up the process:
- Use Grocery Delivery or Pick-Up Services—Did you know that many modern grocery stores allow you to shop from the comfort of your own home? Simply fill your online cart with all the ingredients you need and choose either pick-up or delivery. This saves you time associated with waiting in line at checkout and mulling over all the choices. You may also consider using a meal delivery service or food box that does a lot of the prep for you. These days, you’ll find options for low-fat, low-carb, gluten-free and low-FODMAP meal plan delivery to suit any dietary need.
- Choose Freezer-Friendly Meals—Freezer-friendly meals are those that you can make and throw in the freezer for several weeks so you can reach for them when you don’t have time to cook or meal prep for the week. The best freezer meals are not only the ones that involve minimal prep, but those that also thaw and reheat well—casseroles, soups, pasta sauces and baked pastas tend to do very well in the freezer.
- Get a Slow Cooker or Instant Pot—If you’re all about the freezer-friendly meals, soups and chilis, the slow cooker is an amazing option because it can help you multi-task with ease while you prep other things. For example, you can fill it with your favorite zero-prep soup or chili recipe while you chop veggies for a salad or cook protein in the oven. Make sure to invest in one of the larger sizes—a 5- or 6-quart option is ideal—so you can make enough for multiple meals.
- Stock Up on Shelf-Stable Ingredients—There’s no need to waste time and buy dry ingredients at the grocery store each week. Every few months, go through the pantry and top off your stock of dried goods, including rice, pasta, quinoa, spices, beans, flour, etc. This ensures that you always have certain staples around, making grocery planning and shopping easier than ever. Pro tip: Buy bulk rice, spices and other dried goods at Asian grocery stores, as they tend to offer more variety and be cheaper.
- Keep a Meal-Planning Diary and Log—You learn something new every time you cook, but it’s so easy to forget what you learned when you don’t write it down! Make sure to keep a log of everything you cook each week. This way, you’ll avoid too many repeats and also be able to look back for ideas and information to help you improve recipes. Write down any tweaks you made to the recipe to make it work better, including different ingredient amounts or cook times.
- Be Sure to Multitask—Look for recipes that allow you to multitask. For example, quickly chopping up some veggies to roast or cooking a pot of rice leaves you with ample idle time to do other things, such as prepare a salad, make a sauce or cook meat. Always scan the entirety of the recipe before beginning to try and see what needs to marinate or cook for a long period of time so you can do other things simultaneously.
- Save Healthy Recipes as You Browse—Most of us do this automatically, but if you don’t, it’s a great way to save time during the research process. As you idly scroll through Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, etc., be sure to save any and all healthy recipes that catch your eye. This way, you can go back through when you’re strategizing for the week and have a goldmine of options from which to choose. Make sure to follow the right hashtags and groups online so your feeds show you recipe options.
- Try Your Best to Keep the Kitchen Organized—The last thing you want to do when skating through meal prep is to have to dig through your cabinets to find that one little gizmo or the lids to your meal prep containers. Speaking of meal prep containers…why do they always get so disorganized? A lid organizer is a life-saver and can drastically help you keep your Tupperware cupboard neat. We also recommend using the KonMari (Marie Kondo) method of kitchen organization to help keep things tidy.
- Consider Using Frozen Veggies Occasionally—Though they’re a great time-saver, you shouldn’t use frozen veggies all the time because they’re not always as nutritious and they can come out soggy, mushy and flavorless. However, there are some situations where frozen can do the trick just as well as fresh, such as when you’re making stir-fries, frittatas and soups. Tossing in frozen broccoli, peas and corn can help add more nutrients to certain dishes with minimal effort.
- Try One-Pan Meals—One-pan meals are those that require just a single pan, minimizing your need to wash dishes and saving you lots of cleanup time. Sheet-pan dinners are extra-convenient because you can line your sheet pan with aluminum foil to make cleanup even quicker! Toss some freshly chopped veggies, seasoned chicken or fish on a foil-lined pan for a flavorful and fast pre-prepped meal.
So there you have it! Just because meal prepping is meant to save you time and effort throughout the week doesn’t mean it has to suck up a ton of time upfront. Follow these great time-saving meal prep tips so you speed through prep and enjoy life to its fullest.