How to Meal Prep: Time-Saving Tips for Busy Cooks
Let me show you how to meal prep like a pro to save time on busy weeknights, eat healthy home-cooked meals every day (NOT the same meal!) and enjoy more family time!
With this method, you can get majority of your weeknight cooking done in as little as 2 hours! And all you need to do is mix and match the ingredients to build delicious new meals in less than 30 minutes (most of which is hands-off time!)
WHAT IS MEAL PREPPING?
My idea of meal prepping is quite different from conventional meal prep.
Instead of making one big meal in one day and dividing it into small containers to eat all week long, I simply prepare individual ingredients, so they’re all ready for me to put together into quick and easy dinners.
Sometimes, it means chopping up vegetables, and other times it can be cooking them in advance.
And today, I’m going to share with you my method of meal prepping with a sample menu from our real life!
Benefits of this meal prep method:
- It doesn’t take all day. Only about 2 hours a week!
- Save time on cleaning and chopping!
- Enjoy variety of meals every day. -> More nutrition!
HOW TO MEAL PREP
You can watch my meal prep video where I show you all the steps below and share my tips and tricks along the way.
- TIP: You don’t have to commit full 2 hours for meal prep. If you’re like me with 2 little kids around, you can totally break it down into smaller tasks here and there.
Step 1. WRITE A MENU
The first is to come up with your weekly menu.
Knowing what you’ll be making every day of the week eliminates the stress and decision-making fatigue, keeping you motivated to cook that delicious and healthy meal for your family. So make this a priority!
Have picky eaters in the family? Get them involved in menu planning!
- TIP: When planning the menu, focus on 3 main components: protein, vegetables and starches. And try to have a variety of proteins, vegetables and starches.
OUR SAMPLE MENU:
- Monday: Rice & veggie bowl (brown rice + oven roasted vegetables with leftover roast chicken breast)
- Tuesday: Baked Salmon with Zucchini and Asparagus
- Wednesday: Instant Pot Mushroom Risotto
- Thursday: Fridge clean-out stir fry with Chinese stir-fry sauce
- Friday: Philly Cheesesteaks
Step 2. MAKE A TO-DO LIST
Identify the things that can be made in advance, or take the longest time to cook.
So here’s OUR TO-DO LIST based on our menu above:
- Roast chicken (or chicken breast, or get a rotisserie chicken)
- Cook brown rice
- Roast vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots
- Chop zucchini and asparagus
- Saute mushrooms
- Make a stir fry sauce
Step 3. WASH, CHOP AND COOK-AHEAD
Action time! This’s easier said than done, I know.
Take the time to chop up all the vegetables in advance. That way, when dinner times rolls around, all you have to do is mix and match the ingredients to cook a delicious meal! This’s the biggest time-saver!
But if you really don’t have time for this, buying pre-cut vegetables are way to go (you may pay extra for convenience though).
THE BEST FOOD TO MEAL PREP:
When I’m planning our weekly menu, I focus on the following 3 categories:
- Protein: roast chicken, cooked chicken breast, Instant Pot pot roast, or Instant Pot pulled pork are protein options that take the longest time to cook.
- Starches: Instant Pot brown rice and hulled barley are starches that require long cooking time and ideal for meal prepping. But cooked white rice and quinoa are also great for cooking ahead.
- Vegetables: Pretty much any vegetable can be chopped in advance. And oven roasted vegetables are great for making ahead and a huge time-saver!
TIP #1: Fresh meat is good for only 2 days or so. Therefore, it’s best to prepare them a day in advance.
TIP #2: Seafood, like salmon, shrimp, or scallops, are super quick to cook, so I don’t really worry about those. Having those items on the menu simply reminds me to pull them out of the freezer and thaw them overnight.
HOW TO STORE CHOPPED VEGETABLES:
- To store chopped carrots and celery, place them in a container and fill with water. Refrigerate for up to 5 days, changing the water every other day.
- Store chopped zucchini, asparagus, bell peppers, cabbage in an airtight container lined with a paper towel for up to 3 days.
- Store chopped butternut squash, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
CAN I FREEZE CHOPPED RAW VEGETABLES?
Yes, absolutely. The following vegetables are perfect for freezing:
To freeze, simply slice/chop/julienne vegetables and place in freezer bags and freeze.
HOW TO STORE FRESH HERBS:
Fresh parsley and cilantro:
- Sort through the bunch to pick out the good ones, gather them in your hand, aligning the bottom leaves in the same level.
- Then trim off the stems.
- Place it in a jar with a little bit of water. (TIP: Don’t fill the jar with too much water, because you don’t want the leaves submerge in water, or they’ll go bad.)
- Cover the whole thing with a plastic bag to create a nice humid environment to keep the herbs fresh longer and refrigerate. (Fridge has a very dry air, and that’s why covering the helps to prevent them from drying out.)
BEST FOOD STORAGE CONTAINERS:
I’ve used many different food storage containers, and here’re my favorites:
- Prep Naturals glass containers – These are my favorite meal prep containers. Perfect size and great quality!
- Pyrex Smart Essentials mixing bowls set – These different size bowls with lids are super versatile.
- Zip Top Reusable Silicone containers – These are so light and convenient! LOVE them!