Whether you’re an athlete cooking for yourself or a parent cooking for a family of 5, these tips will reduce the amount of time spent in the kitchen and, if done correctly, will provide healthy meals and snacks to choose from all week long.
1. Have a plan.
Writing out a plan for your meals is one of the most important aspects healthy eating. It not only lays out your menu of meals but it also helps make grocery shopping much easier, cost-effective and more efficient. Knowing what meals you’re making ahead of time can cut down on unnecessary spending, impulse buys, or having to return to the store for a couple of items.
Your plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as writing a dinner theme for each day of the week (Pasta Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Stirfry Wednesdays, etc.). It also gives you a chance to look at your calendar and identify the days you have time to cook and which days you’ll want to rely on easy meals or leftovers. I have a magnetic dry erase board stuck to my fridge (right next to our monthly calendar) which serves as our menu of dinners for the week.
If you have a specific goal in mind and want to create a more structured plan, I would highly recommend the Real Plans app. This is the platform that I use to create custom meal plans for clients and I can’t say enough good things about it! There are so many healthy recipes to choose from which you can filter by dietary needs.
2. Take inventory of what you have.
While you’re creating your plan for the week and before you head to the grocery store, check the fridge, freezer and pantry for items that you already have. We have found that Costco has the best selection of meat for the best prices but that means we use half and freeze the rest for another time. I’ve also been known to take full advantage when organic and grass-fed meat is on sale – which also goes into the freezer. I also like checking the fridge to see what vegetables need to be used up because they are on the verge of going bad – and those vegetables will be used in meals at the beginning of the week.
This is also a good time to make sure you’re stocked up on staples like cooking oil, spices, and dry goods. Cauliflower rice and pasta made with hearts of palm are staples in our kitchen because they are super easy and we use them in endless ways. I often buy pantry items from Thrive Market so taking inventory also lets me know if I need to add them to my next order.
3. Start out slow.
If you’re new to meal prepping, I would recommend starting out by preparing 2 or 3 meals at a time and with as few ingredients as possible. The last thing you want is to get overwhelmed or to underestimate the amount of time it takes to cook meals. It will also give you an opportunity to refine your process for planning, shopping, prepping and cooking before going ham on cooking meals for the whole week. Another piece of advice I have is to start by cooking the meal that takes the longest at the beginning of your designated meal prep day. That way you can be chopping veggies for another recipe while one is in the oven.
4. Get organized.
The more organized your kitchen, pantry and fridge are at the beginning, the easier meal prep will be. When I meal prep several meals at the same time and often will use different appliances at the same time (Instant Pot and Oven and Air Fryer). In my small kitchen things can get pretty chaotic real quick so I like to start with a clean and organized kitchen. I will clean all of the clutter off the counters, wash any dishes in the sink, empty the dishwasher and give the fridge a quick clean. I’ll get rid of any old or spoiled food to make sure there’s enough space for storage containers.
5. Choose containers wisely.
Glass containers are superior to plastic ones because they are eco-friendly, and microwave safe. Many of them, like these ones, are also freezer, oven and dishwasher safe. Opt for ones with snap on lids that are air tight so your food will stay fresher longer. I would also recommend pre-portioning meals instead of putting them all in one container. That way you know exactly how many meals you’re preparing and it’s also easier to just remove from the fridge and throw in the microwave. I’m also a huge fan of these silicone reusable storage bags – especially for snacks and meals that I’m going to freeze because they take up less space than glass containers.
6. Slice and chop ASAP.
If you find yourself buying a lot of produce only to have it go to waste because you don’t use it before it goes bad, try slicing and chopping your fruits and veggies as soon as you bring them home from the store. This makes you more likely to eat them as snacks and makes it a lot easier to grab and throw in a recipe when you’re ready to cook.
7. Batch cook meals that you know you like.
I am a big salmon fan but whether it’s raw or cooked, for whatever reason I do not like eating it as leftovers so it’s never part of the meals that I cook in bulk. If you’re preparing one recipe that you plan on eating every day for dinner for a week, then it better be something that you enjoy. Batch cooking is probably not the time to be adventurous and experiment with a new recipe you found on the internet. If you don’t like it you’re stuck with suffering through the rest of the week or if it’s really bad, you abandon it altogether. Avoid wasting food or meal burnout by only batch cooking recipes that you know for sure are a hit.
8. Don't lose sight of your goals.
When choosing recipes and ingredients, make sure that the foods you choose are still in alignment with your goals week after week. Don’t derail your progress because you haven’t made a plan that aligns with what you’re working toward, you have a craving for a certain meal or because something at the store was on sale.
9. Have a list of your go-to meals
When you make a recipe that you enjoy enough to have multiple days in a row, save it somewhere so that you can batch cook it. Even if you don’t want to eat it multiple days in a row you can always freeze a few portions and eat them next week. I’d also make a list of your “go-to” meals that you could cook in your sleep, and when you cook them make extras to have either for lunch the next day or freeze them for days you don’t have time to cook.
10. Cut corners when it's necessary
Cooking healthy meals doesn’t mean you have to slave all day in the kitchen and make everything from scratch. While this is certainly the best way to ensure you’re getting the highest quality food, it’s not always practical. Don’t be afraid to choose convenience over spending time chopping or preparing ingredients. One of my favorite meals is spaghetti made from hearts of palm with frozen meatballs from Trader Joes (cooked in our air fryer) and Thrive Market Marinara sauce.
We are also big fans of buying a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and eating that for a few meals. Don’t be afraid to buy pre-made sauces, marinades or condiments made with high-quality ingredients. You can also spend a little extra money and buy pre-cut veggies. They may be more expensive but they are saving you from taking the time to wash, peel and chop. If you’re making multiple meals, that’s a lot of time saved.
The list below are my favorite ways to cut corners in the form or pre-made sauces, condiments and marinades: