I can’t tell you how many of my friends and colleagues ask me how exactly I meal prep. “Your meals look so delicious!” and “How do you have the time to cook so much?” are just a couple comments that I often hear. Well, I’ve decided to share with y’all my (not so secret) process for work week meal prepping. Check it out below.
Step 1: Make sure you have the right equipment to start
Meal prepping is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. It’s even easier when you have all the things you need! My most-used kitchen gadgets for meal prepping include:
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In my experience, crock pot cooking is such a time saver, You literally throw raw ingredients into a pot, let it cook for a few hours, and then it turns out delicious (and it only took you maybe 10 minutes to prep the meal!). Now, my sister has an Instant Pot, and she swears by it. However, an Instant Pot cooks things in minutes compared to what normally takes hours, so if you use an Instant Pot to cook something, you’ll have to keep your eyes/ears on it. With a crockpot, you can “set it and forget it,” and I prefer that.
I also love lining two baking sheets with aluminum foil, coating them with some olive oil, then throwing some seasoned veggies on them and popping the sheets in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees (crispy veggies are my favorite!).
I use glass and plastic food containers to divide my meal prepped food into smaller portions that I can grab and take to work or get one out for dinner when I’m home from work.
Step 2: Identify your food goals for the week
Whenever you start anything new, it’s important to get your goals written down. Why are you interested in meal prepping – do you want to save money from eating out, have a healthier diet, spend less time cooking and more time with your loved ones? Write your goals down. One week, my goal might be to use a ton of leftovers so they don’t go bad, while another week my goal might be to have a vegetable side each night for dinner – goal setting is totally flexible based on what you want to accomplish that week.
Step 3: Make a list of your favorite meals
Planning meals is often the bump in the road for people. We’re all creatures of habit and often eat the same thing over and over again. Create a list (with everyone’s input from your household) of your favorite meals that you can pull into your meal prepping process. If you feel like you need some recipe inspiration, here’s a list of some of my favorite websites to get recipe inspo:
Step 4: Plan your meals
I’ve seen countless designs for weekly meal planning. You can write out your meals on paper, use a website like www.gatheredtable.com that has a feature with weekly meal plans, grocery lists, and curated recipes from $7-9/month. I tried it for a month (the first month was 99 cents!) and really liked it, but I’m trying to limit my monthly fixed expenses, so I gave it up and have been using a template that I made myself (see below):
If you’re someone that prefers variety each day, then the Design 1 template would be best for you because it has distinct space for each day’s meal and isn’t continuous like the Design 2 template.Now, if you’re someone who wants to eat the same thing for breakfast for 3 days in a row, then the Design 2 template would work best for you. Plan out your meals for Monday-Friday.
Step 5: Identify what ingredients you already have
Once you’ve planned out your meals for the week, then you need to figure out what ingredients you have and which ingredients that you need to buy from the store. Look through your refrigerator and pantry/cabinets to see what you need to buy and what you already have.
Step 6: Grocery shop
With your list in hand, go to the grocery store (I always advise to go when you’re not hungry – you know hanger is real) and stock up on what you need for the week. I live right outside of NYC, and shop mostly at Aldi (it’s super cheap prices, mostly organic, and amazing for so many reasons, and you should definitely shop at Aldi if there’s one near you!), and I also love Trader Joe’s (one just opened in Hoboken half a mile away from us!). Those are my two favorite stores to shop for groceries.
Step 7: Meal prep on the weekends
I always meal prep on the weekend, Sundays specifically. For me, it’s nice to not be too rushed or hurried with getting done in a certain amount of time – I can decide what time of day works best for me. I usually choose to get started with meal prepping around 4-5pm, and I dedicate 2-3 hours in the kitchen to meal prep. Maybe Sunday doesn’t work for you – do it on one of your days off when you have a few hours to spare.
Want an idea of what I cook?
- I usually start with making 10-12 hard boiled eggs in a saucepan on my stove top, then I’ll saute 1-2 chicken breasts (I cut each breast in half, then half the halves so each breast creates four thin pieces) in a 12-inch non-stick skillet while waiting for the eggs to boil. What about seasoning, you may be wondering? I always season chicken with either FlavorGod seasoning or Slap Ya Mama seasoning (my neighbor introduced me to these seasonings and now I’m hooked!).
- Next, I’ll chop up some veggies (broccoli with garlic, carrots with thyme + rosemary, kale with light olive oil + garlic) to roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes (give or take a few minutes). While the veggies are roasting, I might throw a quinoa/rice mix into a saucepan and cook that.
- The last task I usually do is throw something in the crockpot – chili, another kind of soup, seasoned chicken breasts with veggies, pork loin, etc – and cook it overnight on the low setting. In the morning, I’ll turn the crockpot off, let it cool down, then transfer the food into their own containers.
As you can tell, I multitask a lot in the kitchen! Something’s cooking for 20 minutes in the oven? Use the stovetop to cook something else or chop ingredients while you wait!
Step 8: Divide cooked food into meal prep containers
Once the food is cooked, then separate portions into containers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I don’t usually cook a lot of food ahead for breakfast, but I will put the hard boiled eggs into a quart-size baggie and will grab a couple to eat in the morning along with something else. I also freeze some of the food to have it for later on in the week (not all food will stay good for 5 days sitting in the refrigerator).
It’s amazing how helpful it is to have your breakfast and lunch ready to grab ‘n go in the mornings – it saves so much time (seriously, like 15-20 minutes in the AM!).
Step 9: Clean up
The final step in the meal prepping process is to clean up (things will get messy!). I always, always, always clean up as I go – hard, stuck-on food is one of my biggest pet peeves in the game. So cleaning as I cook is more piece of mind than anything. You can have a stocked fridge full of meals AND a clean kitchen in just a couple hours time.
Whoa, I feel like I just wrote a short novel! Meal prepping is such a smart way to prepare and take care of yourself. I highly recommend that you try it, and see how it works for you.
Thoughts? Ideas? Questions? Share them in the comments below.