9 Ways to Simplify Meal Prep So You'll Actually Do It
by Tiffany Walking Eagle | 8-minute read
Do you aim to prep your meals every week but get busy, distracted, or overwhelmed with the thought of all that work? I feel ya. It can seem like an enormous task, and who has the time? Really though, prepping your meals doesn’t have to be complicated, time-consuming, or boring.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, cut back on fast food, save money, or just eat a more balanced diet, there are loads of benefits to prepping your meals ahead of time. Give these tips a try to simplify your meal prep so you’ll actually do it (and feel so accomplished afterward!).
Shift your mindset.
I’m not going to lie to you. Meal prep takes work. There’s planning, shopping, prep, multitasking, and cleanup required to get it done. However, remember this: Meal prep is a privilege.
That’s right. A privilege.
There are people in the world who aren’t sure where their next meal is going to come from, and there are plenty of people who go to bed hungry. There are folks who are physically unable to prepare their own food.
If you have the time, money, and resources to prepare meals, you are extremely blessed.
Every time I start dreading the cooking process or griping about the loads of dishes and cleanup, I give myself a reality check and remember that the ability to make and eat healthful, balanced meals is a privilege to be appreciated, not a chore to complain about.
Shifting my attitude toward gratitude has made meal prepping a much more enjoyable process.
Bribe yourself with something fun.
I personally enjoy cooking, but I know not everyone does; even though I love it, meal prepping can still feel like a chore at times. To spice up the “chore” of meal prepping, I bribe myself by mixing in fun activities. I put on my headphones, turn on my favorite playlist or podcast, pour myself a glass of wine, and get to work.
So what could you bribe yourself with? A good cup of tea or coffee? Putting on your favorite TV show while you slice and dice? Think about things you can add in the mix to make meal prep something to look forward to. Seriously, this has become my weekly ritual, and I love it!
As a fairly disorganized person by nature, even I admit that a little bit of organization can help simplify the process.
Set up a chopping station and a couple of plates and bowls to throw chopped items in. Get a few hot pads ready so you can plop down pans of cooked foods to throw into containers. Strategically place seasonings and sauces by the stove or at the end of the assembly line for quick access. Have all your containers and lids set out beforehand to save time/chaos. Easy peasy!
Buffet-style or individual meals?
With buffet-style meal prep, you store larger amounts of various food items in containers to throw together quick meals throughout the week, while individual meals are just grab-and-go. For example, with buffet meal prep, you could make a pot of soup, a few proteins like chicken, beans, or steak, a some sides such as green beans, rice, bell peppers, broccoli, pasta, etc., and store everything in larger containers.
I personally like having a combination of grab-n-go meals as well as some buffet options to put together if we’re just eating at home.
Here’s an example of a very typical menu I’ll have prepped and ready for the week: a large container of rice, a pot of green curry with chicken, four quinoa fiesta bowls with ground beef, four meals with grilled chicken, green beans, and “baked” potato (I microwave them ‘cause I’m lazy!), and four meals with ground turkey sausage, mushrooms, red onion, pasta + red sauce. Since it’s just my husband and I, that leaves us with five lunches for the workweek, plus a couple extra if I don’t feel like cooking dinner, as well as a buffet option to throw together if we’re working from home or, again, I don’t feel like making dinner.
The beauty of meal prep is you can tailor it to your lifestyle. If you know you won’t have time to make any meals during the workweek, you can prep everything ahead of time. If you know you’ll have time to cook dinners but not lunches, then just make your lunches ahead of time. Even if you work from home like me, it can really save tons of time to have your meals ready to go, whether buffet-style or put together.
Don’t overthink it, but give a little thought to the order of how you want to do things. I suggest starting foods that take the longest to cook first, then doing your chopping, prepping, and cleaning while you wait. Just be sure to set timers to prevent overcooking.
Make foods you’re excited to eat.
One of my go-to meals is my fiesta quinoa (or rice) bowl. I just throw cooked quinoa or rice, ground beef or turkey, and corn in a bowl and top with fresh onion, avocado, plain Greek yogurt, and pice de gallo. It’s soooo good, easy, and leaves me feeling satisfied. I get excited to eat this meal, and that’s how you should feel about the foods you eat!
Don’t waste your time eating boring food. Delicious, creative meals you’ll love don’t have to be complicated!
Choose your favorite easy cooking method.
Making meals for the entire week can seem like a majorly daunting task, but I promise you, delicious meals can be so so simple. Below are a few easy and approachable cooking methods to prep food:
Oven roasting has become one of my FAVORITE ways to prep food, especially vegetables. Everything from asparagus to carrots to green beans to broccoli to brussel sprouts to squash turns out great in the oven. Just spray/toss your vegetable of choice in some oil if you like, add your favorite seasoning, and roast to desired tenderness in a 375-degree oven (usually between 15 and 30 minutes depending on the vegetable). One-pan meals work great in the oven too.
There’s almost nothing better than coming home after being gone all day to the delicious smells of food in the slow cooker. Cooking with a slow cooker makes cleanup super easy, especially if you invest in slow cooker liners!
Just search “one pan meals” or “one skillet meals” on Pinterest and loads of great options will pop up. Whether on the stove top or in the oven, all you have to do it toss in your ingredients together in a pan and you’re off to the races. Again, saves tons of dirty dishes!
Instant Pot/Pressure Cooker
Although I haven’t personally made a whole bunch of meals with an Instant Pot (I don’t have the actual Instant Pot; mine is a random pressure cooker from Costco), there are tons of recipes out there. Instant Pots basically have their own cult following, LOL! Search “Instant Pot Community” on Facebook to join the group that shares their favorite recipes, or just search Pinterest. Instant Pots are a versatile tool that’s great for soups, stews, meats, rice, beans, and plenty more.
Air fryers are genius; they eliminate the need to cook with oil, and they cook things quickly. You can air fry just about anything, and there are plenty of stupid simple recipes you can follow.
Come up with simple, delicious combos.
If you feel totally lost and have no clue what meals to prep, take a deep breath. You don’t have to be Rachel Ray or anything to make a quick and tasty dish. Just break down your meals into groups: proteins, carbs, veggies, and fats.
Pick some of your favorites, and combine them as you like to make meals. Just try to pick one of each for each meal to keep them balanced. (Example: Grilled chicken with bell peppers + onions (sauteed in oil) over rice.) Fruits and nuts make great snacks if you get hungry between meals.
(This list is by no means comprehensive. These are just a few examples.)
Chicken, steak, beans, tofu, fish, shrimp, ground beef, turkey, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese
Pasta, potatoes/sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa, squash
Broccoli, onion, asparagus, green beans, peas, corn, cabbage, greens, bell peppers
Avocado, butter, oil, cheese, nut butters, sour cream
You can also organize your grocery list with these four categories to save time at the store.
Make meal prep a family affair.
Make meal prep more fun by getting your spouse/partner, kids, or friends in on it! At my house, my husband is in charge of grilling or roasting meats, and I cook up the veggies and sides. Meal prepping together makes cooking and cleanup quicker too. If you have multiple people helping, I recommend assigning each person to a specific station to avoid a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen scenario. ;) (I.E., one person chops, another seasons, another watches the stove/oven/grill, another does dishes, etc.)
What are your favorite meal prep hacks and ideas? Did you try any of mine? Share in the comments below!