Meal Prep and Meal Planning Are the Key to Weeknight Dinner Success

These simple meal prep tips and recipes may be the difference between a quick and delicious home-cooked meal and wasting your hard-earned cash on takeout again.

Homemade meal prep with chicken and veggies

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Even the most experienced and enthusiastic cook can get caught in a weeknight time crunch that makes pulling meals together a challenge. Life is busy, schedules get jammed up, and on top of everything, it can be difficult to find time to cook for ourselves every day. This is where meal prep (the practice of preparing elements of meals ahead of time) and meal planning can be an absolute game-changer. Here are a few meal prep tips to help get you started.

How to meal plan

The key to successful meal prep is to move the time and effort of whatever meals are most challenging to pull together to a time when you have more time to plan and cook. For many people, that time will be a weekend, but if your quiet day is a Wednesday, seize it. You can use this time to meal plan (determine what meals you want to tackle ahead for the week and in what order), create a grocery list, shop, and meal prep (making as many elements of those meals ahead of time).

Planning your meals ahead of time is a key step in lessening the weeknight cooking load. When meal planning, the first thing you want to consider is timing. Weeknights are typically not the time to do your project cooking. Look at your schedule, plan accordingly, and prep at a time when you have some bandwidth. Keep things easy and choose simple and fast recipes that come together in an hour or less, or big-batch recipes that can store easily and freeze well. 

Prep multi-serving dishes like soups and stews, or roast a chicken and incorporate it into meals over a couple of days. We recommend doing at least one big batch recipe per week to help get you started with meal prep. You can also use that time to prepare ingredients, like washing and drying greens, making salad dressings, or preparing shrimp burgers to freeze and use when you are ready to eat. Save the easiest dinners, like Chicken Marsala, for the evenings when you know you will have the least amount of time to cook.

Since meal prep hinges on preparing ingredients or meals ahead of time, ensure you have appropriate storage vessels for prepping ingredients and storing food you’ve cooked ahead of time.

How to meal prep

On your prep day, set aside some time to get ahead on processing ingredients. Especially on weeknights, every second counts, so get ahead on a few small tasks (like washing and cutting vegetables or making sauces), making larger-batch dishes, or a little of both.

The best recipes to meal prep

Big-batch recipes make meal prep easy. You can make a large quantity at once and have enough for leftovers for several nights, or freeze a portion to use later. Soups, stews, beans, and baked pasta dishes are all great examples of things you could prepare large batches of with ease, and they reheat well from your refrigerator or freezer. 

The best ingredients to meal prep

Going big isn’t the only way to save time. Getting ahead on small tasks the weekend before is also helpful. Think of all the components in the recipes you have chosen for the week and pull out the parts you can prepare ahead of time. Use your prep day to get ahead on small tasks. 

Wash and dry salad or hearty greens, then wrap in paper towels and store in the crisper drawer. 

Cook grains and lentils for future grain bowls.

Make rice and let it dry a couple of days for the best fried rice.

Get ahead on making dressing or sauces.

Set up proteins in a dry rub or marinade, just use caution with citrus-based marinades as they can change the texture of the protein.

Roast, wrap, and store sweet potatoes, then warm up when ready to eat.

Prepare and freeze pork cutlets for easy weeknight pan-frying.

If pre-making lunches, get ahead on portioning them in their respective lunch boxes.

Set up a few portions of overnight oats for grab-and-go breakfast.

Roast russet potatoes, then warm them later in the week for loaded baked potatoes.

Toast any breadcrumbs, nuts, and seeds for future toppings.

And remember, the pros do this, too. Planning ahead is how restaurants are able to execute food efficiently. Taking a few of their organizational tools, like big batch preparation, will help you execute your weeknight dinner plan with ease giving you more time to focus on the things that really matter.

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