8 of the Best Meal-Prep Hacks From Parents, Foodies, and Cooking Pros
Follow these strategies for easy, make-ahead meals that'll ensure your weeknight dinners are always winners.
The ultimate parent goal is not memorizing all the words to "Let It Go" or learning to do laundry as a way of peaceful meditation and happy living, or even raising the next President of the United States. Nope, the real marker of success is being able make your family's meals quickly, and in advance, so that there's one less thing you have to think about—because life is messy and laborious enough!
How does one achieve such a lofty goal? Start by reading the meal-prep tips and tricks, below, from some of our favorite foodies, bloggers, parents, and entrepreneurs.
1. Invest in the right kitchen gear.
"The best thing I ever did was invest in good kitchenware so that I can prepare food easier and store it in bulk. I registered for all the OXO [products] I could find for my baby shower, and it's saved my life. The products that help me the most are the Smart-Seal Storage Containers and Snack Containers for storing food and also now for packing my kid's lunch the night before—and avoiding plastic bags. And then for mealtime and snack time, I rely on my apple divider as well as cupcake baking cups [to serve the apple slices in]." —Danielle S., New York City
2. Batch cook your protein, veggies, and starch.
Cassy Joy Garcia, bestselling cookbook author and founder of the influential Fed + Fit blog, recommends cooking a big batch of one protein, vegetable, and starch, then transforming those components into different dinners throughout the week.
"For example, you can throw 5 pounds of chicken breast into your Instant Pot, cook it for 20 minutes, and then you've got enough chicken to feed your family through the week," she says. "At the same time—you can make a big pot of rice, or even cauliflower rice if you are cutting carbs—and cook up a batch of your favorite veggies. With less than an hour of prep, you've got the components to quickly throw together stir-fries, mock Chipotle burrito bowls, Greek chicken-and-rice bowls, tacos, salads, and more!"
(Garcia spent three years developing recipes and a system to make weeknight meals simpler for busy, health-conscious people and their families. The result is Cook Once, Eat All Week: 26 Weeks of Gluten-Free, Affordable Meal Prep to Preserve Your Time & Sanity, due out in April.)
3. Embrace the smoothie.
Melissa Wood Tepperberg, founder of Melissa Wood Health and creator of the MWHmethod says the snack-time hack she swears by for kids is making smoothie pops. "It's one of the best ways to sneak some greens into your child's diet without them knowing because they taste like an actual treat. Plus these last a really long time, easily through the week!"
Melissa's Smoothie Recipe
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1 cup raw coconut water
- 1 cup strawberries and raspberries
- 1 banana
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1/2 peeled cucumber
- 1 pitted date
Directions: Blend everything thoroughly for 30 seconds in the blender then pour into the ice pop molds and freeze for 12 hours or until fully frozen.
4. Involve your kids in meal prep.
Julie Hartigan of CookingwJulie.com focuses much of her time and energy on the home cook audience who is busy and wants to eat delicious food that's also on the healthier side. She believes that if you get your kids involved in a meal, they're more likely to eat it.
"I used to host cooking classes for parents and children at my culinary school and my 'mommy and me rainbow wrap sandwich' was always a hit! It is a great way to sneak in healthy ingredients while also letting your kids take part in making their lunch. Don't use tomatoes or it will make the wrap soggy. Save time by buying pre-shredded veggies."
Julie's Mommy and Me Rainbow Wrap
- 1 whole wheat tortilla
- Spread of choice (hummus, mayo, ketchup, ranch dressing, etc.)
- Deli turkey (or protein of choice)
- Baby spinach
- Purple shredded cabbage
- Shredded carrots
- Yellow peppers, sliced thin
Directions: Use a knife to evenly layer your spread of choice on the whole wheat tortilla. Then add your preferred sandwich items (turkey, cut veggies, etc.), allowing your child to pick which items they want to place on top of the other. After all toppings are added, pick one side of the tortilla to roll up and then hold it together with a toothpick or wrap it in foil to keep it in place.
5. Purchase an egg maker.
"My kids love hard-boiled eggs but we are tight on time in the morning. We got this egg maker on Amazon and it has changed our lives! Perfectly hard boiled eggs are ready in minutes." —Colette Wixon of MiniStyleHacker
6. Use store-bought sauce.
"My favorite time-saving pantry staple is a good bottle of red sauce, like Rao's, that can be poured over pasta and gussied up by shaving parmesan [over it] and served with a bowl of greens tossed in balsamic and olive oil. For under $18, you have a complete meal that feels special. And, when I'm really in a pinch, I've often been saved by a stash of frozen dumplings from Trader Joe's. My kids love to break out the chopsticks and set up a row of dipping sauces on dumpling night." —Odette Williams, author of Simple Cake
7. Roast vegetables on the weekend.
"I batch roast vegetables on the weekend and then mix them up and stick them in the freezer. That way you always have something healthy on hand that you can throw in the microwave or add to rice bowls or soups. I like to cook at high temperatures so they brown but stay a little undercooked and then they thaw more easily. The best vegetables for freezing are broccoli, eggplant, carrots, cauliflower, fennel, and asparagus—essentially anything hearty enough to stand up to the freezer." —Ali Rosen, author of Bring It! Tried and True Recipes for Potlucks and Casual Entertaining
8. Make an extra-large portion of hearty soup.
"A huge batch of chicken soup will make you feel like the parent of the year and will feed your family for a week or more, especially if you can freeze a ton of it. There are so many great recipes so you can choose a chicken soup that's leaning in the flavor direction you're craving. Lately, I keep using Marcus Samuelsson's recipe because I love Red Rooster Harlem and this Spicy Chicken Zoodle Soup from the One-Pot Gluten-Free Cooking. It takes half a day to make a huge pot of something wonderful but you'll be happy you did it for weeks. Also, you really don't need to serve anything besides the soup. It has the protein, vegetables, and starch, if you use noodles or orzo—so consider your work done." —Robin B., Boston