It’s no mystery. We all know we need to cook our own healthy meals instead of ordering take-out or getting fast food. However, most of us are busy people and perhaps some of us aren’t the most comfortable in the kitchen. While we all know that we should be meal prepping each week, for some of us, it’s time-consuming to the point of being intimidating.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There are tons of ways to save time and get meal prep done quickly, efficiently and stress-free. You just have to be willing to practice and give it a chance. Actually, by prepping your meals, you’ll save lots of time in the long run. You’ll save tons of money since take-out and delivery are freaking expensive, you’ll worry less about what and how much to eat, and you’ll have way more success at eating healthy and controlling your weight as a result.
In this guide, I’m going to share some strategies, tricks, and hacks that make meal prepping less stressful and take less time so you can have healthy meals to eat throughout the week. As you’re reading, be thinking about how you can take what I’m telling you and make it your own. That’s going to be key for you making it routine. Enjoy!
Pimp Your Kitchen Out!
To prep quickly, efficiently, and stress-free you need some decent cookware and tools. Make sure your kitchen is well-equipped to handle some serious prepping. You don’t have to break the bank on the most expensive brands, but make sure the tools you buy are built to last multiple months of prepping.
Here’s a list of equipment and supplies I recommend having in your kitchen.
- A good set of knives - keep them sharp
- Pots, pans, skillets and a wok
- Cutting Boards - one for meats, one for non-meats.
- Baking Sheets/Pans - I suggest at least 2
- Baking Dishes
- Strainers - for pasta and washing veggies
- Spatulas and spoons
- Crock Pot or an Instant Pot
- Meat pounder - to beat that meat and make it cook faster
- Big mixing Bowls - for mixing, holding ingredients, or cooked foods to divvy out
- Aluminum Foil
- Measuring Cups and a Food Scale
- Food storage containers - glass is best but if you use plastic, make sure they are BPA free
- Cleaning supplies
- Rice cooker - if you eat rice often this is essential
- Ground Meat Chopper - way better than using a spoon
- Muffin tins - great for single serving bakes and egg dishes
Nice to Have:
- Food Processor
If you don’t have these things, don’t feel obligated to spend a fortune on a bunch of new stuff. Just accumulate equipment and supplies as you need them. Recipes will usually guide you on what kind of items you’ll to prepare the food.
Step 1: Plan your menus ahead of time
Now that you’ve got an MTV Cribs-level kitchen, your next step is to plan and decide what you’re going to make. There are three ways I recommend you go about planning what you eat.
Recipes are perfect for someone who loves to cook and needs lots of variety. If you go this route, I suggest you find really easy, basic recipes. They’ll often take very little time to prepare and have very few ingredients or steps. Find recipes with one main ingredient to make portioning and figuring out the nutrition information of the dish easier. Also, look for one pan recipes or dishes you can make in the crockpot. I like recipes that use limited cookware because it saves time on cleaning or you can often have multiple things cooking at the same time. Lastly, whenever you use recipes, make sure to make extra so you have leftovers for a few meals or to go into the freezer for a later date.
The Rule of 2’s or Buffet Style Prep
This is the preferred method of cooking in my household. I like it because it still allows for variety, keeps meal prepping simple and I don’t have to scour the internet for new recipes to try all the time.
For this method, you’ll bulk prepare 2 types of lean protein, 2 vegetables dishes and 2 starches or carb sources to serve as your base ingredients. You can also throw a crockpot stew in there for good measure.
If you’re low-carb or vegetarian you’ll obviously need to change your 2’s but the premise is still the same. When you have your base ingredients, you can mix and match them with other staple foods or spices you have around your house to create different types of meals.
Let me explain how this looks like in practice. For example, one week we’ll prepare:
- 2 proteins - Ground beef/Ground Turkey Taco Meat and Roasted chicken breasts
- 2 Veggies - Sautéed Peppers & Onions and Roasted Veggies
- 2 Starches - Rice and Whole Wheat Pasta
From these things I can make:
- a chicken pasta with roasted veggies
- a spinach salad with the roasted chicken (I usually have baby spinach around)
- chicken fajitas with the onions and peppers
- chicken fried rice with carrots, corn, and broccoli I keep in the freezer
- a meat sauce with the ground meat and pasta
- "Chipotle" with taco meat or chicken plus lettuce, rice, salsa, cheese, sour cream and etc
- or just keep it basic and mix and match the ingredients as they are
As you can see, this method can get really powerful especially if you lightly season your meats and veggies during prep and keep a variety of spices and seasonings in your house.
For example, you can lightly sauté some sliced beef lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, and flash cook some peppers and onions on Sunday. Throughout the week you can combine these two base ingredients and cook them with a few seasonings and spices to create a variety of dishes and flavors.
- Beef + peppers/onions + soy sauce, ginger, garlic, a little honey and you’ve got an Asian stir-fry.
- Beef + peppers/onions + chili powder, cumin, garlic, paprika + lime juice and you have fajitas
- Beef + peppers/onions + Italian seasoning + garlic and you have Italian beef and peppers.
With the buffet-style prep method, the possibilities for meals and dishes are endless and you never had to use or search for a recipe.
Use a meal delivery service to supplement your prep.
It’s best to cook your own meals but sometimes life gets busy, things happen or you need some meals to get you through the weekend before your next prep. In these cases, using a meal prep or meal delivery service to strategically supplement your cooking will largely outweigh the cost of getting off track with your eating and goals.
There are a number of meal delivery/meal prep companies out there. Some will ship you the food which you can then cook yourself. Some companies will provide already cooked foods or meals that you can pick up directly from the store or have shipped to your home. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it fits your budget and the food aligns with your nutrition goals.
Step 2: Time to go SHOPPING!!
Once you’ve decided what you’re going to make, it’s time to go shopping.
There are a few things I recommend doing first before you head to the store.
Make an appointment to shop.
Block off the time to shop, cook and clean all in the same day. If it’s on your calendar and reserved, then the time is sacred. Treat it with the same respect you treat going to the gym to train or going to work. Make shopping and meal prepping a priority.
Plan to spend about 3-4 hours to shop, cook and clean. You may need more at first and then as you get more efficient you may need less time. Whatever you do, make sure to block off the time. If you really don’t have the time or don’t enjoy grocery shopping, I just started using a grocery delivery service and it’s worked nicely. Don’t make excuses. Make shit happen!
If you'd rather only prepare for a few days, make sure you block off time in the middle of the week for a re-stock and quick prep session to get you through the latter half of the week. I’ve seen too many folks run out of food by Wednesday and are left eating take-out for the rest of the week. If you only prep a little at the beginning of the week, hit that mid-week re-up!
Clean out your fridge and organize your kitchen
When you get home from shopping, you’re going to immediately start cooking. You can’t do that if your kitchen is dirty, all the cookware needs washing, and your fridge is full of science experiments. Before you go shopping, make sure your kitchen is prepped for cooking. Have your cookware cleaned and ready to go and make space in your fridge.
Make a list and check it twice
A shopping list is key. Before you head to the store, write down everything you need to buy—even the staple items you get every week. The goal is to grab exactly what you need quickly and not have to go back again for there rest of the week. Pretend you’re on that old game show Supermarket Sweep. Blow through shopping so you have more time to cook and go about your day.
While you’re at the grocery store, don’t hesitate to buy pre-cut up fruits, meats, and veggies so you don’t have to do that at home. You’ll pay more, but you’ll save time. Frozen veggies and fruits are great too.
Step 3: Get Cooking RIGHT AWAY DAWG!
Get Mise En Place
As soon as you get home and put away things that you don’t need to for cooking, start the process of cooking. Wash your fruits and veggies that need to be washed together, cut up veggies and meats. Place all of your seasonings, spices, sauces, cookware on the counter that you will need for preparing your foods. In French, this is called mise en place. It literally means “everything in its place”. You want to have everything you need out and in place so you don’t spend time searching for things once you’ve started cooking.
Use all of your cooking power
I recommend starting with the foods that take the longest to cook or that don't need a lot of attention so you can multitask. Start with the crockpot and put rice in the rice cooker. Then, if you have items that need to be baked or roasted in the oven, try to have those things in the oven cooking together. Utilize all of your burners on the stove and rotate out pots as necessary.
Don’t like old food? Half Prep.
Contrary to popular belief, you actually don’t have to cook all your food for the week on one day. If you don’t like eating old, leftover food I would actually recommend half-prepping your food.
- Cut up veggies
- Start marinating meat
- Cook slower meats like chicken breasts and big roasts
- Cook your grains like rice and quinoa
- Soak any beans you plan to cook later
- Hard Boil eggs
- Prepare overnight oats
- Whisk Eggs and store in a jar for quick morning scrambled eggs or omelets.
After coming home from the grocery store instead of cooking all of your food, just get it ready to cook later in the week.
STEP 5: Store Your Food and Make Clean-up Easy
If you’re doing the buffet style meal prep, storing food is easy. Just dump each ingredient into some food containers and place in the fridge. Freeze whatever you decide to keep for longer than a week. If you’re preparing individual meals, you’ll need to divvy out individual servings so make sure you have all your food containers in place.
Lastly, be sure to label your containers and have a system for organizing your fridge to make sure you always grab the right meals when you need them.
This sounds like a lot of work, but I promise doing all of this will save you lots of time. Feel free to make your own process and system that works for your cooking style and your kitchen.
Make cleaning easier by making sure the dishwasher is empty before you start cooking. Depending on what you cook, you might even have time to run a cycle mid-prep and the run another one at the end.
If you don’t have a dishwasher, clean as you go so you aren’t stuck with loads of dishes, pots and pans to hand wash. Use crockpot liners! These make cleaning a crockpot ridiculously easy since no mess typically gets into the actual pot. If you do any baking or roasting, use aluminum foil to line the pans or dishes so that you don’t have to scrub forever to remove baked-on food.
Your Action Step
Now that you know what to do, it’s time to pimp your meal prep. Set aside one day a week do shop, prep, and clean. You can either prepare food for at least the entire week or if you hate old food, half prep or supplement with a meal prep or meal delivery service or some combination of that. It doesn’t matter. Make it yours! Whatever you decide to do, have a plan. Set time aside for prepping, respect that time and execute.
Hope you enjoyed this guide. Let me know how your next meal prep session goes!
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