Meal prep can be such an important way to set yourself up for success during the week. In a few hours, you can have your meals done and ready to go for anything life throws you during the week. But, the idea of meal prep can seem daunting and filled with images of slaving away in the kitchen the whole day. While meal prep does take time, there are a few ways you can speed up meal prep days and get the same delicious results.
Before you start shopping or prepping, make some lists. These will help keep you organized and on track.
Meal Plan: The first one you’ll need to make is your meal plan. This will determine what you’re making, for how many meals, and anything extra.
Shopping List: Then, you’ll make your shopping list so you stay on task at the market and get everything you need to cook. If you shop at multiple stores, separate the list by stores.
Meal Prep Strategy: In order to make the prep manageable, make a list that details what needs to be cooked in the oven, on the stove, what needs to be blended/run in the food processor, and what just needs to be prepped.
From there, start with the thing that takes the longest (usually things prepared in the oven) and work backwards from there. If you’ve got multiple things that need to go into the oven, prep them ahead of time so all you need to do when one is done is pop the next dish or tray in. Or, if you can’t prep anything for the oven while something is cooking, move to prepping things that need the stove.
While you’re planning what you’re making for the week, consider repeating similar ingredients across multiple dishes, prepared in similar ways. That way, you’ll use everything you buy and have less unique things to prep. If you’ve bought a pound of grass fed ground beef, split that up into half pound portions across two meals. If you add in extra vegetables to whatever you’re making, you can stretch the portions further and only prep the ground beef once. If you crave variety, keep what you use across multiple dishes to a reasonable number, like 2-3 ingredients per week.
If you’ve got a long list of roasted vegetables for various dishes on your meals, roast them together. Invest in larger sheet pans (the ones in restaurant supply stores are a good size) and group 2-3 vegetables on one sheet. You can also add another sheet pan, roast that in the rack below, and switch the sheets halfway through cooking. Group vegetables together by how long they need to be roasted so everything will be cooked through. Put all of the denser root vegetables together (they’ll take longer) and have faster roasting vegetables on another (zucchini, green beans, tomatoes).
Group Tasks Together
If you’ve got of the same task, like washing, chopping or sauteing on your prep list, group them together. By getting through one task all at the same time, you can clear space on your counter and not have to constantly go back and forth between a few different tasks. It’s easiest to start with washing and chopping.
From there, look at the next big task on your list. You can roast off a bunch of food together while sauteing the greens for one meal, then the vegetables for another meal.
Invest in a Slow Cooker or Multi-Cooker
If you know you’re going to keep on the meal prep train for months and years to come, consider investing in some equipment that can carry more of the load for you. A slow cooker or multi-cooker could be good options to help take things off of your list.
Slow Cooker: Slow cookers are great for both cooking ingredients for a meal (like beans or shredded chicken) as well as a whole meal in one pot. Slow cookers take a few hours to cook your ingredient or meal, so you will have to account for that when you’re prepping. Depending on how long your prep time is, you can probably only fit in one meal or ingredient with the slow cooker. Because a slow cooker is so hands off, you could also prep the ingredients for your meal on your prep day, and load it up in the slow cooker on the day you’re going to enjoy it to cook while you’re working.
Multi-Cooker: Multi-cookers are true to their names. Depending on the brand and type, you can make rice, beans, yogurt, slow cook, sauté AND pressure cook in a multi-cooker. Like slow cookers, they plug into a wall and have timers. Multi-cookers can cook ingredients and meals faster than a slow cooker, especially if it has a pressure cooking function. You can easily prep multiple ingredients and meals in a day or afternoon. Multi-cookers can be slightly more expensive than slow cookers depending on the size and amount of functions, but if you’re looking for a space-saving workhorse, they could be a good option.
Add in Some Fun
Make meal prepping fun by adding in some joy while you’re prepping. If you or a friend have a large kitchen, consider cooking together! You can catch up, have a fun time and meal prep all in one afternoon. You can also prep with your partner, which will also help speed things up.
Put on your favorite music, podcast, or even put on a show or movie to play in the background while you’re working.
Find a shortcut that works for you and try it out. The more you prep and experiment with shortcuts, the faster you’ll get and figure out what works for you. Also connect with the fact that you’re giving your future self an awesome gift: more time during a busy week, less decisions to make, and a delicious, healthy meal.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Main Photo Credit: Daxiao Productions/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Kycheryavuy/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: NemanjaMiscevic/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Uber Images/shutterstock.com