Just Can't Make Yourself Meal Prep? These 13 Expert-Approved Tips Will Help
1. Make a base that can last for a few days.
My best tip for making meal prep easier would be to use a base that can last for a few days, such as a whole grain. You can use the grain in several different ways to prevent burnout from eating the same meal throughout the week, and it will last in the refrigerator for three to four days.
2. Embrace leftovers.
Make extras for lunch or dinner the day before! This is the easiest meal prep tip. Making food for the entire week ahead can seem daunting...so don't do it! Stick to the basics and just think about the next day or two in advance. Pair whatever leftovers you have from the day before with a few handfuls of mixed greens and enjoy!
3. Put it on your calendar.
If the meal prep struggle is more mental, I encourage my clients to actually put it on their calendar and to give themselves the option of breaking it into smaller prep sessions if blocking out a whole hour or two doesn't seem doable. Meal prep time is also a great time to catch up on your favorite podcasts, binge-watch a TV show, or listen to music.
4. Mix in some store-bought items.
Meal prep doesn't have to be completely homemade! For example, you could get some raw ingredients if you're making a salad and combine some store-bought rotisserie chicken. I do this all the time, in fact today, I have lettuce and some cut-up veggies, and bought salmon and some pre-roasted squash to add on top for my salads this week!
I know this sounds like unchecked privilege, but the fact is, we all spend money on things we don't need. I recommend taking a hard look at your budget and reallocating some funds away from expensive coffee drinks and fast fashion you don't need and putting it toward outsourcing the essential but time-consuming tasks of our lives, like cooking. In our household, we like to hire a task rabbit at $20/hr. to help us chop and cook. It makes all the difference in making meal prep possible, and we actually SAVE money in the end because we're eating home-cooked food instead of takeout. Takeout feels cheap in the moment, but it really adds up over the course of the week. Save money, eat healthier home-cooked food, and save time by outsourcing your meal prep.
6. Make it fun.
Drink some wine and put on great music or your favorite podcast. Turning meal prep into a fun activity will take the dread out of it.
—Allison (Aaron) Gross, M.S., R.D., CDN, founder of Nutrition Curator
7. Upgrade your tools.
Meal prep becomes far less daunting when you have the right tools to use in the kitchen! These days there are tons of fun kitchen gadgets on the market that make meal prep pretty seamless. If slicing an avocado isn't your thing, there's a specific slicer for it! If you avoid chopping onions because they make your eyes tear, there's even a gadget that will chop the whole thing for you, at one time. Set yourself up for success ahead of time and let meal prep be something you look forward to versus something you dread.
8. Make one large batch meal.
As a functional medicine practitioner, it's my job to make wellness practical, enjoyable, and sustainable for people, so this is my jam. A lot of people get overwhelmed with meal prepping partly because they believe they need to have a huge variety of elaborate meals with multiple ingredients. That couldn't be further from the truth. To streamline meal planning, I like to make a large batch of one meal that can be easily portioned out for an entire week. A meal that can be made in the crockpot makes it even easier. Even if you just prep some wild-caught fish, pair it on top of a bed of dark leafy greens, add an avocado, and you have a simple easy lunch that can be made in one sitting.
9. Utilize your freezer.
I am a huge fan of keeping your freezer stocked with items like frozen veggies, frozen grains, sauces (i.e., basil, marinara sauce, etc.), nuts, and proteins like meatballs, turkey burgers, chicken sausages for a quickie heat-and-eat meal.
—Stephanie Middleberg, M.S., R.D., CDN, founder of Middleburg Nutrition
10. Rely on pantry staples.
Meal prep sounds like a great idea but it can be hard to actually get your routine up and running. If you struggle with this, the key is to keep it super simple. I rely on a few pantry staples to help make batch cooking easier for all kinds of meals. Oats, honey, and chia seeds can be used to make batches of overnight oats. Combine equal parts rolled oats and milk of choice (cow's milk or plant-based) with a few teaspoons of each honey and chia seeds; mix well and transfer to jars; cover and refrigerate overnight; top with fresh fruit before serving. Make large batches of brown rice in an Instant Pot and use for rice bowls, burritos, and fried rice. Canned beans are also a quick and easy way to add protein to an otherwise less satisfying salad, pasta dish, or quesadilla.
—Dana Angelo White, R.D., founder of Dana White Nutrition
11. Embrace ayurveda.
I recommend prepping the six tastes of ayurveda and having them on hand for a variety of Six Taste Bowls! The six tastes are sweet (like a sweet potato, butternut squash, or avocado), sour (lemon, ACV), salty (pink Himalayan sea salt), bitter (greens, cruciferous veggies, most veggies), pungent (turmeric, cumin, coriander, any spice), and astringent (legumes.) Focusing on tastes instead of calories or macros makes meal prepping intuitive, easy, and tasty!
12. Prep while you are already cooking.
If you are already in the kitchen preparing a meal, such as dinner, it takes no time at all to prepare your lunch for the next day at the same time. You can even prepare a larger dinner to make a few extra servings, which you can enjoy for lunch the following couple of days. Always think of "doubling up" anytime you are preparing a main meal as you can either freeze your extra serving or simply pop it in the fridge for the next day! Two birds, one stone!
—Christal Sczebel, CHN, founder of Nutrition in the Kitch
13. Break it up into baby steps.
I believe the thought of meal planning and all that goes into it can be perceived as overwhelming to people with busy schedules (the people who probably need to meal plan the most!). But if you break it up into baby steps, and even designate those steps to different days, it becomes more manageable. For example, maybe on Friday you peruse recipes and make your grocery list; Saturday is your shopping day; any actual food preparation happens on Sunday. This way, not everything has to happen in one fell swoop, and you get into a good flow, eventually forming a new habit!
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Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.