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How to Meal-Prep Without Ruining Your Weekend

Created June 27, 2019
How to Meal-Prep Without Ruining Your Weekend
Get weekday ready without getting weekend sweaty. MORE+ LESS-

Meal-prep is nice—in theory. All those beautiful mise en place photos on social media of perfectly portioned, precisely prepped ingredients meant to last the whole week—they sure do look pretty, but in practice, meal-prep is a lot of work. And nobody wants to spend the whole weekend chopping vegetables. Luckily, there are easier ways to prepare for the week without ruining your day off.

What is Meal Prep?

Let’s start with a basic definition: meal prep is the practice of getting some (or all) of the elements of future meals ready before you want to eat them. It’s handy when you want multi-dimensional (read: healthy) dishes during the week, but you’re having to deal with the weeknight reality of less time to cook.

Once you start to get the hang of it, meal prepping can become a habitual part of your week. You cook a little extra rice here, chop up some bonus onion there—pretty soon it’s like you’re giving time back to Weekday You. One of the great thing about prepping is that it works for everyone: big families who want bagged lunches all around, and even parties of one. You just have to prep according to the needs of those eating.

What You’ll Need

meal prep containers

There’s no need to go out and buy matchy-matchy containers and rows of canning jars to be good at meal prepping. You can start with things you already have in your home! The more you prep, the more you’ll be able to figure out your container-based needs.

What are the Best Meal Prep Containers?

When you’re thinking about what containers you’ll need, consider the “prep” part of meal prep. You’ll be making elements or whole dishes well in advance, so you’ll need containers that are airtight. That means no wrapping bowls in plastic wrap or loosely bagging anything. Instead, use sealable jars, glassware with a tightly-fitted lids and zip-top bags. You can reuse jam jars or condiment containers rather than going out and purchasing new. You can also cut down on your plastic usage with reusable zip-top bags.

What Foods Do Well for Meal Prep?

Most foods can be prepped ahead if you store them properly. Grains and rice can be made in bulk and frozen. Roasted vegetables can be stowed away in an airtight container in the fridge. Chopped veggies store well with a damp paper towel to keep them from losing their moisture. While most ingredients fair well when they’re prepped ahead, there are a few outliers to watch out for:

  • Dairy: Dairy products, like milk, cheeses and sour cream, do not freeze well. Keep dairy off your frozen dinners until you’re ready to cook them.
  • Fresh herbs: If you’ve ever bought a bunch of cilantro a day too early, then you’re aware of how short the lifespan of herbs is. They wilt fast. Keep herbs fresher longer by storing them as you would a bunch of flowers—cut ends in a jar of water, in the refrigerator.
  • Avocados: Unless you like brown avocados, don’t prep these until you’re ready to eat.

Making a Meal Plan

spooning food into meal prep containers

A planful meal prep session begins with just that—a plan! You can’t prep efficiently without knowing what you’re prepping for. Even if you don’t plan out every meal of the week, just knowing what that extra pan of roasted vegetables can be used towards will help you get all the elements in place for weeknight success. For example, if you cook and shred a big batch of chicken, keep shredded chicken recipes on hand.

How you store your prepped ingredients will impact your meal plan too. If you’re freezing big-batch chicken, you have a larger window to play before the chicken turns (we recommend no longer than 3 months in the freezer). If you’re keeping grains in the refrigerator, you’ll want to try and plan for more grain-friendly dinners for the next week.

Meal Prep Strategies

veggies

Every meal prepper has a few “tricks” up their sleeve that they pull out again and again. Here are a few old-standards we rely on.

Freezer Favorites

  • Frozen veggies: Never underestimate the power of a frozen vegetable. A bag of green beans only needs to be steamed and seasoned to brighten up a pasta dinner. Frozen spinach can turn an egg into an omelet. And a bag of frozen peppers can transform rice into a stir-fry dinner.
  • Frozen grains: Rice, couscous and quinoa all take precious weekday moments to cook from scratch. You can easily double or triple the amount of grains you cook at a time, then freeze until you need them. We recommend freezing them in smaller portions that are easier to divvy up as needed. Or, place a freezer-friendly bag of cooked grains in the freezer for 1 hour, then jostle half-frozen bag to break up any clumps of frozen grain and return to the freezer.
  • A frozen casserole: A frozen casserole is the epitome of meal prep. Plus, you can keep a frozen dinner for up to 3 months.
  • A loaf of bread: Even if you don’t eat a lot of bread, a loaf in the freezer will last a long time. A fried egg sandwich on a Wednesday isn’t a bad way to close out the evening. Defrost frozen bread by popping it in the toaster.

Storing and Reheating Food

To keep food at its freshest, store everything in airtight containers. Whether that’s a zip-top bag, a glass bowl with a tight-fitted lid or a jar, air is the enemy of freshness.

When freezing ahead, make sure to label and date everything. For tastiest (and safest) results, keep frozen food for no longer than three months. If you’re storing food in the fridge, you have about a week to consume it.

Reheating properly is important, especially when proteins are concerned. If you are heating food from the freezer, allow the food to thaw before heating it back up again. Transfer the container you want thawed to your refrigerator, and let it thaw overnight. Using any heat (either your microwave or running water) can cause the meat to defrost and heat unevenly, even overcooking it in parts. After that, you can simply heat as you normally would.

Recipes to Start

Ready to get started? What you prep will determine what you can plan to eat throughout the week. Here are some of our favorite recipes that work well with prepping ahead, batch-style.

Meal Prep with Zoodles

Zoodles, or zucchini noodles, are easy to make ahead and store in your fridge until you need them. Check out these tips on how to spiralize your vegetables so you can make some of these tasty dinners:

Meal Prep with Chicken

Greek Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Ah, chicken—you make our lives so much easier. This protein was made to be prepped. We’ve rounded up our favorite ideas for meal planning with shredded chicken, and we’re also sharing the easiest method for storing chicken here.

 

Meal Prep with Quinoa

Honey-Sriracha Chicken Quinoa Bowl

Quinoa is a superfood, and not just because of its nutritional makeup. It’s great for dinner, breakfast, lunch and even dessert. Great news for meal-preppers: it stores and keeps really well. Check out our favorite recipe ideas and prepping tips here.



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