No, you don’t need an avocado slicer. Or herb scissors. Or those ridiculous egg cookers.
Prepping and cooking portions (or all) of your meals several days before you plan to eat them is a simple way to save time and effort during busy weekdays. It’s also a clever strategy to save money. (We are sure, however, that the fine folks at your neighborhood sushi restaurant will be sad to not see you quite so often.)
While #MealPrepSunday may be en vogue right now, it’s long been the smart cook’s—and restaurant chef’s—secret weapon. After all, if you can knock out all of the chopping, mixing, and parcooking at once and save yourself the hassle later, you probably should.
But here’s one thing you don’t hear often from people so eager to hashtag their repeat containers of chicken, rice, and broccoli: If you don’t have the right tools, meal prep can be quite terrible.
WATCH: How to Make Mixed Vegetable Shakshuka
Dull knives make vegetable prep tedious—and dangerous. Bulk-size amounts of onions and potatoes aren’t going to fit in your cereal bowls. Your cute cutting board that’s just right for slicing a panini just won’t fit the multiple heads of broccoli and cauliflower you’re likely to break down every week.
So, in addition to getting your meal plans in place to maximize your grocery budget, you need to maximize the items you use to prepare your meal-prepped foods. Because the better they are, the harder they work for you—and the less you actually have to work.
A Bigger Cutting Board
Average cutting boards aren’t up to the job of meal prep. Sure, you’ve got room to slice up an onion, and maybe even a bit of garlic, but when you’ve got to break down four potatoes, three bell peppers, and a whole bulb of garlic, your plate-sized cutting board just won’t cut it.
Invest in a large, weighted cutting board, one that’s unlikely to scoot on slick counters. Wood is better for your good knives (an investment we’ll talk about shortly), and it’s very easy to clean with mild soap and warm water. This cutting board is 24”x18” and perfectly prepared to handle a full day of meal prep—if you have the room to store it (a factor you must take into consideration before buying).
Buy It: Boos Edge-Grain Rectangular Cutting Board, Cherry, williams-sonoma.com, $144
A Quality Knife
Once you experience the magic that is a high-quality, properly-weighted, sharp knife, you’ll never go back to that $20 chef’s knife you’ve had for years. Yes, knives can be sharpened—and should be—but some knives (that $20 one, for example) aren’t really made to be sharpened.
A high-quality knife is a worthy investment. Like the heavy-duty cutting board, you may not realize how much of a difference one tool can make until you try it, but, believe us, once you have a good quality knife (and care for it properly), you’ll know why chefs are so protective of their stash.
Buy It: Zwilling J.A. Henckels Four Star 8” Chef’s Knife, surlatable.com, $100
An Instant Pot makes large batches of grains in minutes. It tenderizes a dense cut of meat in half the time of stovetop cooking. It can cook beans perfectly in the blink of an eye.
What can’t an Instant Pot do for the time-pressed meal prepper? Not too terribly much. Get one, and you’ll find many, many ways to use it to save money (use cheaper cuts of meat) and time (again, it cooks dense whole grains to chewy perfection in just minutes).
Buy It: 6-quart Instant Pot Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, amazon.com, $100
Glass Storage Containers
Don’t bother with plastic storage containers. Invest in glass ones. They’re safe from chemicals, won’t warp in the dishwasher, and go from the fridge to the microwave—no need to dirty up another plate.
Look for package deals of food containers; they’ll likely be a better deal than individual containers. Grab a few glass jars, too. Small ones (4-oz jars) are great for salad dressing and sauces. Larger ones are ideal for to-be-blended smoothie ingredients, overnight oats, and soups.
Buy It: Prep Natural Glass Meal Prep Containers, set of 5, amazon.com, $26
This kitchen tool might seem like a one-trick pony, but it’s much more versatile than you envision at first pass. In addition to zesting citrus for marinade, salad dressings, and sauces, you can make quick work of “mincing” garlic and ginger, as well as finely grating cheese, even hot peppers.
Zesters come in a variety of sizes. The Microplane Classic Zester is all you need.
Buy It: Microplane Classic Zester, target.com, $15
Nesting Bowls with Lids
Bowls keep your ingredients contained, so any series of bowls would likely do. But if you’re in the market and buying new, get a set with lids. Why? They double as storage containers when your other prep containers aren’t big enough or you’ve exhausted your entire supply.
Buy It: Pyrex Smart Essentials Mixing Bowl Set, 8 piece, target.com, $20
Meal preppers know it’s a good idea to be as precise as possible when you’re cooking in big batches. Weighing ingredients makes recipes go smoothly, and it helps prevent food waste. No, we’re not talking cake-baking levels of precision, but you’ll find that you save time and money if you weigh out your potatoes, chicken, beans, and more.
A scale can also help you separate large packages of beef, chicken, and other proteins into smaller recipe-sized packs you can freeze for the future. At these bulk sizes, you will likely be able to save a dollar or more per pound, but you’ve got to do a bit of work to make the savings stretch.
This OXO scale has a capacity of 11 pounds, enough for just about any cooking task, and the screen pulls away from the scale so you can see your totals around the rims of big bowls and dishes.
Buy It: OXO Good Grips Digital Glass Food Scale with Pull Out Display,amazon.com, $47.50
Wooden Citrus Reamer
When you have 12 lemons to juice for your dressings, sauces, marinades, and more, you’ll regret not having this inexpensive tool around to make the task easier. Citrus squeezers are handy, too, but they’re bulky and can cost close to $20. This $6 citrus reamer is all you need. Squeeze the juice into a bowl, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve to remove seeds and pulp.
Buy It: OXO Good Grips Wooden Reamer, bedbathandbeyond.com, $6
If meal prep had an Inspector Gadget-like mascot, kitchen shears would be it. A clean pair of kitchen shears can break down chicken, trim woody ends of asparagus, finely chop chives for potatoes, slice through large heads of lettuce, and more. It’s one of the most versatile kitchen tools any chef can have, but for the meal prepper, a good set of food-worthy scissors is a gift from the heavens.
Look for shears that can be taken apart. You can clean these more easily and reduce the risk of bacteria build up between blades.
Buy It: Wusthof WU5558-1 Come-Apart Kitchen Shears, amazon.com, $20