Our Top 10 Hacks to Make Meal Planning Easier
Meal prep doesn't need to be the intimidating activity that many people make it out to be. With just a little bit of planning, a quick trip to the store, and a hunk of time spent in your kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, you've got all you need for a successful, easy week of meals. From making big batches of grains to always keeping your proteins handy and on deck, we've outlined all of our best practices for living your best meal-prepping life.
To commemorate the 10-year anniversary of MyRecipes's existence this week, our staff is sharing round-ups (by the 10's, obviously)—including some of our most useful tidbits of wisdom, favorite recipes, and amusing tidbits—every day. Yesterday, we ran through our money-saving tips at the grocery store, and today, we bring to you our favorite ways to make meal planning just a little bit easier and so much less stressful.
1. Freeze Your Proteins
If you’ve got a chicken breast or two leftover, wrap each in plastic wrap, seal in a zip-top plastic bag, and freeze. All you have to do is thaw in the fridge the night before you want to use. Make a habit of this practice, and we guarantee you’ll waste less, and always have a protein on hand.
2. Be Realistic
If you know you’ll be sick of something after 2 days (like that salad you packed at the beginning of the week but just aren’t interested come Wednesday's lunchtime), planning ahead won’t help you. Make certain elements ahead of time instead of an entire dish so that you can mix, match, and build to your cravings. These elements could include cooked grains, hard-cooked eggs, roasted veggies, etc. If you give yourself the option of combining and eating them differently each day, you're less likely to get bored with your "leftovers."
3. Rely on Your Favorites
Have five recipes you can make (& shop!) from memory, and be sure one relies largely on pantry ingredients. Because even if you don't have a ton of time for meal prepping at the beginning of the week, making one or two meals you know and enjoy early on can keep you well fed for multiple meals to come. Having this basic rolodex of easy dishes you love at the ready will help you skip ordering take-out at least once a week. Hint: This skillet chicken with seared avocados is a great place to start.
4. Take Advantage of Pre-Chopped Produce
Sure, it might cost you a little extra money, but you can't put a price on saved time, effort, and hassle. Especially during exceptionally chaotic weeks.
5. Portion Large Batches Ahead of Time
Refrigerate grains in 1-cup portions for easy dishes during the week, or freeze in 1-cup portions for longer storage (and thaw in the microwave). Even though it's frozen, it's still way faster than starting from scratch.
6. Don't Get Too Carried Away
Don’t feel like you need to cook enough to last you through 7 full days (that's a long time and a lot of food!). You can always cook a little bit more as you go, it’s just helpful to have a starting baseline, like a pot of yummy fried rice.
7. Embrace the Chili
8. Invest In Proper Containers
What good is a boat load of prepared food without a proper vessel to store and transport it in? Bento boxes, Pyrex containers, or just some good old-fashioned tupperware is a great place to start. If your plastic food container drawer if a mess, try downsizing and investing in a few containers you'll be excited to use (and to keep up with the lids).
9. Get Lost in the Sauce
If there is one thing you will take the time to make on a Sunday, let it be an ultra-flavorful sauce (chimichurri, obv), dressing, or condiment that you can use throughout the week to make all your food just one notch better.
10. Talk to Your Friends
Believe it or not, we all have to feed ourselves. Spark up a convo with your most kitchen-inclined friends, family, and co-workers, because chances are, they're doing at least one genius thing to make their meal prep lives just a little bit simpler. It's the best way to get rid of your food envy, once and for all.