You've heard all the hype about meal prep, right? It's the latest Sunday afternoon craze. You plan and prep a bunch of meals and either pop them in the freezer or portion them into small containers so that you have something to eat all week. Sounds like a perfect world. If all that sounds like too much work, but you're still stressing over what to make for dinner when six o'clock rolls around, I have news for you:
Meal prep can be as straightforward or as complicated as you want. You can easily make meal prep work for you, according to your habits, preferences, and cooking skills. Here's the super simple formula:
Start With a Grain (or Grain Substitute)
Whether you're interested in prepping more lunches or more dinners, create the foundation by cooking up some grains. If you're into rice, pasta, or polenta, start there. If you're looking for keto-friendly, low-carb alternatives, try zoodles (you know; zucchini noodles), quinoa, cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash, or something along those lines.
Cook enough of this base food to last most of the week. The key here is to season a bit, but not too specifically. You want this one grain to stretch over several different meals, all with different flavor profiles. So if you plan to have the rice with refried beans one night, baked chicken another night, and curry every day for lunch, it needs to have a generic seasoning when you first make it. Try cooking it in chicken broth, vegetable stock, or just salted water.
You probably know the drill already: pick your favorite protein (or two) cook up a big batch of it, and don't season it too much at the beginning. If you've been cooking for yourself for a while, you already know what you like and how to cook it. The biggest difference between meal prep Sunday and any other day of the week is how many portions you decide to cook.
If you're having trouble deciding how many different proteins to prep, think about what you could make with just your favorite one. For example, if you like chicken, you could make a roast chicken and potatoes meal, chicken tacos, chicken soup, and so on. Then add one more favorite protein. Do you like beans? Cook them with just a little salt or broth, and you can add chili powder and cumin for taco night, meat and sauce for chili night, and so on. Get creative if you want, or stick to your same-old, same-old. Whatever works for you.
Don't Forget Your Veggies
Veggies are important! Don't leave them out. For vegetables you plan to eat fresh, such as in a salad, it's best to chop and dice only a few days' worth at a time. For veggies you want to cook ahead, think about how you can streamline the process. Could you roast some onions and squash at the same time that you're baking a chicken? Great! Let your oven do double-duty.
Bonus: Tools of the (Meal Prep) Trade
The beauty of meal prep is that you can ease into it with whatever tools you already have. However, if you want to make big-batch cooking easier on yourself, you might want to invest in a few big-batch cooking tools: