Let’s admit it: Meal prepping may conjure up images of Tupperware assembly lines and a bland rotation of grilled chicken meals. Plus, who wants to devote an entire weekend afternoon to slaving away in the kitchen?
Believe it or not, it doesn’t have to go down this way. Here to prove that meal prepping can be quick and easy are nutrition experts who have shared their best hacks for grocery shopping, meal prepping, and storing food. Not only will you have delicious and healthy meals on deck throughout the week, but you’ll also free up time and avoid the carry-out temptation.
Here’s how nutrition experts meal prep for the week.
1. Organize Your Grocery List Like a Pro
After you meal plan for the week, write your grocery list in order of where you’ll find the items in your local grocery story, suggests Registered Dietitian Kelli McGrane, a contributing writer for Foodal, a recipe and cooking advice website. Dividing your list up by sections — dairy, meat, seafood, produce, spice aisle — makes for a super-efficient grocery run.
2. Make Homemade Granola for Busy Mornings
Don’t just focus on meal prepping for the main meals. Remember breakfast, too, says McGrane. For seamless weekday mornings, she makes homemade protein or granola bars each Sunday, and wraps them in parchment paper. “Keeping one in my bag at all times helps me avoid less healthy choices from a convenience store or vending machine,” she says. Here are McGrane’s favorite recipes: flax seed and peanut butter energy bars and peanut butter granola.
3. Break Away From Recipes
If recipes seem daunting to you, Philadelphia-based sports dietitian Kelly Jones, R.D., recommends going with a mix-and-match strategy. “For example, I advocate for including a starch, a protein, and a vegetable at lunches and dinners,” she says. To hit this formula, make two to three of your favorite proteins at the beginning of the week, two to three starches, and roast or chop your favorite vegetables and then mix up your meals throughout the week. Add in your favorite dressings, spices, and toppings like hummus and you’ve got nutrition-packed bowls, Jones says.
4. Plan Around Your Proteins
If you have a tough time coming up with dinner ideas throughout the week, try planning around your proteins, suggests Liz Wyosnick, a registered dietitian in Seattle and owner of the private practice Equilibriyum. Propose a designated protein each day of the week to make the process easier, she suggests. “For example, each week: Monday is meatless, Tuesday is shrimp, Wednesday is chicken, Thursday is leftovers, Friday is fish, Saturday is a night out, and Sunday is red meat-based,” she says. This will strike the right balance of variety and predictability, which is something Wyosnick’s clients appreciate.
5. Immediately Prep Your Veggies
Prep your vegetables as soon as you get home from the grocery store or farmers market, Wyosnick suggests. “As soon as I get home, I unload groceries and keep my whole fresh vegetables out to chop and store,” she says. “I will chop cabbage, broccoli, green onions, cucumbers, carrots, and peppers for meals and snack additions.” That way, Wyosnick says, she can add the chopped veggies to the steamer or a pan to roast to go along with her meal. “This has also lessened food waste because I am drawn to use the vegetables sooner since they are semi-prepared,” she says.
6. Store Your Food the Right Way
Keep a dry paper towel with your leafy greens and fresh herbs that are stored in a bag or a container, suggests fitness nutritionist April Tafoya. “The towel will absorb excess moisture and keep your greens fresh twice as long,” she says.
Another pro tip from Tafoya: Wait until your food is no longer steaming before you add a lid and refrigerate it. The excess steam will turn to condensation, which can lead to soggy lunch leftovers.
7. Make a Batch of Grains
Again, the key is to avoid being overwhelmed and avoid meal prep for fear it will eat up your entire Sunday afternoon. Rather, think about your weekly staples, suggests Kelsey Cohrt, a certified integrative nutrition health coach and owner of Seattle-based Northwest Health Coaching. In addition to having, say, a rotisseries chicken to pull from or hard-boiled eggs on hand, make a big batch of grains at the beginning of the week so you can add them to your salads, soups, or make a grain bowl, Cohrt suggests. She recommends barley, rice, quinoa, or farro.
Plus, it’s a good idea to prep items in bulk that take a long time to cook, says Nicole Spaulding, a fitness nutrition specialist at Dr. Charlie Seltzer M.D.: Weight Loss, Lifestyle & Fitness Solutions in Philadelphia.
“After I get home from a long day of work followed by the gym, I do not want to wait 45 minutes for rice or quinoa to cook,” Spaulding says. “At the beginning of the week, I make a batch of quinoa and split it up between my dinners for the week.”
8. Buy Pre-Cut Veggies
Short on time? Spaulding says to avoid peeling and chopping veggies on busy nights, she’ll buy pre-prepped vegetables. “This is a little more expensive, but if you have very little extra time, it’s worth the extra cost,” she says.
9. Marinate Your Chicken
It’s also a great idea to cut up your boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs into chunks as soon as you bring them home, says Rachel MacPherson, a certified personal trainer and health coach. Her favorite trick? Make three marinades, such as lemon, garlic, and oregano; chile powder, lime, and cumin; and a third with jerk seasoning. Store the chicken in bags with the marinades and freeze or use within a couple of days, she suggests. Throughout the week, add veggies and rice or potatoes for sides.
How to Help:
The Family Dinner Project is a nonprofit that champions family dinner as a way for families to connect through food, fun and conversation about things that matter. Based in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Psychiatry Academy, the Family Dinner Project team works with national and community organizations online and at community events to help families increase the frequency, meaning and long-term benefits of their shared meals. Learn more about their resources and partnership opportunities and donate to support their important work.
Brittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness, and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram.