Whether you’re a meal prep novice, need new cooking tips for when you’re short on time, or are sick of making the same healthy foods over and over, use this guide for fresh ideas and time-saving cooking hacks for satiating, healthy meals.
If you’re just getting started, consider reading our How to Be a Master Meal Planner and Food Prepper article. You might also find it useful to print off our LEVL Weekly Planner where you can jot down your grocery list and plan out what you’ll eat at each meal this week. Try these expert prep and planning tips so you’ll always have healthy foods on hand.
MAKE YOUR SLOW COOKER YOUR BEST FRIEND.
“Being busy and trying to feed a family on top of it all, I’m the queen of making staples, like slow cooker shredded chicken,” says Liz Josefsberg, LEVL weight loss expert. She takes boneless, skinless chicken breasts and adds salt, pepper, garlic and a cup of green salsa on top, then lets the meal cook on low for six hours and then pulls it apart with forks to shred the chicken. Double the recipe and use that chicken as a base for meals all week long, suggests Josefsberg. The first night might be shredded chicken with sautéed veggies. The next night might be taco night, another dinner could be chicken lettuce wraps with barbecue sauce. You can even sneak it into vegetable soups for more protein. “Use one thing and change it completely throughout the week to keep it interesting so you and your family don’t get bored. I’ll hide this shredded chicken a million different ways,” Josefsberg says.
PREP AND COOK TONS OF VEGGIES AT ONCE.
Make big batches of veggies that can be used in multiple ways. “I’ll get an extra-large bag of broccoli and cook the whole thing at once,” says Josefsberg. “As a family, we might have half at dinner, then I’ll have cooked broccoli to toss into my omelet the next day for breakfast or to add to other meals and soups the next day,” Josefsberg says. Kristen F. Gradney, RD, Director of Nutrition and Metabolic Services at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, suggests making time on the weekend and roasting pans of carrots, squash, broccoli and your favorite veggies and flash freezing them on a sheet pan. Once they are frozen, she suggests storing them in plastic bags, squeezing out the air. “You can throw these into soups, pastas, or just use them as part of a flavorful side dish,” Gradney says.
BATCH-COOK GRAINS FOR DAYS.
Make large batches of grains, such as quinoa or brown rice, and freeze them in storage bags in individual one-cup portions and some larger family size portions, suggests Gradney. These are great to grab for lunch or dinner with roasted veggies and a protein
ALWAYS MAKE MORE THAN ONE MEAL WHEN YOU’RE COOKING.
“I plan and shop on Sundays for the work week,” says Courtney Witter, LEVL product marketing manager. “Once dinner is over each night, I pack my lunch of leftovers for the next day so it’s ready to go in the morning. I suggest you make at least one meal a week that can be split into two meals. For example, roasted chicken with veggies one night and chicken added to vegetable soup or a salad the next night.”
PREP BREAKFAST AHEAD OF TIME.
Egg cups in a muffin tin are one of the Josefsberg family’s go-to breakfasts on busy mornings. Simply preheat the oven to 350°F, and spray the muffin tin with nonstick spray. Then crack each egg into the muffin cup and bake for about 15 minutes. Josefsberg likes to add vegetables, bacon, and different cheeses to her egg cups. “My kids eat these egg cups and love them. Just heat them up for 30 seconds in the morning in the microwave and breakfast is ready,” she says.
INVEST IN QUALITY KITCHEN TOOLS THAT WILL HELP YOU.
“The right kitchen gadgets and products that can help you prepare large batches or quick meals with little effort can make meal preparation much easier,” says Gradney. Slow cookers, pressure cookers, vegetable choppers, and good, sharp knives go a long way to make your meal prep easier. Plenty of storage bags and varying sizes of plastic or glass container you can store food in are essential for quick and easy meals you can heat up throughout the week.
SPEND MONEY ON TIME-SAVING SHORTCUTS.
If your week doesn’t allow for you to clean, chop, and prep ingredients for the week, then invest in some pre-prepped or prepared items that will save you lots of time –like chopped onions, bell peppers, baby carrots, peeled and chopped butternut squash, or even roasted chicken when you’re short on time. “Occasionally spending a few more cents on these items will save you anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes and allow you to jump right in and start cooking or eating!” says Gradney.