STARTS WITH PLANNING
Pick a day to plan out the week’s meals and hit the grocery store. “For most of us, Sunday is the easiest day to check out what’s already in the fridge. Write out the week’s menu, and shop.”
USE WHAT YOU’VE GOT
To save yourself time and dollars, plan meals around ingredients you have in the house. What can you do with that bag of brown rice? Burrito bowls for lunch? A base for a stir-fry dinner? Yum.
CHAMELEON YOUR FOODS
Make big batches of grains and proteins—like quinoa or hard-boiled eggs—that you can use in different ways throughout the week, says Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D. Hard-boiled eggs make a great breakfast, snack, or salad topping, while quinoa can be served as a side dish or become the base for a salad.
GET CREATIVE WITH CONDIMENTS
You can use herbs, spices, and condiments to give basic foods different flair for different meals, says Keri Glassman, R.D., C.D.N. “Say you grill up two packages of chicken breasts,” she notes. “One night, you top the chicken with some tomato sauce and parmesan and bake it to melt the cheese. Another night, you top it with hummus and feta cheese.” You just visited two totally different flavor towns via that one “boring” chicken breast.
MULTITASK YOUR OVEN OR GRILL
“If you have a grill, that’s prime real estate for meal prep,” says Krista Scott-Dixon, Ph.D., director of the Headspace Adjustment Bureau, Precision Nutrition. Load that baby up with different ingredients: meat, veggies, tofu—whatever fits!
If you don’t have a grill, you can roast chicken breasts, veggies, and potatoes together just as easily. Search “one-pan meals” on Pinterest, and you’ll find an endless amount of super-easy one-and-done meals. Why wash three pans if you could only scrub one?
(And remember, it takes the same amount of time to grill or roast three steaks that it takes to grill just one, says Scott-Dixon.)
COOK IT SLOW
Your slow cooker is about to become your BFF. “You can bake in them, stew in them, even roast in them,” says Scott-Dixon. That means you can make dinner while you’re at work.
You can also make a week’s worth of breakfast by chucking oats, nuts, chopped apples, cinnamon, and plenty of almond milk into the slow cooker, suggests Scott-Dixon. Cook on “low” overnight, and you’ll wake up with a great-smelling house and a few days’ worth of breakfast.
PUT A FREEZE ON IT
For dinners later in the week, pick out two slow-cooker recipes, and prep and combine the ingredients in freezer bags. Stash them in the freezer until you’re ready for that meal. Pritchett recommends hearty soups—like lentil—or even pasta dishes. (Psst, this strategy also works for smoothie ingredients!).
OUTSMART TIME-SUCKING INGREDIENTS
Ingredients you use often but might require extra washing and chopping can really drag out your meal-prep process. “Go for jarred garlic and ginger, pre-washed salad greens, clean canned corn, and tomatoes,” says Ryan Andrews, R.D., certified strength and conditioning specialist, coach, writer, and speaker for Precision Nutrition. You just simplified the process of making your meals. (Unless you really love shucking corn?)
Plus, to save valuable minutes on veggies, use ready-to-steam bags, low-salt cans, or freezer bags. “You’ll cut down on time without sacrificing nutrients,” says Bede.