The concept of meal prepping isn’t new, but that doesn’t make it any less daunting for folks short on time. No matter which way you slice it, prepping meals requires a certain level of organization and — let’s face it — commitment on all levels. In its early days of popularity, meal prep consisted of endless hours of recipe searching, chopping, stirring and grazing over a hot stove or oven, but not anymore! These days, many foodies have discovered time-saving hacks that make the art of meal prepping a talent worth investing in.
So, ditch the stress of planning a whole week’s worth of meals and get ready to take some notes because we’re sharing meal hacks that are guaranteed to make your work week easier… and more delicious.
Let’s get started with the basics.
Save recipes where you’ll use them the most
Here’s the tea: not everyone is willing to crack open a cookbook to find their next meal — and that’s totally OK. Be open to ditching traditional methods and focus your recipe search on the spaces you frequent most often. If visual learning with a hands-on approach is your strength, save recipes from your favourite YouTubers and cook meals from your iPad or laptop.
The same can be true for Instagram Reels and TikTok, and since the videos are short, watching how to prep from the small screen of your phone won’t be an issue. Of course, if you prefer flipping through the pages of your favourite cookbook — go for it. Just be realistic with your time and which method of content inspires you the most.
Work with your schedule, not against it
Prepping all the ingredients is the most time-consuming step in meal preparation. This is especially true if you decide to prep the meals during your free time, which could lead to resenting the entire process.
Instead of cramming in all you need to do on your days off, split the process over two days. Prep meals back-to-back or split them between Sunday and Wednesday to allow a period of rest in between. It might feel too ambitious to prep for every meal of the day, so determine what is most beneficial based on your lifestyle.
For example, if you struggle with waking up early enough to make breakfast on time, you may decide that prepping breaky ahead is key. Alternatively, you might work odd hours or have a busy after-work schedule, forcing you to consider dinner meal prep as your best option. Luckily, lunch prep can be solved with simple, healthy choices like premade tuna salad, veggies and hummus, bagged salad, and other grab-and-go items.
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Double down on your grocery shopping list
How you schedule your prep days could be determined by the complexity of your recipes, so it’s essential to plan the meals you want to make in tandem with your grocery shopping. Ensure your shopping list includes everyday items you need to replenish and those required for recipes, and consider ingredients that will cut meal prep time in half, such as frozen fruit for smoothies or canned sauces for weeks where you know you’ll have less time to prep.
You can also help bring down the cost of your grocery run by purchasing common meal prep items in bulk, like grains, seeds and nuts, oils, powders, seasoning, etc., and by organizing your fridge and pantry to ensure you aren’t purchasing duplicates and moving items that will expire first to the front of the shelves.
Invest in the right food storage containers
When possible, avoid cheap plastic containers, which have the potential to make readied ingredients spoil faster or worse — create a smell that somehow stays embedded in the container forever. Instead, invest in air-tight glass containers with better seals that keep food fresher longer and are easier to clean.
Bring down costs by seeking out containers that have dividers and can be purchased in bulk, or start saving glass containers from the food you already purchased. Avoid plastic wraps and opt for reusable beeswax food wraps, food hugger lids, fruit covers and reusable silicone bags instead of plastic for more eco-friendly food storage options.
Next, we’re moving on to savvy time-saving meal prep hacks.
Embrace freezer-friendly meals
Extend the life of your meal-prepping effort by making large batches of freezer-friendly meals. Many TikTok influencers have shared tried and true recipe options like breakfast sandwiches, hearty soups, blended smoothies and entire pan lasagna that can be quickly packaged for individual use anytime you need a quick snack or full meal. If you don’t have time to create an entire meal, you can add diced veggies and fruit in freezer-safe storage containers or bags, then grab them when needed to put together a last-minute dinner for busier days quickly.
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Don’t be afraid to take a shortcut
Listen, there is absolutely no shame in taking a few shortcuts when mapping out meals. Some shortcuts include meal swapping with your pals or roommates or splitting the cost of groceries to reduce the total bill and time spent shopping. Another meal prep hack that recently blew TikTokers away was a recommendation to order a catered meal from a restaurant and create separate meals that could be stored for the week or popped in the freezer for another date. So, if you’re especially low on time, ordering in large portions could be the perfect meal hack for you.
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Invest in new, time-saving kitchen tools
If you have the means, consider purchasing new kitchen tools and accessories to make meal planning less stressful and time-consuming. Many online recommendations exist for an all-in-one food chopper and mincers, often equipped with multiple blades for varying sizes and cuts. Spiralizers are another affordable tool, as they offer a healthy replacement for pasta using zucchini, squash or carrots. But the real star of the show is the silicon muffin tray that made its round on TikTok as the perfect option for single portions meals made easy.
Use everyday kitchen items in new ways
Of course, you can always lean on the kitchen items you likely already have hidden in your cupboards. Looking for a special tool to remove steams from your favourite herbs? Simply pull parsley through a box grater instead. Love pancakes, but can’t make use of all the batter? Add leftover mix to an ice cube tray to enjoy whenever you want. Searching for hacks will help you save time in the long run, but there’s also fun to try, like learning to slice a whole container of tomatoes using only a knife and two plates.
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When in doubt, use a tortilla shell
If you need to learn how to assemble your meals quickly to avoid any meal prep roadblocks, look no further than the old faithful tortilla shell. Plenty of well-tested tortilla hack recipes are bound to make your life much easier. All you need to do is cut a vertical slit half the length of the tortilla from the bottom to the center, allowing the shell to be folded for perfect frying and portability. Some popular recipes include pizza wraps, traditional burrito ingredients, burger toppings, fruit and cheese — or really anything your heart desires.
One pot and one pan meals
Another easy way to double down on recipes and time is creating one pot or one pan meals. In this scenario, the ingredients required can cook at the same temperate and length, making it quick and painless to turn out a week’s worth of lunch or dinner time staples. One sheet cooking can also come in handy for protein prep. All you need is some tin foil to create dividers on your cookie sheet, then season your preferred protein multiple ways and cook it simultaneously. It’s a great way to avoid boring meals by adding multiple flavour options to a prepared base, such as salads, rice, pasta, wraps and more.
Save food scraps for another meal
Finally, avoid creating unnecessary food waste by freezing food scraps from your meal prepping to use for another meal down the line. One of the most common items to make with food scraps is soup broth, but there are plenty of other options to try. Stale bread can be used to make croutons for soups, salads and stews, while some fruit peels can be used to make jam or can even be pickled. Think outside your waste bin to repurpose food scrapes while reducing waste, minimizing environmental impact, and saving money.