For the uninitiated, meal prepping is when you spend a couple of hours one day (usually Sunday), preparing meals for the rest of the week. But it’s not always super simple, since some things don’t reheat well (looking at you, pizza), and if you prep too much, you can end up wasting food.
Kelli Foster is the meal prep aficionado for the recipe site TheKitchn.com. She also happens to be an Ironman triathlete. Foster started meal prepping when she realized that coming home from the pool at 8 p.m. was not conducive to cooking a healthy dinner. “We were eating a lot of pizza from the place down the street,” she says. Now, with a few hours of work each Sunday, most meals are homemade. Even better: “We are spending less money on food, and I’m more conscious of what we’re buying because of meal prep. We also waste a lot less,” she says.
Want to get started? Her top tips:
Maximize Your Time
“I started by setting aside three hours, but one hour is a good starting point,” Foster says. Now that she’s in a routine, she can usually get most of her meals prepped in two hours. The trick to getting a lot done in a short period is two-fold:
First: “Embrace the meanwhile. There are a lot of things that have hands-off time. When you’re roasting veggies, use that time to do a pot of hard-boiled eggs, and cook some grains. It’s maximizing that time.”
Second: Re-use your cookware to keep dishes to a minimum. The pan you used for sautéing onions can also sear chicken breasts or cook a quick gravy.
Figure Out Your Pain Points
“What do you struggle with during the week? Is it that you’re working late and then working out and need dinners made? Or do you want to eat actual meals for breakfast, instead of just grabbing a bar? For me, my pain points are lunches and dinners, so that’s where I focus my meal-prep efforts,” Foster says.
Make Things You Want to Eat
If you hate leftovers, you’re going to need to be creative with how you meal prep. Maybe it’s preparing a few of the components–like the grains and the meat but doing the final touches the day of. Foster does a mix of cooking entire dishes, like stews, that keep well, and cooking individual pieces, like chicken breasts and quinoa, that can be turned into meals as the week goes on.
Your freezer can be your best friend. Prepare double batches of things, like stews or casseroles, and stash them away for a week when you are too slammed to cook. Foster uses a first-in-first-out approach to freezing food. New meals go in the back of the freezer, and she pulls something from the front each week.
Prep Veggies Before You Forget
Each week, Foster gets a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery of local, fresh vegetables. “We just prep them right away. Roasting them, steaming them, chopping them,” she says. This system has drastically reduced the rate of her discovering cauliflower limp and moldy in her fridge.
Up Your Sauce Game
Every Sunday, Foster makes at least one dressing or sauce, but preferably two. A significant component of her weekly meal schedule is salads and Buddha Bowls. (Foster actually wrote a whole cookbook on grain bowls, Buddha Bowls: 100 Nourishing One-Bowl Meals.) The secret to making bowls and salads exciting week after week? Great sauces. Whip up one or two on a Sunday, and you’ll be halfway to a great weeknight dinner.