cooking weeknight dinners makes you crazy, consider this: Devoting part of one weekend
day to meal prep could ease your hectic evening routine.
“Using Sunday, for example, to figure out what meals you want to cook for the next five to seven days will work wonders to help you de-stress,” says Gwen Alexander, author of “Losing Weight to Gain Control: Loving Your Weight Maintenance Journey.”
Read on for seven tips from Alexander and several other experts.
1. Create a meal prep calendar. Before you do anything, take a look at your weekly calendar. Will you be home every night? Do you have meetings? “By staying focused on the week ahead, you’ll stay organized and cook just what you need,” says Alyssa Bossio, author of several e-books and creator of How2MealPrep. “By working around your calendar, it will be easier for you to stay on track and carve out time to prepare your meals,” she says. “It will also help you plan how many meals you need for each day of the week.”
2. Keep recipes accessible. If you have favorites that you like making week after week, save them in a folder on your mobile device or mark the page in your cookbook. Giving yourself easy access to your recipes removes one more obstacle in the cooking process.
3. Make a list. Once you’ve sketched out what you want to make during the week ahead, check your pantry or fridge to see what ingredients you have on hand and what you need to buy. Keeping a running list of items needed for each meal will make it easier to prepare meals. “Incorporate all of the foods you want to cook and eat for each day throughout the week,” Bossio says. “A thorough, detailed shopping list will help ensure that you have everything you need for the week of meals ahead. This list will also save tons of time, stress and confusion while you’re out food shopping.”
4. Act as a sous chef. Once you have all of your ingredients, get ready to prep. “Clean and chop your veggies and place them in a container or Ziploc-type bag,” Alexander suggests. “This includes the onions or garlic you might need for a stir-fry or salad.” (You can save even more time by buying these items pre-chopped in the produce section of your grocer, but if you want to save money, doing it yourself is the way to go.)
Even if you’re using canned items, open them, portion them out and place them in a container that holds the number of servings you need, Alexander says. Tip: Most grains, from rice to quinoa, can be made ahead of time and will be ready to eat throughout the week.
5. Buy frozen fruits and veggies. Stocking frozen produce is super convenient because it lasts much longer than fresh. You’ll need to make fewer trips to the grocery store. “Frozen veggies can be easily tossed into a cooking pan or into the oven,” Bossio says. “Frozen fruits can be tossed into a blender to make quick breakfast shakes and smoothies.”
6. Use leftovers to your advantage. For example, a large pot roast made in the slow cooker on Sunday means you may have enough meat for beef tacos or burritos later in the week, says Marye Audet-White, a food writer, recipe developer and cookbook author. “Cook several pounds of chicken breast in the slow cooker and you’ll have it for chicken salads, chicken burritos or quick chicken casseroles during the week.”
Think about "building blocks" you use to create a meal. "When you make a huge pot of chili, intending to eat it for a week, let's be honest, by day three, you're not feeling the love," says Liza Baker, an integrative nutrition health coach in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Instead, if you’re making marinara to serve over pasta, why not double the meal and use half of it later in the week to braise some chicken in it. If you’re making brown rice, make a double batch and use the rest in a casserole," Baker says.