Meticulous meal planning and strategic Sunday prepping for the week ahead have, so far, been merely aspirational, though noble, pursuits to me. I yearn to be the home cook who goes to the grocery store once a week, with plenty of reusable bags and a shopping list so streamlined it would make Martha Stewart nod in approval. So far, I am not that person.

But I love to cook easy meals from scratch, especially when the weather is cold, and especially meals that will last me through the week or can be easily frozen for emergency hunger situations. That's what makes this proposed one-hour prep session for five days of soup seem especially appealing. I'm usually intimidated by the planning and procedures that is required of good meal planning, but there's something about the forgiving nature of soup (no need to worry about beautifully diced vegetables or overcooking an expensive piece of meat!) that makes this hour in the kitchen seem entirely doable.

Your first step is to pick out five recipes that share some, but not all, ingredients. Most soups have a base of onion, garlic, chicken or vegetable stock, a grain, a few vegetables ... you get the drill. Though I haven't found a grocery list app I love, there's several apps out there that will let you plug in multiple recipes to create an (albeit redundant) shopping list. Once that's organized, get thee to a grocery store!

a closeup shot of minestrone soup in a green bowl Sometimes the hardest part of cooking is often the simplest: the grunt work of chopping, slicing and peeling. (Photo: Katrin Morenz [CC by SA 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons)

Let's say, as an example, you're going to make minestrone soup, split pea, creamy tomato, broccoli-cheese and one more comforting winter soup. In that case, your grocery list will look something like this:

Ingredients for soupapalooza

  • Salt
  • all-purpose flour (1/2 cup)
  • baking soda (1/4 tsp.)
  • sugar (2 tbsp.)
  • chicken broth (or vegetable broth) (15-20 cups)
  • cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
  • Parmesan cheese (or romano) (1/2 cup)
  • half & half (1 cup)
  • butter (2 tbsp.)
  • heavy whipping cream (2 cups)
  • dry split peas (2 cups)
  • olive oil (bottle)
  • whole wheat elbow macaroni (1 cup)
  • stale bread (2 cups)
  • red onions (1/2 cup chopped)
  • yellow onions (3-4)
  • red beans (1 can)
  • white beans (1 can)
  • diced tomatoes (2 cans)
  • tomato paste (1 can)
  • sweet potato (1 lb peeled and chopped)
  • red potatoes (2 medium peeled and diced)
  • butternut squash (2 lb peeled and chopped)
  • broccoli florets (5 cups bite-size)
  • celery (3 stalks chopped)
  • carrots (3 chopped)
  • garlic (6 cloves crushed and chopped)
  • bay leaves (2-3 crumbled)
  • paprika (2 tsp. ground)
  • black pepper
  • dried parsley (2 tablespoons)

Clear all kitchen countertops, get out your cutting boards and favorite chopping knives, put on your favorite tunes or podcast, gather your recipes, have a compost container handy to catch all those veggie clippings, and lay out five sturdy freezer bags, appropriately labeled for each soup. If you're plastic-free and have the room in your freezer, glass containers with spill-proof lids are also great for holding soup ingredients. Now, get to chopping!

Prepping tips

3 freezer bags full of mixed vegetables After each bag is filled with its custom ingredients, label and date each one, then store in freezer until you're ready to cook. (Photo: Arturs Budkevics/Shutterstock)

Start with the onions first; they're the foundation of so many good soups. Chop them up and divide evenly among bags. There's no need to precisely weigh or measure any of the base ingredients — that's the beauty of soups.

Second, tackle the garlic. However you peel it, mince it finely and add to each bag. Continue with other raw produce (sweet potato, celery, broccoli, carrots, etc.) Once everything has been divided and conquered, seal each bag or container and stick in the freezer until you're ready to cook.

When you're in need of soup, simply pick out one of the freezer bags and empty it into a soup pot, adding however much stock and additional spices each recipe calls for. You can find specific recipes and instructions for each soup below:

And there you have it! The hardest work is now done, now it's just up to you, your trusty freezer bags and a hard-working stockpot. In general, your customized bags of soup ingredients should last about six months — although hopefully, you'll get through them much quicker than that. Whether you're making butternut squash soup or broccoli-cheddar, having a homemade soup at the ready can make any winter evening a little less dreary.

Lindsey Reynolds ( @ ) takes an epicurean and academic approach to foodways, but she also writes about so many other things, including art, psychology and how to live an environmentally responsible life.

How to prep a week's worth of soups in no time
With careful planning and strategic shopping, you can prep a week's worth of soup so that getting dinner on the table isn't so hard.