12 Quick and Easy Meal Prep Hacks

woman chopping fruit

No time for meal prep? I’ve got 12 Quick and Easy Meal Prep Hacks to make you speedier in the kitchen. (Because who wants to spend 8 hours cooking meals that will take you 10 minutes to eat?)

“I want to prep meals but I just don’t have time.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this…

Meal prep seems intimidating, I know. Whenever I think of the phrase ‘meal prep,’ I think of people who are WAY more organized than me spending their entire Sunday dishing out food into little plastic containers. Even I don’t want to do that. I have good news for you… it doesn’t have to be that complicated! (Or take you forever.)

If you’re not sure if meal prep is for you, I’ve got 10 reasons that will motivate you to meal prep. (Read if you dare!)

With a few quick and easy meal prep hacks, you can simplify your meal prep process so it doesn’t eat up your entire weekend. These are the tried and true methods I use myself every single week!

12 Quick and Easy Meal Prep Hacks

1. Don’t fear convenience foods

Pre-cut, frozen, and canned foods are life-savers. Pre-cut veggies are sometimes a bit more costly, but they’ll save you time washing and chopping.

Frozen foods like fruits, veggies, and proteins have the same benefits, plus — some frozen produce may actually be more nutrient-dense! Take frozen strawberries for example. Unlike fresh strawberries, which are sometimes picked before they’re ripe so they can withstand traveling the store, frozen strawberries can be picked when they are fresher (and therefore contain more nutrients).

Canned foods get a bad rap because of their sodium content, but this can easily be improved by choosing reduced-sodium options and rinsing intact canned foods like beans in cold water.

2. Choose recipes with limited ingredients

Have you ever picked a recipe that looks amazing until you realize it has close to 30 ingredients?! Each ingredient requires more time searching for it in the store or in your pantry. By choosing recipes for your meal plan that have short ingredient lists (think 10 or less), you’ll spend less time and money at the store, and less time gathering and preparing your ingredients at home.

3. Use one piece of kitchen equipment — not five

Let’s use chicken parmesan with pasta and steamed veggies as an example. First, you have to preheat the oven, then you have to get a big pot of water boiling. Next, you have to heat up a pan to brown your chicken (hope you have that breaded)! Once your chicken is browned, it’s ready to be finished off in the oven. Don’t forget to heat up more pasta sauce in a saucepan and steam veggies in another pot or a steamer! By the time you’re done with all that kitchen equipment juggling, you’re left with a delicious meal, but also a ton of dishes to do. Meals like this are fun, but not always efficient.

Let me introduce you to your new time-saving BFF – one-pan/one-pot meals. Using our chicken parmesan example, we could lightly coat a thinly sliced chicken breast with parmesan cheese and spices, then bake on a large baking sheet. Instead of pasta, we could use roasted potatoes (on the same baking sheet) and add broccoli to the baking sheet halfway through cooking. Top with fresh tomato slices and mozzarella and you’re ready to go!

4. Try no-cook meals

Who says you need to cook your food to make it delicious? (Okay, there are obvious exceptions here with meat, but bear with me.) Less time cooking means less time in the kitchen and more time living your life! Some examples include protein-packed overnight oats, chickpea salad (canned chickpeas, cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta cheese), turkey and veggie wrap (low-sodium deli turkey, hummus, lettuce, tomato, bell peppers), or a chickpea salad sandwich.

chickpea salad sandwich on plate with bowl of salad and tomato

5. Enlist helpers

You don’t have to do it all on your own. Read that again, repeat as needed.

Working together saves SO much time. You chop veggies, I’ll cut and clean the chicken. One person makes the salad, the other can grill. I can cook, you clean up.

6. Invest in an Instant Pot

I’m not being paid to say that, I promise — just genuinely impressed with mine. Making shredded chicken used to take me 4 hours in a crockpot. In the instant pot, it takes about 30 minutes. Amazing.

Looking for more time-saving kitchen gadgets? I wrote about that here.

7. Pre-chop meats and veggies

Try washing produce and cutting veggies and meat right when you get home from the store. (Honestly, I think that’s my least favorite part of meal prep.) When it’s time to prep your meals, all you’ll need to do is gather your ingredients and put them together. This is an especially great tip for anyone who prefers to prep meals on weeknights after work.

8. Try proteins that don’t take forever to cook

I love chicken and a good pot roast just as much as the next person, but these proteins can take more time to be cooked to the right temperature or tenderness. To save time, try proteins that don’t require cooking (such as canned beans or canned tuna/salmon), or proteins that cook quickly (such as eggs, tofu, frozen edamame, or fish).

can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans

9. Outsource sauces and seasonings

Picture yourself running around the kitchen trying to find all of the spices to make a curry, homemade pasta sauce, or tacos. (This is me AF, and I always seem to forget something.) To save time, try pre-made sauces (such as simmer sauces found in the world foods aisle, low-sodium/sugar pasta sauce, or salsa) or spice mixes.

Want to avoid pre-made taco seasoning packets? I have a recipe for a DIY Taco Seasoning Mix you can make as needed or prep ahead in bulk for future recipes!

10. Start with prepping one meal, not all of them

Overwhelmed by the thought of preparing all of your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the week? Start with one meal. Which one would make the most impact for you?

Do you tend to skip breakfast, then end up haaaangry before lunch? Start with preparing some grab-and-go breakfasts like PB Banana Overnight Oats, a High-Protein Green Smoothie, or Quinoa Egg Cups.

Are you a frequent drive-thru goer during your lunch hour? Start with preparing a large batch of salad with some protein like this Pomegranate & Pistachio Salad with Chickpeas.

Is dinner a struggle on busy workdays? (Screw it, we’re ordering takeout!) Prep your dinners ahead of time so that you can enjoy a healthy meal and still enjoy your evening. Power Bowls are a fun and easy option.

11. Take advantage of tech

Use your tools, people! We live in a pretty smart world nowadays. Your smartphones and tablets are capable of so much more than scrolling through Facebook – they can also help you with meal prep. My guy and I use a shared note on our iPhones to list our planned meals for the week with links to all of the recipes as needed. When it’s time to cook, we open the notes app, click on the recipe, and we’re ready to rock and roll!

12. Put on a cooking show.

No seriously, I know this seems silly, but I wouldn’t tell you to try it unless I could verify that it works. Watching talented chefs chop veggies at a million miles per hour makes me feel like I can make a meal in 20 minutes too.

Still feeling a bit skeptical that you can meal prep like a pro?

Loving these quick and easy meal prep hacks but still feeling overwhelmed? Check out my FREE 3-Step Weekly Meal Planning Guide. This is the framework I use personally to make sure I have healthy meals on hand every single week. If you haven’t signed up to receive it already, use the link below! I’ll send you a printable menu and shopping planner, step-by-step instructions, and bonus meal planning and prep tips.

FREE 3-Step Weekly Meal Planning Guide

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Lorene Klaft
    January 7, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    Please send me the 3 step weekly planner guide

    • Reply
      Chelsea Jackle, RDN
      January 9, 2020 at 2:57 am

      Hi Lorene,

      I fixed an issue with the link above (‘FREE 3-Step Weekly Meal Planning Guide’) that allows you to download the guide. You’ll be prompted to enter your email, then the guide will be sent to you. Let me know if you have any trouble!

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