Food & Recipes

12 Meal-Prep Tips To Take The Stress Out Of Weeknight Dinners

Because Monday through Friday are hectic enough.

By the time dinner rolls around each day, you’ve probably expended too much energy, time and patience to have any left for mincing vegetables. If you want to avoid the temptation of the takeout menu, you’ve got to try these smart meal prep tricks. Get out your gadgets, take shortcuts and plan on the weekend when you’re not overwhelmed.

1. Get Ready On The Weekend

This first tip might be the hardest, because who wants to spend more of their weekend on household tasks rather than relaxing? But, meal-prep experts often recommend using part of your Sunday to at least plan out what meals you’ll be having in the coming week, and when you’ll eat them.

Use a calendar to plot the right meal for the right night. Does Sarah have soccer on Tuesday? Choose your quickest recipe. In-laws coming for dinner on Sunday? Maybe that’s when you serve up your crowd-pleasing chicken Marsala.

And you can also save time by using Sunday to chop the veggies you plan to use throughout the week, or to cook up a batch of protein (eggs, chicken, etc.) or grains for various meals.

chef photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

2. Get A Smart Shopping List

Apps like AnyList and Out of Milk mean you always have your grocery list on your phone. You can often upload recipes and share your lists with multiple people. Bonus: The paid version of AnyList also lets you upload photos of grocery items. Great for helping your sometimes-clueless spouse identify a specific item you want when out on a grocery run.

Anylist

3. Bag And Freeze Slow-Cooker Ingredients

Prep all the ingredients for a slow cooker recipe and put them all together in a freezer bag. Then freeze until you’re ready to make the meal. Then just dump the contents of the bag into your slow cooker and press start! StockpilingMoms.com has a great plan for prepping 20 freezer-to-slow-cooker meals in just four hours!

slow cooker freezer meals

 

4. Try A Pressure Cooker

Slow cookers are great, but do you know what might be even better? An InstantPot (i.e. InstaPot). These pressure cookers are all the rage now, and for good reason. They can turn frozen chicken breasts into meat that’s falling off the bone in a fraction of the time a slow cooker would.

instantpot photo
Flickr | {Amy_Jane}

5. Try One-Pan Recipes

Make one-pan and one-pot recipes to save yourself on clean-up. This creamy chicken and bacon pasta recipe from Julia’s Album might be a good place to start.

One-Pot-Wonder-Pasta-682x1024.jpg
Julia's Album

 

6. Use Pre-Chopped Garlic

Why waste your time chopping garlic when you can buy minced and grated versions at the store? Seriously worth it, not only for the time saved, but also so that you don’t have that lingering garlic smell on your fingers.

minced garlic
Gail

7. Pick Up A Pair Of These Cool Scissors

And speaking of saving time on chopping, how awesome are these scissors for cutting down on the time it takes you to chop herbs?

herb scissors
Amazon

8. Spiralize Your Veggies

Another gadget you might consider getting? A vegetable spiralizer, which is especially great for creating veggie noodles as a substitute for pasta in all your favorite recipes. Saves time and makes your meals healthier!

Amazon

9. Shop Your Pantry

Clean out your pantry and get meal ideas at the same time. Instead of looking up a new recipe, assess what you’ve got in your pantry and create meals around those items. It’s also smart to come up with an essential pantry (and fridge) list of items you never want to run out of.

pantry photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

10. Plan Themed Dinners

Regularly themed dinner nights give you a way to structure your meal prep planning and add variety. Got a Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday? How about a grain bowl night? Or an egg night? That takes you all the way to Friday when we say go ahead and order pizza!

eggs photo
Flickr | shilobar

11. Use Frozen Produce

Keep your freezer stocked with frozen fruits and vegetables and you’ll save yourself countless trips to the grocery store. What’s more, studies have shown that frozen produce is often more nutritious than fresh produce, since it was frozen at its peak.

frozen food photo
Flickr | Person Behind the Scenes

12. Use Your Microwave

Microwaves are your reheating and popcorn-making workhorses. But, there are also some great microwave recipes out there (and not just circa the 1980s). Pop items like potatoes into the microwave to cut down on cooking time. We especially love this sweet potato soup microwave recipe.

microwave photo
Flickr | cbb4104

And if you want some more meal prep-inspired recipes, we’ve got you covered.

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