What I Learned When I Did My Weekly Meal Prep With The Instant Pot
Meal-prepping can be a drag. This writer tried 10 recipes to see if it was worth the hype.
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If I’ve talked to you for more than five minutes in recent months, I’ve probably tried to turn you into an Instant Pot convert. Did you know you can make perfect hard-boiled eggs in 10 minutes? What about delicious potatoes in 20? Did I mention how quick and easy it is to make rice and quinoa? It even makes yogurt.
If you don’t already know how much of a game-changer this nifty kitchen device can be, you are truly missing out. Don’t be afraid of it: Start by reviewing the quick instructions, and then follow some recipes. I’ve never burned myself or blown up anything — I promise!
I’ve never been motivated enough to do meal prep ahead of time. Spend a whole day cooking meals for the week? I love cooking, but blech, that does not sound like fun. That’s why I was intrigued by the idea of using my Instant Pot to make some basics for the week to save both money and time.
Instant Pot Meal Prep Plan
First, I set a few goals for myself:
- Cook 10 items entirely in the Instant Pot.
- Make a variety of foods that we can eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Take less than a day to make all of it.
Then, I decided what to make:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Brown rice
- Black Beans
- Vegan Mac and Cheese
- Brussels sprouts
- Coconut Yogurt
Note: I’m a vegetarian/sometimes vegan, but my family is not, and I do occasionally eat fish for the health benefits.
So, how did it go? Let’s find out!
1. Hard-Boiled Eggs
My daughter loves “cold eggs” and I use them in everything from salads to sandwiches, and even noodle bowls. Hard-boiled eggs couldn’t be easier in the Instant Pot and I love that you don’t have to watch them as closely as you do on the stovetop. I started my cook time with eggs because there’s very little prep or cleanup involved. You can cook them in as little as eight minutes for soft-boiled and 10 minutes for hard. Have a bowl of ice-cold water handy to drop the eggs in once they’re done (I use tongs), and peel right away or store in an airtight container.
Total time: 30 minutes (for two batches, including chill and store time)
2. Brown Rice
We use brown rice as a base a lot, and without fail, I forget to start the rice ahead of time. Even in the Instant Pot it can take around 20 minutes to cook. But it’s almost totally hands-off and by using a tablespoon of olive oil or ghee as mentioned in this rice recipe, you also get no sticking! I like to make the rice plain with just water and a little sea salt for versatility, but you could also sub in broth or add herbs or lime juice for more flavorful rice. I store extra rice in a glass or ceramic container for easy reheating.
Total time: 30 minutes
Quinoa also makes an awesome base for salads with fish or even breakfast with berries and honey (a personal favorite). A large bag is only $9.99 at Costco and lasts forever. Quinoa is already more foolproof than rice, and in the Instant Pot, it’s a breeze.
This recipe calls for toasting the quinoa using the sauté function before pressure cooking. Some people swear by it, but I don’t really notice a big flavor difference. Do what tastes good to you! I did two cups’ worth, which translated to two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners. Feel free to double, depending on your needs.
Total time: 30 minutes
I found out the hard way that sweet potatoes are a little tricky in the Instant Pot because of the variety of sizes, which affects cooking time greatly. But smaller potatoes turn out perfectly for me every time, especially since you can cut them to a more uniform size. They also make a perfect side dish at any time of day. My favorite roasted potato recipe uses a mix of dried herbs, but you can easily customize it any way you like. I also like to add diced shallots during the sauté phase. My only other tip is to brown a little longer first so your potatoes don’t get too soft when pressure cooked.
Total time: 20 minutes
5. Black Beans
I tend to have at least two cans of black beans in my cupboard at all times. They’re super cheap, easy and versatile, but taste-wise they can leave something to be desired. I’ve always heard that using dried beans tastes much better, but the long soaking step turned me off. The Instant Pot removes the need for soaking, and one $1.99 bag of organic dried black beans made about four cans’ worth. These beans also get less mushy than the canned variety. And as a testament to their taste my daughter was stealing them straight out of the bowl when they were cooked with only sea salt and water.
Total time: 40 minutes (including prep and storage time)
6. Vegan Mac and Cheese
I’ve been trying to eat less dairy which is only really a bummer when my family is having mac and cheese or pizza. I decided I would try this vegan mac and cheese recipe and mix in some chopped kale once cooked. In total, I ate this for four different meals, but it was definitely best fresh. Try adding a little water when reheating to make the sauce less dry. Also, as warned in the recipe, some of the pasta does get stuck to the bottom of the pot. I would recommend cooking for less time than the recipe calls for, only about 5-8 minutes to prevent bad sticking or burning.
Total time: 20 minutes
7. Brussels Sprouts
I don’t know about you, but as an adult I’ve discovered a deep love for Brussels sprouts. I can eat them alone, mixed in with pasta or rice, cold or hot — any which way. So, having a batch at the ready is very appealing. This salt and vinegar Brussels sprouts recipe is a simple starting point that you can easily customize with shallots instead of garlic, balsamic instead of apple cider vinegar, etc. Definitely use fresh sprouts, don’t skip the sauté step, and double the recipe if you want to use them for several meals. I ate them alone, with butternut squash ravioli and as a topper for one of my mac and cheese leftovers.
Total time: 15 minutes
Holy cow, it is easy to steam cauliflower in the Instant Pot! Just remove the florets from the head, place them in the pot, add water and set to pressure cook on high for zero minutes. You read that right: zero! By the time the Instant Pot heats up, the cauliflower is perfectly cooked. Just season as you like or add a sauce. It couldn’t be easier.
I also made this delicious sesame cauliflower recipe in the Instant Pot, which I would definitely double in the future. Remember to reduce the time if you’re using cooked cauliflower or frozen.
Total time: 10 minutes
My oven takes forever to cook foil-packet salmon, which is my preferred method. Lucky for me, it’s yet another thing the Instant Pot can tackle with similar — but much quicker — results. To steam salmon, you use the wire rack accessory to place the salmon in and out of the Instant Pot. Before you put the rack in, add 3/4 cup of water and any herbs you like (I used fresh basil). Add the salmon to the pot and drizzle with your preferred oil or butter, add seasoning and any other flavorful toppings such as lemon. This recipe for lemon pepper salmon calls for just 3 minutes for salmon that is 1 inch at its thickest point. My salmon was just over 1 inch and it required 7 minutes, so you may need to play with the timing.
It came out perfectly cooked with subtle flavor. Plus, it was so much faster than the oven and didn’t leave my kitchen smelling like fish. Win!
Total time: 15 minutes
10. Coconut Yogurt
I could eat yogurt every morning, and often do. But non-dairy yogurt is so expensive, it feels like a ridiculous luxury. Enter the amazing Instant Pot once more. I did cheat my goals a little bit for this recipe. To get the tang of yogurt, you have to let it ferment for a long period of time. Some recipes recommend up to 24 hours. I decided to start mine after dinner and let it go overnight. So technically, I wasn’t actively cooking, just snoozing away. To add the probiotics that make yogurt so beneficial, I used four probiotic capsules and just broke them open. You can also purchase starters or mix in a little bit of yogurt you already have.
For food safety and to get rid of any bad bacteria, make sure to sanitize your Instant Pot liner before using by running it through the sanitize cycle in your dishwasher or rinsing with boiling water.
Even though this recipe uses coconut cream, it is a little thinner than store-bought yogurt which typically has multiple thickeners in it. If you’d prefer, add more thickener such as agar agar, which is vegetarian.
Total time: 18.5 hours (overnight fermentation, plus prep/storage time)
I washed my Instant Pot liner and sealing ring with soap and hot water after each cook. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to use this Instant Pot cleaning guide for a deeper clean after lots of cooking or after cooking something that causes a stronger smell, like meat or a stew.
Next time, I probably wouldn’t cook more specific dishes like the lemon pepper salmon or vegan mac and cheese all in the same day. They all make great leftovers, but I would rather eat them fresh out of the pot versus just saving them for later. Plus, they are messier and require additional prep.
Making basic, versatile items like eggs, rice, quinoa, black beans, coconut yogurt, potatoes, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts was super easy and made meals simple throughout the week and beyond.
Just a few other things I did while food was cooking away in the Instant Pot:
- Played with my daughter
- Helped her with an art project
- Put away laundry
- Washed dishes
- Cleaned all the candy out of the pantry
- Made a picnic lunch
- Did yoga
And that, my friends, is why the Instant Pot is magical.