Even the highest quality restaurants in fine dining choose to prepare their ingredients, sauces or other essential parts of a meal in advance. So, it just makes sense for home chefs, like you and I, to do the same.
Meal prep, in the simplest terms, is the concept of preparing whole meals or specific ingredients ahead of schedule. For me, it’s essential to always ensure that I’ve got great meals on my plate or to share at my table.
Whether you’re new to efficient meal prep or are a seasoned pro looking for new ideas, I’ll let you in on some of my secrets and you might just find some creative inspiration with these tips and recipes!
Before we delve into the how let’s discuss the what.
To keep meals varied, I choose options that contain different vegetables and protein-rich foods, as well as a range of complex carbs such as rice, whole grain blends, quinoa, orzo, or couscous. Integrating a vegetarian or vegan recipe is another great way to keep a variety of meals.
When deciding on recipes to make, or preparing a creation of your own, stick with two main formulas for choosing ingredients. I’ll share mine, that I think you might also find useful:
Meat-based: Protein + Grain + Vegetable
Vegetarian: Plant-Based Protein/Legume + Grain + Vegetable
Use these formulas as simple guides for creating great meals with quality ingredients at their core. They give me the freedom to analyze recipes I come across or simply to create my own flavorful meal ideas.
Pro Tip: You’ll notice both include grains, and I always rely on RiceSelect®! They have a versatile selection of Non-GMO Project Verified products and you can choose organic if you’ve already discovered the benefits of eating organic meals.
While there are some meals that are just better fresh, like risotto or cream-based dishes, these are helpful guidelines for selecting recipes for meal prep. Choose recipes that:
Can be fully or partially made in advance and enjoyed later.
Can be packed and prepared, either layered, in separate sections, or tossed together.
Require prep work: slicing, dicing, and chopping (i.e. rice salads or fried rice)
Will keep well in the fridge or freezer. The ingredients or dish will need to hold up at least a few days in the fridge.
Reheat well in the microwave, in the oven, or over the stove.
Can be easily doubled for more or reduced for less.
Remember: Just because you’ve prepared your meal ahead of time, doesn’t mean it can’t have a four-star rating. It all comes down to how you serve and accompany it. Keep delicious sauces or extra toppings on the side and drizzle over or sprinkle on top just before enjoying.
There is no better place to start than with the basics of meal prep. This guide will take you through my process of how to become the master of your kitchen, starting with organizing your meals.
Like any good head chef, you’ll need to identify key points in your kitchen where you need help the most. It’s important to sit down and figure out where those needs lie. At the beginning of my meal prep journey, I asked myself one important question - where could I improve the quality of my kitchen and my meals?
Choose what’s most important to you, do you value convenience with all of your home cooked meals ready, or more variety when it comes to flavors and ingredients?
I suggest starting simply by preparing your entire breakfast and lunch ahead of time, and have the ingredients ready for dinner but not prepared. This way you still keep the option open to get creative in the evening and unwind in the kitchen but with ease!
Experiment with your tastes and preferences, for your first week, choose one dish for each mealtime and adjust accordingly the second week. Here is a great starting point:
A well-run and well-stocked kitchen make everything simpler. Now that you’ve identified where you need the most help, it’s time to get organized. You can do this with a personal calendar, by making your own weekly chart or using an app, there are plenty of tools available.
Choose a time when you feel the best in the kitchen and most inspired to get your cooking done. Many people choose Sunday to get a headstart on the week to come, where others might choose to spread out their meal prep between two days. I love to put on some music before I get started and really enjoy preparing food that I know I’m going to enjoy later. I think of it less as precooking my meals, but as a new experience in the kitchen.
Select your meals of choice and make a shopping list to ensure you have everything you need. If you’re planning on making a savory Peanut Sauce with Chicken and Rice, do you have enough peanut butter on hand or will you make your own? Will you choose to add any extra vegetables?
When it comes to choosing my ingredients, I’m always open to fresh produce that is in season or that I can’t resist at my local farmer’s market. In order to take full advantage of those fresh and nutrient-dense vegetables, I prefer to make meals throughout the week with overlapping ingredients.
With that said, of course, it’s important not to always choose one recipe for the entire week, even if it’s a great starting point. The lack of variety will eventually lead to food boredom and won’t give your body the benefits of a varied diet.
When zucchini is in season, I make my favorite Orzo Stuffed Zucchini Boats, and to complement them throughout the week, I give my meals an array of flavors by interchanging with something like Moroccan Chicken Kebabs with couscous and steamed zucchini on the side.
Or, I’ll make use of the orzo and prepare this recipe for Beef Kebabs with Parmesan Orzo and add cubed zucchini to the skewers!
When I started meal prepping, I was concerned that the quality of my meals would diminish. However, that was not the case. It all depends on how you choose to batch cook your ingredients and how you store them.
Some choose to prepare individual ingredients and simply assemble right before enjoying. This Chicken Pesto Risotto is a perfect example: Have your broth simmered Arborio Rice ready in an airtight container and simple layer with Parmesan, tomatoes, homemade pesto, and chicken for a savory meal to enjoy during the week.
I can also streamline my creativity better when I focus on specific and quality time in the kitchen. While I have Instant Pot Braised Short Ribs simmering slowly, I can prepare my protein Cranberry Quinoa Muffins to enjoy for a morning meal throughout the week. For fresher results, I’ll store my ribs separately or in divided containers and save just enough muffins that I need, and freeze any remaining.
Although it may have begun as a way to save time and energy, meal planning is actually an ingenious way to master your kitchen and get things organized so you can always ensure that your home cooked meals have quality ingredients you can enjoy. RiceSelect® products make that possible for me as the perfect grain base for any meal I choose throughout the week.