10 meal prep necessities to make your life easier during the week
Updated: Apr 6
I'm a big fan of the phrase "set yourself up for success", and meal prep is one of those self-care habits that really can make or break a busy week. Taking some time during a free day to prep some simple meals, snacks, or components to meals can be quite the lifesaver. Not only can meal prepping save you time later, but it can help you eat healthier so you feel great all week. Meal prepping doesn't always need to be a daunting task, either. Unless you want it to be. Every now and then, I will get together with my mom and have a big meal prep day where we make freezer soups and freezer meals, amongst other things. This post is not focusing on a big event like this - however these components could absolutely be included in a big meal prep day. These tips are meant to help you with the week to week routine, a few simple things that can be accomplished in 1 hour or less over the weekend or on a day off to make sure you are eating healthy during the rest of your busy week. Choosing just two or three of these meal-prep necessities at a time can make a difference! Another great aspect about the ideas below is that they are customizable and can easily be modified based on what you have on hand at home.
Dive in to these 10 meal prep necessities to set yourself up for success!
1) One giant salad
This is so customizable and tasty! I recommend starting with a whole head of whatever looks good at the grocery store - napa cabbage, romaine lettuce, red leaf or green leaf lettuce, kale...you name it! I find it tastes fresher and keeps better if you skip the bagged stuff for this. You'll be getting the cutting board out anyway, why not chop up your greens also. I use a salad spinner (I love my Oxo!) to clean whatever greens I picked, and then I use the same salad spinner (minus the strainer) to store my salad in the fridge. Pair with your favorite salad-topping veggies - I love using bell peppers, sliced radishes, shredded carrots, slivered red onion, or grape tomatoes.
A basic salad is such a great base to build on. All you really need is to add some protein and you have a nice, light meal. Pack some of this salad to take for lunches during the work week and top with a packet of tuna, smoked salmon, hard boiled eggs, and/or cheese. Pair it with your dressing of choice and you have a delicious, light, healthy meal! This salad will also work great for a side salad to go with dinner.
2) Hard boiled eggs
Easy, quick, and massively versatile - 9 minutes in some simmering water, followed by a dunk in an ice bath, and you have yourself the start to a simple breakfast, a protein-packed snack, or a nice salad topper. Store them in the fridge still in their shell until you are ready to enjoy. It's so easy to make enough for the entire week at one time. I often will make 6-8 hard boiled eggs at a time and use them throughout the week for a variety of meals. Here are some fantastic ideas for hardboiled eggs:
- Cut in half, sprinkled with every-thing bagel seasoning. Pair with whole fruit, and you have breakfast
- By themselves with a drizzle of sriracha or your favorite hot sauce - protein packed snack
- Sliced on top of avocado toast for a small lunch or breakfast
- Mix with mayo and seasonings for a dreamy egg salad (KFN)
- Slice up and throw on top of your meal-prepped salad
3) Whole, grab-and-go fruit
While I love some fresh, cut fruit like pineapple or melon, there is something to be said for the simplicity of the grab-and-go fruit. You don't have to package it and dirty another container. They easily can be placed in a lunch box or a bag and off you go - no utensils needed! A nice amount to have is 1-2 pieces of fruit per day, per person on hand each week. Consider the following options:
4) Beans or Lentils
Protein packed, good source of healthy carbohydrates and fiber - beans top the list for versatile, prep-ahead foods. Bonus - beans also happen to be smart economically speaking as well. Healthy, delicious, and cheap - what else could you ask for? Whether you opt for canned beans or dry beans, either option is a winner! Once I became more experienced with beans, I started to prefer dry beans as I find they have better texture and are fun to cook with. Also, if you are in to heirloom produce or unique foods - take a visit to Rancho Gordo and be prepared to develop a bean obsession!
Plain beans out of the can or a simple batch of cooked pot beans can be fine additions to salads or grain bowls. If you want to go a step further to develop more flavor, try marinating, adding in some seasonings, or mashing for more variety. This will turn a simple bean into a fancy little side dish or a more palatable addition to your meal. The following recipes are ones that make a regular appearance in my meal prep routines.
- Hummus (KFN) - Use as a dip for raw veggies, add to a salad, or use as a spread on toast or a sandwich.
- Lentil Salad (Rancho Gordo) - a great starter recipe if you have never had green lentils before.
- Marinated Royal Coronas (Rancho Gordo) - this recipe is fantastic, and can be used with any of your favorite white beans - great northerns, navy, cassoulet, or royal coronas are all great beans for this.
5) Steel Cut Oatmeal
For those that need a hearty breakfast, steel cut oats are a fantastic option to prep ahead! Try this recipe by Cookie & Kate: Perfect Steel Cut Oats. I like to double the recipe and portion out into individual containers. Makes for an easy to grab breakfast for both myself and my husband. I tend to add my toppers later, when I'm about to enjoy my breakfast. But you could easily portion and top right away to save yourself time later.
Favorite Oatmeal toppers:
- Sliced banana + walnuts + Honey
- Date Syrup (from Trader Joe's) + Pecans
- Raspberries + Sliced almonds
- Dark chocolate chips + Sliced banana
- Dried cherries + Sliced Almonds
- Cinnamon + Brown Sugar + Apple slices
- Blueberries + Sliced Almonds + Coconut
Home made granola is surprisingly easy! And, making it yourself lends a lot of opportunities to customize to your liking. I like granola because it works for a variety of applications - you can add it to yogurt, drizzle milk over and eat like cereal, or have a baggy on it's own for a between meal snack. Try this recipe by Cookie & Kate: The Very Best Granola.
7) Trail Mix
If I'm not feeling up to whipping up a batch of granola, then trail mix is what I fall back on. Nearly the same applications for granola stand true for trail mix. Top yogurt with it or have it portioned in smaller containers for between meal snacks. Another perk - endless ways to customize and can be a great way to clean out the pantry (especially if you are like me and wind up with partial bags here and there of dried fruits and nuts).
Some of my favorite trail mix combinations:
- Peanuts, Walnuts, Dried cherries or cranberries, Dried Coconut
- Peanuts, Almonds, Dark chocolate chips
- Sunflower seeds, Almonds, Cashews, Dried Coconut, Dried Apricots
8) A Batch of Whole Grains
A simple prep item such as a batch of whole grains can have countless uses throughout the week. Make up 4-8 servings and keep in your refrigerator for easy to grab whole grains all week. This can be a great opportunity to try some new grains, as well! Don't just limit yourself to rice. Try these other fantastic whole grain options:
- Wild Rice
- Whole wheat pasta
Try these ideas to help you use up your whole grains:
- Salad topper
- Grain bowls
- Grain salad (try this Farro & Kale Grain Salad - KFN)
- Throw into soups
9) Shredded Chicken + Chicken Stock
If you have never gotten into cooking whole chickens, I highly recommend you start! It's like the gift that keeps giving. What I love about a whole chicken is that you can roast or boil your chicken, get all the protein off, and simmer the bones and skin for a nice amount of chicken stock. Money saver! I usually can get about 10 cups of chicken stock out of one whole chicken, and it beats any of the store bought stuff!
A favorite preparation for meal prepping: use an Instant Pot. Put the whole chicken in and cover with water. Pressure cook for about 20 minutes. Release the steam before opening. You will have fall apart, shredded chicken and many cups of chicken broth. Remove all the meat from the bones and store for later use. You can do another round of water + carcass and get even more chicken stock if desired.
Uses for prepped ahead shredded chicken:
- Chicken salad sandwiches
- Chicken enchiladas or tacos
- Stir frys
Uses for prepped ahead chicken stock:
- Use to cook rice, grains, or pasta
Who doesn't crave a little something sweet? And nothing beats a homemade cookie! You can either freeze the dough as dough balls, ready to pull out and bake as needed, or bake the whole batch and keep some out on the counter and pop the rest in the freezer for later.
Some of my favorite cookies for a little sweet indulgence while keeping nutrition in mind:
- Trail Mix Cookies (Run Fast Eat Slow cookbook)
- Oatmeal raisin (Quaker Oats) - I often will sub dark chocolate chips instead of raisins