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8 Super Easy Meal Prep Ideas
Does this scenario sound familiar?
It’s pouring rain. Your cat woke you up before sunrise to go outside. You had back-to-back meetings all day. After work, you hit the gym. Now, you’re heading home and you’re starving. Your favorite show is on and you want to eat dinner while you watch. The problem? You have no idea what you want to eat. Cooking sounds tiring after a long day, and doing dishes afterward sounds pretty bad too. You head to the grocery store anyway. There are too many options and you panic, grab a mediocre frozen pizza, and head home.
Later, as you’re browsing Instagram, you see photo after photo of food. Lush salads. Vibrant smoothie bowls. Creatively plated meals of all types. Suddenly, you’re feeling sad about your dinner— why didn’t you make a kimchi stew as well? Everything looks packed with flavor and healthy, too. Your soggy pizza seems weak in comparison. You feel cheated. How on earth do these people manage to cook things like this on a weeknight?!
When you have a busy life, maintaining a nourishing diet can feel like a challenge. This feeling leads to making quick but not very nutritious meal decisions. However, there is a way to eat home-cooked meals midweek without spending every night in the kitchen… Welcome to the marvelous world of meal prep. Likely, you’ve heard of the concept. It’s a hugely popular way for busy people to ensure they eat well every day. Lots of people even dedicate an entire day to it — #mealprepsunday has over seven thousand posts just on Instagram. We love the concept of reserving a day just for meal prep, as it removes a lot of stress and decision-making from the rest of your week.
Just a Few Reasons We Love Meal Prep
Quite a few members of our crew at Jack City Fitness swear by the benefits of #mealpreplife. Some of those reasons?
- It Saves Time
Sure, putting a day aside to cook a bunch of food doesn’t exactly sound like a time-saver, but hear us out. A day of cooking, if done in an organized manner, will rack up far fewer hours than you’d imagine.
Rather than spend every day hemming and hawing over what you’re in the mood for, searching for a recipe, fighting crowds at the supermarket, cooking dinner, and then cleaning, you instead have one job after work: reheating something you’ve already made.
- It Reduces Stress
Decision-making can really wear some people down. Sometimes, the responsibility of choosing what to eat and cook can be very overwhelming. Meal prep erases this stress, allowing you to make a few big decisions on your own time.
- It Creates Routine
Sticking to a routine can be great for your mental health. Dedicating one day a week to meal prep is a fantastic way to give yourself a healthy schedule. The same goes for searching for recipes, grocery shopping, and even cleaning dishes. Structure is good.
- It Encourages Healthy Eating Habits
When you have the time to plan your meals in advance, you’re less likely to impulsively choose something like fried macaroni and cheese balls. This is also a great way to stick to a specific nutrition plan, like if you’re trying to build muscle.
- It Helps Reduce Waste
Meal prep is a great way to utilize bulk-buying and will create less waste. We highly recommend investing in sustainable containers for storing your meals, as well as your own bags and/or containers for shopping. Some bulk stores will even give you a discount if you bring your own containers!
- It Hones Your Cooking Skills
Cooking in bulk will naturally enhance your skills in the kitchen. With each passing week, you’ll find that you can cut faster, work in a more organized manner, and have an increasingly better sense of timing and flavor. Soon enough, you might even find that you don’t need recipes at all — though some of us will always prefer to use one.
- It’s Fun!
Meal prep is straight-up awesome. It gives you the chance to be creative, try new things, and it gives you more time during the week to do what you enjoy.
Some of Our Favorite Meal Prep Ideas
Ready to get started? Here are some of our favorite meal prep ideas.
Burritos are one of THE most popular choices for meal prep, and we can see why. They’re one of the most versatile foods around; they can be made to suit practically any diet. Even those who can’t do gluten can skip the tortillas and create burrito bowls instead.
One of the main reasons that meal preppers love burritos? They are super easy to make and store in bulk. They also freeze well, so you don’t need to eat a week straight of burritos — you can stow them away for when you want one.
We love the bulk burrito recipes from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen. Otherwise, you can experiment with your own! Whether you choose to make tofu rajas, carne asada, or your own invention? That’s up to you.
- Nourish Bowls
Like burritos, grain bowls or “nourish bowls” are a really versatile option. You can make an enormous batch of your preferred grain — rice, quinoa, faro, millet are all popular choices — and then prep any topping that you like. This is a great way to bring some variety to your week while still having a streamlined meal prep process: store all of your special veggies and toppings separately, and mix and match as you go.
We love them because they can follow any theme. Craving middle eastern food? Top your bowl with hummus, za’atar-spiced chickpeas, chopped veggies, and the shawarma-spiced protein of your choice. Would rather something Japanese inspired? Some shelled edamame beans, nori strips, miso tossed cucumbers, and marinated tofu will be delicious. The sky’s the limit.
For some grain bowl inspo, we recommend heading over to Fine Cooking — they break down the “anatomy of the grain bowl” for beginners. After long, we reckon you’ll be coming up with your own.
Chili is fantastic for meal prep for a few reasons. First of all, it’s a cheap and easy meal to make enormous batches of. Secondly, there are a million ways to make it. Depending on your taste, you can make vegetarian versions, versions with no beans, versions with tons of beans, a “green” variety… the list goes on. Third, chili is one of those special dishes that tastes way better after it’s had time to settle in the fridge. Finally, chili is a crockpot champion, and crockpots are a meal-preppers secret weapon.
If you decide to make chili the star of a week’s prep, you can make your life much easier by cooking it in the crockpot. It’s safe to leave cooking while you sleep or leave the house, so you can make a meal while you’re out getting things done.
Another plus? Cooking in the crockpot leaves you more kitchen space to prepare other things. That means you can pair your chili with different things every night, like mashed potatoes, rice, homemade bread, or even spaghetti.
If you have a tried-and-true chili recipe, it’s easy to convert that method to the crockpot. Cook and sear everything as you would normally, but transfer it to the crockpot when it’s time to start simmering. Otherwise, the AllRecipes version of slow-cooker chili never disappoints.
- Lentils, Lentils, Lentils
Lentils are a meal-prep staple. Most people we know love to work with them for a few reasons. Firstly, they’re incredibly filling and nutritious. Second, they are cheap to buy in bulk. Third, there are a million ways to prepare them.
If you love hot meals like stews or curries, you can make dal or lentil soup. Like chili, they tend to taste even better after a couple of days, making them meal prep legends. We also love that they work with any protein, as a stand-alone vegetarian meal, or even as a ground meat replacement.
If cold dishes are more your style, there are loads of lentil-based salads to make and try. Just be sure to store any herbs or veg separately to avoid anything getting soggy.
As die-hard Yotam Ottolenghi fans, we have to recommend his crushed lentils with tahini and cumin… yum!
- Savory Pies
When we say pie, we’re not talking strawberry-rhubarb or pumpkin. We’re thinking more along the lines of pot pies, quiche, spanakopita, or empanadas. These are a great choice for meal prep as they are super easy to make in batches, freeze well, and reheat like a charm. They also are clean and portable, making them a great option for work lunches and meals on the go.
There are a few ways you can go about batch-baking pies.
- “Slab” Style Pies are generally baked in a cake pan or jelly-roll tin, and cut into big square slices upon serving. This is super easy to portion: simply cut the pie, place every slab in a separate container, and store. This style of pie is a great option for stiffer fillings, like spinach and feta cheese AKA spanakopita. You can also bake a quiche in a slab style!
- Hand Pies
If you like working with your hands, these are a great choice. You can cook up a few fillings (or even utilize some leftovers), and fold away to your heart’s content. Whether you choose to make a traditional hand-pie, like empanadas or patties, or create your own version is up to you.
We recently tried a sweet potato, coconut, and spinach hand pie that rocked our world. (If you make something like that, we’re not opposed to you bringing a spare pie over to Jack City…)
- Muffin Tin Pies
These are really simple to make — simply press your preferred base into muffin tins and top with whatever fillings you’ve made for the week. These will freeze well and reheat quickly.
- Salads Galore
Salads have been unfairly maligned as boring. Ridiculous claim. That’s like calling music boring. Sure, some flaccid lettuce, soggy shredded carrots, and slushy orange tomatoes drowned in ranch dressing may not be the most appealing idea to you. But that’s not what defines a salad. Salads can include all sorts of tasty ingredients, from nuts and seeds to dried fruits to roasted veg to your favorite grain or meat.
Our main tip for salad-based meal prep is never to dress or mix things in advance. Cut, grate, roast, marinate, and prepare everything in advance, but don’t mix everything together until mealtime. Trust us on that one.
Some of our all-time favorite salads come from an Australian cookbook called Community. Many of their salad recipes are available online — definitely give it a look.
- Souper Soups and Stews
Soups and stews are meal prep staples, especially during the chillier months. They tend to be slow-cooker friendly and often only use one or two pots — score!
Speaking of soups, a note on stock: it’s helpful to always have some in your freezer. Every time you cook or have a meal prep day, you can save the scraps of all of your vegetables (minus anything cruciferous), as well as bones and meat leftovers. Keep everything in a sturdy, freezer-safe container until it’s full. Then, throw it all in your slow cooker or stock pot, cover it with water, throw some peppercorns and salt in there, and you’ve got the makings of an awesome (and eco-friendly!) stock. Strain it after a few hours, and freeze it in stackable containers. We even like to fill a few ice trays with it, so it can be easily popped into a recipe.
Feeling inspired to start meal prep but want to learn more about nutrition? We’ve got you. At Jack City Fitness, our team includes dedicated nutrition counselors who work with our partners on developing healthy and delicious eating habits for life. Drop us a line or call 1-208-999-1111, and we’ll invite you to our Boise facility to meet our team. While you’re here, you can try a free fitness consultation, pop into one of our classes, and see our cutting-edge equipment. If you choose to sign up, you’ll have 24-7 access to our gym, and plenty of resources to stay as healthy as possible.
We can’t wait to see what you’re made of!