Best Ingredients to Meal Prep: 9 Key Things to Make in Advance
Meal prep doesn’t always involve cooking entire meals to store for later. Sometimes it’s simply about preparing key ingredients you can use to toss together a work lunch or weeknight meal in no time. Once you nail down the best ingredients to meal prep, you’ll be able to make your favorite dishes in a snap, any night of the week.
Cut down on stress by batch preparing the following ingredients to use throughout the week. Your future self—and your wallet!—will thank you.
Chop Your Veggies
While it’s convenient to buy pre-chopped vegetables at the grocery store for use in stir fry, soups, or side dishes, you’ll save a ton of money when you chop them yourself. Chop and freeze some of your favorite veggies—like broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots—so you have them on hand. Be aware that veggies with high water content don’t freeze as well—they’ll be mushy when thawed—so keep prepped items like chopped cucumber, lettuce, and celery in the fridge.
Shred Your Chicken
There are endless uses for precooked, shredded chicken. Salads, quesadillas, sandwiches, casseroles, wraps, enchiladas .... the list goes on. This makes it a great item to prepare ahead of time. To roast a whole chicken, rub with butter, season with salt and pepper, and stuff with lemon quarters. Then cook at 350 degrees in a roasting pan for 20 minutes per pound plus 15 minutes.
Brown Your Beef
Same goes for ground meat—you can buy it on sale, cook it the same day, and freeze it for use in chili, skillets, casseroles, and more.
Boil Your Beans
Canned beans, lentils, and chickpeas are an inexpensive protein with a long shelf life that can be useful for preparing quick meals. However, if you cook your own, you can save even more money in the long run. Make a batch on Sunday for the week and store in the fridge for convenient use in soups, salads, rice dishes, burritos, and more.
Hard Boil Your Eggs
Hard-boiled eggs are a great grab-and-go protein that can be eaten for breakfast, or added to a salad or bento box for a lunchtime meal. Cook them in a batch but wait to peel them until you’re ready to eat, so they stay fresh for longer.
Toss Your Greens
Chop and toss together your favorite combination of lettuce, kale, spinach, or other greens for a salad. Then store in separate containers for up to three days so you have grab-and-go greens to add to your lunch. Keep them from wilting by waiting to add the dressing until it’s time to eat, though. Step up your salad game when you emulsify your own vinaigrettes, too.
Make Your Own Pasta Sauce
Homemade pasta sauce is both healthier and cheaper than the jarred alternative. Make a large batch using canned tomatoes, onions, and garlic in less than 20 minutes with this recipe from Wellness Mama. Whatever you don’t plan to use within the week, you can freeze in ice cube trays for easier portioning and faster reheating on your next pasta night.
Cook Your Grains
It’s easy to talk yourself out of a healthy meal on a weeknight when you know you have to wait 40 minutes for the brown rice to cook. Whether your grain of choice is rice, quinoa, or farro, prepare a large pot with a plan to use it throughout the week. Cooked grains keep well in the fridge and are a great staple to have on-hand for lunches, too.
Grate Your Cauliflower Rice
If you’re cutting out grains to go low-carb, cauliflower rice is an easy substitute. Once it’s prepped, it cooks in minutes, but that preparation takes time. Grate a large portion of cauliflower all in one go, then freeze for up to a month for convenient use later.
- Emily Polson
For more batch cooking tips, check out our do’s and don’ts for freezer meal prep!