For me it’s easy to eat healthy at the beginning of the week, but come Wednesday? All bets are off. What usually saves Thursday or Friday Me from ordering delivery (or eating hummus and tortilla chips for “dinner”) is Sunday Me—that resourceful, thoughtful person who took the time to prepare some healthy food that can simply be reheated later in the week.
If you find yourself in similar mid- or late-week ruts, doing an hour or so of cooking and prep over the weekend is a must. Cooking a few things in batches—either full recipes or just a few healthy basics—and stocking your kitchen with the right kinds of foods will save you a lot of time, guilt, calories and money throughout the week.
28 MEAL PLANNING TIPS + Batch Cooking Basics
- Do you plan on eating at home every night this week? Does your CSA box show up on Wednesdays? Make sure to factor that in to your shopping trip and planning.
- Sit down and make a list before you shop: What can you make with what you already have? Are you craving lasagna? Feeling more like salads will do it this week? Do you have a particular recipe in mind?
- Do you need to buy anything to supplement your make-ahead components? Bread, tortillas, lettuce, cheese, salsa, etc?
- Meal prep and cooking is extra easy to do right after a grocery store or farmers market trip. You’re already moving things around and stocking the fridge anyway, so might as well!
- If you hate eating the same thing two days in a row, make a couple different things that you can alternate or mix-and-match throughout the week
- If you don’t have a lot of extra time on the weekends, then make Monday night your grocery shopping/food-prep night, or just do what you have time for on Sunday. Even if you prep one or two things in advance, you’ll still save time.
- You don’t have to prepare full recipes, but you can if you like. If you don’t even want to think about putting together dinner on weeknights, definitely make batches of things like casseroles, soups, burritos or stews that you can pop in the microwave a few minutes before dinner (or the slow cooker the morning of).
- If you just need a little shortcut here and there, and don’t mind assembling some meals throughout the week, you can keep it casual and cook a batch of grains, cut up some veggies, make a couple sauces and roast a pan of chicken. Just sauté the veggies and reheat the grains/chicken when you’re ready to eat, and your meal prep will take 20 minutes versus an hour.
- If you want to make full recipes and eat those throughout the week, go through your cookbooks or Pinterest boards and pick one or two recipes that make large batches or that you can double.
Prepping + Cooking
- If you eat a lot of grains, invest in a rice cooker! Your quinoa or rice will be cooked perfectly every time, and no more scraping the burned bottoms of saucepans (although maybe that’s just me…).
- Get creative! Roasted veggies can be mixed into pasta one night, tossed into salad the next, then eaten on a sandwich the third day. Switch up the sauce/dressing and it’ll be like a brand new meal every night.
- Use a food processor or blender to make easy sauces, hummus and pesto (which you can also freeze) to flavor your meals. Or shake up a couple different dressings in a mason jar. Everything is better with dressing.
- Salads can be made ahead, but leave out anything with the potential to get brown or soggy (croutons, cheese, avocado) until right before you eat
- Don’t forget snacks! Make a batch of veggie or fruit chips, homemade energy bars and/or freezer smoothie packs (did you know you can make a month’s worth in an hour?!) to satisfy your sweet or savory tooth all week.
- If using a recipe from a cooking site or cookbook, see if it has any notes about freezing or storage
- Soups, casseroles, chilis and heavily cooked dishes tend to freeze better, as do slow-cooker dishes—many slow-cooker recipes are developed to prep and freeze before you cook, so you just thaw, then throw in the slow cooker a few hours before dinner.
- Clean out your fridge and freezer weekly, and make sure you have enough food storage containers
- If you store food in plastic containers, never reheat the food in them. Only reheat food on dishes or in a glass container. And make sure your plastic containers are BPA-free.
- Many things you make on Sunday night will last ’til Friday in the fridge, but not all. It’s a better bet to freeze anything you know you won’t eat until later in the week (make sure to check the individual recipe you’re using for notes on this, though). Just thaw it in the fridge the night before, and then heat before serving on Thursday or Friday.
- Store freezer foods in small portions so you can thaw only what you need
Recipe Ideas to Get Started
- Learn how to make a week’s worth of dinners from one slow-cooker recipe (you can customize with pork, chicken or beef)
- Learn how to make a week of easy dinners from one pot of quinoa
- 12 Healthy Slow-Cooker Make-Ahead Freezer Meals
- 80 Make-Ahead Freezer Meals Recipes
- How to Pack a Week’s Worth of Make-Ahead Salads
- 50 Healthy Make-Ahead Breakfasts
- Make a Week of Breakfast Burritos in 20 Minutes
BATCH COOKING BASICS
Meat + Vegetarian Protein Sources
- Roast a few servings of pork, beef or skinless chicken, or make it in the slow cooker. Portion out and freeze whatever you won’t use in the next 3 days. The meat can be reheated throughout the week, or eaten cold on sandwiches or salads.
- Grilled meats or steak will keep for about 2 days in the fridge, and do not usually freeze very well.
- Cooked ground beef/turkey or tempeh both freeze well, and make for quick tacos during the week.
- Baked tofu keeps for about 3-4 days in the fridge; I’ve never had good luck freezing it, though.
- Fish (with the exception of salmon) does not always work well as a make-ahead meal, but you could buy cans of tuna or sardines to add to salads.
- Hard-boil eggs in advance and store (in the shells) in the fridge for a quick, high-protein snack or sandwich/salad addition.
- If making beans from scratch seems like too much work, stock up on canned beans to grab for salads, soups or other dishes.
- Roast canned or cooked chickpeas with a little olive oil and sprinkling of herbs for 30-40 minutes in a 375° oven; keep on hand for salads (they’re like low-carb croutons!
- If you want to prepare dry beans, first soak them overnight in the fridge with enough water to cover the beans by an inch. (It doesn’t matter if the bowl is covered, although I like to cover it with cellophane to minimize the risk of spilling.) Then, drain, rinse, and cook as directed on the package. Soaking quickens the cooking time and can help make them easier to digest.
- You can also make beans in the slow cooker after draining and rinsing them. Place in the crock-pot with enough vegetable broth to cover the beans, a little salt and whatever herbs or spices you like. Cook on low for about 8 hours.
- Beans and lentils freeze very well, so go ahead and make lots of them when you have the time.
- To make refried pinto or black beans (which you can also freeze), just mash them and add any extra spices (like cumin or chili powder) you like after cooking. Add a little olive oil or broth to thin them.
- Make a large pot of quinoa, rice or another grain, or cook it in the rice cooker. Cooked grains can harbor a lot of bacteria and go bad very quickly, so be sure to freeze anything you won’t use within two days.
- If you love beans and rice, pack your freezer containers with half beans and half rice for an almost-instant microwave meal. Just add veggies, salsa, avocado, and/or tempeh, tofu or meat—you’ve got a burrito bowl!
- Try other grains like millet, grits or bulgur to mix things up. (Cooked millet tastes a lot like mashed potatoes!)
- Greens can be very touchy, and don’t always keep long or freeze well. I’ve found that quick-steaming or blanching hardier greens (like kale), then freezing, works pretty well, although they will probably get a little soggy when you reheat.
- Fresh kale, chard and collards will last almost a week in the fridge; either buy pre-bagged cut leaves, or do that prep work Sunday night, storing washed and cut greens in plastic zipper bags or flat glass containers with a paper towel between layers.
- Stew greens in the slow cooker, then freeze what you won’t use in the next day.
- If prepping greens is too much work, buy a big bag of pre-chopped kale (or another green) that you can simply toss into a salad, smoothie or soup, or sauté for a bit as a side dish.
- If you want to have cooked veggies ready to go throughout the week, pre-roasting is the way to go. Cut the veggies into bite-sized pieces and cook at 400° for 20-40 minutes, until golden-brown and caramelized a little. This method works nicely for sturdier vegetables: sweet potatoes, potatoes, beets, peppers, carrots. Not so much for cabbage, onions, broccoli or more delicate veggies—or those that get smelly/soggy easily. Cook those as you need them throughout the week (you can cut them up in advance, though.)
- You can rice cauliflower to have it ready to go throughout the week—make tabbouleh, fried “rice,” or serve it alongside a stir-fry as a low-carb side.
- If you want to cook vegetables as you need them, wash and cut them all up on Sunday night, then store in airtight containers. Keep anything that could get dried out, like carrot and celery sticks, submerged in cold water in a container in the fridge.
- Homemade dressings, pestos and sauces will transform even the most basic protein-veggie-grain meals.
- Keep nuts and seeds on hand (think walnuts, pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts) to add extra crunch, flavor, protein and fiber to salads, smoothies and other dishes.
- Stock a variety of oils, vinegars and spices in your pantry to flavor just about anything.