If Meal Prep Feels Like a Chore, Try Ingredient Prep Instead
Because nobody should have to eat the same lunch 5 days in a row.
Does this sound familiar? You plan a whole week’s worth of healthy breakfasts and lunches, shop for ingredients and set aside some time on Sunday to meal prep — only to realize that 1). meal prep takes a lot longer than you thought it did and 2). it’s no fun to eat the exact same thing 5 days in a row. I know I’ve been there.
When I first started meal-prepping I thought the solution would be simple: just make small batches of a lot of different meals so that I would have some variety during the week. I quickly realized, however, that this approach meant more planning and more time in the kitchen — so it only solved one of my problems.
I remember standing in my kitchen making a batch of mini frittatas for breakfast (loading up half the muffin tin with shaved Brussels sprouts and crumbled goat cheese and the other half with petite broccoli florets and grated Cheddar) while thinking “why can’t all mix-and-match meal prep be this easy?” That’s when I decided to rethink my routine, to start prepping a handful of versatile ingredients rather than concrete meals — a strategy that I’ve been using for the past few years now.
I realize this approach isn’t for everyone. If having a lot of choices is overwhelming for you or you’re not great at using up what you’ve got on hand then you could end up stressed (or with lots of leftovers). But if you want some flexibility and like trying new things, then this is the solution to your midweek, meal-prep boredom.
The key for me is prepping 1-2 different proteins, a grain and a handful of veggies that all work pretty well together. I don’t overthink it but, if I’m craving roasted butternut squash one week I might make some barbecue chicken and roasted brussels sprouts, too (instead of, say, pesto chicken or cucumber salad) because I know those three ingredients taste good together.
I also keep stocked up on a few staples like goat cheese, feta, nuts, seeds, lemons and fresh herbs. That makes it easier to turn my prepped ingredients into a wide variety of meals and cater to specific cravings throughout the week.
Ready for a change and want to give ingredient prep a try? Here 5 things I almost always make.
Eggs are essential for me because they’re so adaptable. Hard-boiled eggs make a great lunchtime protein for sandwiches, salads, avocado toast or hummus spreads and they can be halved and filled with a little scoop of guacamole for a healthy afternoon snack. (Pro tip: If you’re hard-boiling eggs, cook them in your air fryer or Instant Pot to make things easier). Sometimes I bake eggs in a muffin tin instead (loaded up with different cheeses, veggies and spices) so that I can tuck them in between an English muffin or roll for a breakfast sandwich on the fly.
As silly as it might sound, I prep canned beans — because when I need to grab a quick lunch it helps to have them already rinsed, drained and flavored. Simply marinate the beans in a flavorful garlic-and-herb oil or toss them in a ready-made sauce like jarred pesto before storing them in your refrigerator. When it’s time to eat, you’ll be glad you have them ready to go!
It’s no secret that you can cook up a big batch of quinoa on the weekend and then use it to make grain bowls and bolster salads all week long — but this versatile little seed also comes in handy for breakfast. One of my favorite ways to use it is to toss it with the tiniest touch of coconut oil and then scoop it over fruit salad and top with a little fresh mint. Looking for something heartier? Add quinoa to your pancakes or waffles for an extra boost of protein.
Whether you cook up herb-coated chicken bites to top noodles or salad greens, prep a big batch of juicy chicken thighs for rice bowls, or make a couple pounds of shredded chicken in your Instant Pot (or slow cooker!) so that you can make a sandwich, burrito or wrap any time, there’s no denying that having some pre-cooked chicken on hand can help you eat better during the week. Need to change it up? A simple, roasted pork shoulder can do all of the same things that chicken can.
Veggies and More
Craving some cinnamon-y sweet potatoes to add to your bowl of oatmeal? How about roasted mushrooms for an omelette or sweet-and-earthy beets for salads? Simple steamed veggies or oven-roasted cauliflower and broccoli to serve alongside your main? Keep some pre-cooked veggies and mushrooms on hand and you’ll find that it’s a breeze to throw together a wholesome and satisfying meal — even when you’re short on time.