How to Meal Prep Like Food Network Chef Ali Clarke
We've rounded up all of her go-to tools!
By Ali Clarke by Food Network Kitchen
Whether you are a seasoned meal prepper or are just getting started everyone has the same goal, which is to get as ahead as possible on your meals for the week. This usually means spending time one day a week in the kitchen getting prepped. I really enjoy carving out this time because I love being in the kitchen, but it also makes me and my family feel prepared for the week. But I don’t have endless time to meal prep, so I like to lean on some of my favorite products to help me along the way.
Kitchen mats are fantastic but widely underused in homes in my opinion, which is why this is also my favorite foodie gift to give for birthdays or the holidays. I first got introduced to a kitchen mat when in culinary school and loved the extra support under my feet while prepping and cooking for longer periods of time. These mats feel so good to stand on (standing on clouds never rang so true) but also look beautiful in my kitchen — much better than the ones I remember standing on at culinary school. They come in a variety of sizes, designs and colors, so you can find one that fits your space perfectly. I promise you, you’ll never want to stand anywhere else in your kitchen.
Stackable bowls are key because you can store 10 bowls in the same amount of space as one large bowl. My kitchen doesn’t have a ton of storage, so I really need to be smart with every piece of equipment I choose to have in it. That said, I find, especially when meal prepping, I need a bunch of bowls at once, so this set is prefect. Of course, you can also choose a metal or plastic stackable bowl set but for me, I always prefer glass because they are microwave- and dishwasher-safe.
Food processor is one machine with multiple uses; it can puree, chop, shred, slice and mix, making it the perfect partner when meal prepping. The 14-cup capacity ensures it can handle any job. If I’m using it for multiple uses at one time, I like to do things like chopping or shredding vegetables first and then move onto making sauces like pesto. This way, I can just wipe out the bowl after chopping vegetables and then get going on the pesto — because cutting down on dishes during meal prep is important, too.
Half and quarter sheet pans are useful for baking cookies, roasting vegetables or, my favorite, a one-sheet pan dinner, but they also are amazing for storing food in the refrigerator or freezer. Place the food you want to refrigerate or freeze on one sheet pan, cover with reusable wrap (see my article on Meal Prep Storage Containers) then flip another sheet pan over the top to act as a lid. By flipping the sheet pan over you create another shelf to store things on top of or to stack another sheet pan on. You can choose a half sheet pan for larger items or a quarter sheet pan for smaller storage. Making room in the refrigerator is always hard, especially towards the beginning of meal prep, so extra shelves are always welcome.
An electric scale is a great tool to have in the kitchen. It's most typically used by bakers, but I like to use it to evenly divide portions of food, especially when bulk meal prepping. Whether you’re dividing meatballs to get even sizes, evenly dividing a recipe you doubled or portioning food your meals, this scale will help you do it quickly and accurately. Just place your storage container on the scale, hit the "tare" button to zero the scale, and evenly divide your food. Once divided, you can even store some food in the refrigerator and put the rest in the freezer to make your meal prep last the longest. This scale goes up to 11 pounds and can measure in pounds, ounces, grams or kilograms, so you are covered no matter how large or small your project.
A large Dutch oven is an investment that lasts forever. I have a few different sizes, but my 7-quart Dutch oven is my work horse. It’s great on the stovetop and can also go straight into the oven. I make everything from a big batch of meatballs and tomato sauce, to soups, braised meats and sourdough bread. It really is a pot that does it all.
Salad spinners are one of the first tools I used as an intern at Food Network. We would get large deliveries of herbs and greens for shows that needed to be cleaned and dried, and the easiest way to dry them was in the salad spinner. So now, as part of my meal prep, I continue doing this right when I get home from the grocery store. The greens last for well over a week and then they are ready to cook with whenever I need them. Sometimes meal prepping can just be setting yourself up to cook later with ease.
A large cutting board might sound like an obvious tool needed in the kitchen, regardless of whether you are meal prepping or not, but I particularly like these larger boards when meal prepping. They allow me to prep a few different items at a time and still have space on the board to work. I keep my plastic board for prepping meat and wood board for everything else.
A sharp knife is key — it will always make for faster and safer work in the kitchen. This set, which includes an 8-inch chef knife, 6-inch slicing knife and 3.5-inch paring knife is great for most of your needs and will hold a sharp edge for a long time. Every year, I recommend getting your knives professionally sharpened whether. Either take them to a local kitchen store or send them to an online company to be sharpened.
Kitchen conversion magnets are your best friend if you are meal prepping in bulk. Often times when I’m doubling or tripling recipes, I’m able to simplify this process by checking out the conversion magnet conveniently placed on my refrigerator. Instead of measuring out 8 tablespoons I can just add 1/2 cup or 8 ounces of liquid. Everything becomes more simplified with these conversions. This particular magnet gives dry and liquid weights, oven temperature conversions and a quick guide for boiling eggs.