As with many things in life, experience truly is the best teacher when it comes to meal prepping. The more you put it into practice, the more you discover what works best for you (and what doesn't!). Plus, you become more efficient — and you just might surprise yourself with what you can accomplish in a short period of time.
For the past couple of years, meal prep has been my weekend ritual. These are the well-practiced rules I always follow to make sure I get the most out of a one-hour meal prep session.
1. Keep it simple.
You've got an hour on the clock, and trust me when I tell you it will go by a lot faster than you think. Now's not the time to get fancy or try anything too elaborate. Remember that the goal here is to prep all your food for the week in the short time span of about 60 minutes. Keeping it as simple as can be is the recipe for success.
2. Choose recipes that don't require a lot of hands-on time.
In order to get the most amount of prep done in a set amount of time, it's crucial to stick with foods and recipes that don't require too much hands-on time and attention at the stove — like risotto, for example. There's definitely a time for those recipes; it's just not when you're focused on meal prepping in an hour.
Instead, your best bet is choosing items that can largely cook unattended, save for the occasional stir. For example, things like soup, chili, roasted vegetables, baked chicken thighs, or a pot of grains are great picks.
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3. Prep components that can be turned into meals.
Recipes are helpful, but aren't the only path to meal prep success. It's helpful to also focus on prepping a variety of components that can be turned into different meals during the week. For example, a pot of quinoa can be used as the base of grain bowls at any time of day, a topping to make salad more filling, and a filler to bulk up soup. Foods like roasted veggies, hard-boiled eggs, cooked chicken, marinated beans, and baked tofu are just a few examples of flexible items ideal for meal prepping.
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4. Have a strategy for repurposing leftovers.
With just 60 minutes on the clock, it's unrealistic that you'll have time (or energy!) to make different things for every single meal of the week. The trade-off that comes with meal prepping for the week in an hour is that you will be faced with eating leftovers. But! This absolutely does not mean you need to eat the same exact thing day after day. Instead, have a strategy for repurposing leftovers into different meals. For example, if you make a big batch of chicken, repurpose the leftovers into grain bowls, sandwiches, tacos, fried rice, or stir-fries. It's a smart tactic that prevents boredom and still keeps mealtimes interesting.
Get inspired: 25+ Ways to Use Leftover Chicken
5. Write out a game plan before getting started.
I always think it's super helpful to make a meal prep game plan before getting started. Make an ordered list (preferably written) of exactly what you plan to accomplish. It's a smart tactic that will keep you organized and efficient by helping you identify all the ingredients you need and which foods take the longest to cook.
Follow my lead: 7 Things I Always Do When Meal Prepping
6. Always start with the task that takes the most time, then work backward.
And speaking of identifying which foods take the longest to cook, these should always be the first things you cook during your meal prep session. Then work backwards with the things that take less time, finishing with no-cook items like overnight oats, sauces, dressings, slaws, and salads. This makes meal prep efficient and helps you maximize your output in a given session.
7. Always embrace the "meanwhile."
This is a must for making meal prep quick and efficient. Let me start by saying that "embracing the meanwhile" is not the same as multitasking, so no need to worry about trying to do two things at once. The "meanwhile" is the tactic that takes advantage of the downtime and those few hands-off minutes that show up in recipes — like while vegetables are roasting or granola is baking. During that time you can get a pot of rice started, stir together a batch of overnight oats, and whisk together a sauce for the week.