There are three general steps that make up meal planning: the actual planning or choosing meals, grocery shopping, and meal prep. And no matter what your approach to meal planning — whether you religiously pen out seven dinners a week or you're not so keen on committing to dinners too far in advance — meal prep is the one step in the process that can have a big impact on making it a whole lot easier to get a delicious dinner on the table.
First, What Exactly Is Meal Prep?
Meal prep is the third, and final, step of the meal planning process. Think of it as the step that really puts your meal plan into action. After selecting your meals for the week and shopping for ingredients, you set aside some time, be it an hour or just 20 minutes, to literally begin prepping the upcoming meals.
Meal prep can mean different things for different people, but even if you do just one thing (like whisk together a dressing or roast some veggies) you're giving your future self a gift that will make cooking dinner a little easier.
Meal Prep Can Make Dinner Even More Delicious
Meal prep can be more than prepping produce, cooking a pot of grains, and hard-boiling some eggs. Setting aside meal prep time during the weekend means that you can take advantage of more time-consuming cooking methods, like braising and roasting, that aren't always weeknight-friendly.
Meal prep also allows you time to make a super-savory broth in your Instant Pot or slow cooker, to use in weeknight dinners for richer soups. Or it can be as simple as making a big batch of salad dressing or sauce just the way you like for more delicious grain bowls and dinner salads.
Meal Prep = Planning When You're Not into Meal Planning
We look at it this way: Meal prep is a form of meal planning for anyone who dislikes the rigidity of choosing set meals. Instead of planning specific meals, prep a bunch versatile ingredients that can be mixed and matched and turned into a variety of different meals. That way you come home at the end of the day knowing you have the components for dinner ready to go.
For example, start with some shredded chicken, roasted vegetables, a pot of grains, and a sauce, and you can easily turn it into a salad, grain bowl, tacos, or frittata.
Meal prep also works as a kind of a backup plan for the nights when your craving changes or your time is crunched. It allows you to turn those roasted vegetables into burritos instead of the salad you originally intended.
Meal Plan Club with Kitchn
Meal Plan Club is our self-paced 4-week program full of educational posts, downloadable tools, and real-life sample meal plans where we'll walk you through each step of meal planning — from choosing recipes to meal prep and actually executing each meal — to make you a more confident meal planner in just one month. You can follow along here!