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Meal Prepping: Practical & Fine Cooking Tips for Busy People

practical meal prepping - toast with avocado and eggs

Photo by Trang Doan

Raise your hand if you spend at least a third of your household budget on convenience foods, such as takeaway and ready-made meals from the supermarket. There are various reasons why people nowadays cook less frequently. Let’s face it: our lives have gotten busier, and a household in which both you and your partner work can very often mean that neither of you will have the energy nor time to cook on a daily basis.  

practical meal prepping - toast with avocado and eggs
Photo by Trang Doan

You are probably already aware that convenience foods can often be expensive or high in salt and fat. So why not stick to prepping your own meals? Yes, it takes time, but everyone knows the perks of meal prepping. Not only does it make healthy eating easier, it’s also budget-friendly and it’s an investment in yourself and in the health of the ones you cook for. Plus, we’ve got some good news! Here are 10 time-saving meal preparation tips that even the busiest of you can fit it into their tight schedules!

First things first: Find your motivation for cooking

This doesn’t mean that you should be cooking every single day, but try to stick to home prepped meals as often as possible. Adopting cooking at home in your lifestyle can become much easier if you find a reason why you should be doing it. Here are a few ways to motivate yourself:

1. Home-cooked meals can be your budget’s new best friends

Just think about all the money you will be saving by prepping your meals at home, instead of spending it on convenience foods. Why not use the saved money to buy yourself a treat?

2. It gives you control over what you and your family are actually eating

Takeout and ready-to eat food, as well as prepackaged meals aren’t just more expensive than the raw ingredients for a similar meal would be. They sometimes tend to be quite unhealthy, and include high levels of sodium and a wide variety of preservatives. Besides, their calorie count is usually much higher than your home-cooked meal would be. Even when you order a meal at a restaurant, you don’t always know what exactly you are getting.

Fact: Preparing your meals will give you the freedom to make healthy substitutions which can help you reach your fitness goals much easier.

3. Cooking as a socializing activity

If you live alone, and don’t always enjoy preparing meals on your own, invite some company! It’s an excellent ‘excuse’ to hang out and spend some time with your friends or family. 

4. Involve children in meal-preps

 If you have a child, involve them in your cooking sessions. Most children enjoy preparing and cooking food, and (in most cases) they would be willing to assist you. This way you can easily turn making pasta or soup into a fun family activity.

5. Don’t be afraid to experiment

If the second reason behind avoiding home-prepped meals is the issue with coming up with interesting meals, the solution is super easy. Simple, practical and delicious recipes are basically everywhere! Whether you decide to invest in a good cookbook in order to get inspired, or you rely on a food blog, don’t be afraid to experiment.

Tip: Some food packets have easy recipes on them, as well.

8 practical meal prepping tips for busy people

1. Stock your fridge and freezer with handy, healthy food.

For example, you can buy frozen vegetables. These products retain a high proportion of their nutrients. Keep citrus fruits, like oranges in the fridge in order to extend their life. When buying fresh meat, opt for varieties with no bones, and then divide the quantities into meal-sized portions, which you can freeze separately. Also, don’t be afraid to buy bread in bulk, because you can keep it in the freezer until needed. Keep your fridge well stocked, as you will need these ingredients if you start prepping your meals at home more frequently.

 2. Keep your pantry well stocked, too! 

Here is the secret to avoid being easily tempted to order takeaway: stock long-life ingredients that can be later combined in different ways to create tasty meals. We’ve all been there, when your pantry is empty and you simply don’t want to face the thought of paying a trip to the supermarket. That’s why we have a few suggestions to make cooking at home ‘slightly’ more practical.

  •    Potatoes, carrots, onions and other long-lasting vegetables can form the basis of soups, so it’s good to have them around in the kitchen.
  •   Always have at least one variety of pasta in your pantry, as they are one of the most practical solutions whenever you don’t know what to prepare.
  •     Keeping a selection of long-life carbs like rice, noodles, lentils and couscous in your pantry is always a good idea.
  •     Canned goods, like canned fish, tins of legumes, tinned tomatoes, corn and other vegetables can be used in various combinations.
  • Stock oils and vinegars in order to make a wide range of dressings, and don’t forget to stock dried herbs as they will perfectly complement your home-prepped meal.

3. Pay a trip to the supermarket once a week 

If you are a busy person, the last thing you want to do is make several trips to the grocery store. So, what you should try instead is aim at doing grocery shopping once a week. If you prefer ordering online, there are plenty of options for that too. Those of you who want to keep things super organized can even hang a running grocery list in a visible place in the kitchen, such as the fridge, to keep track of items you run out of. If you have a digital assistant such as Alexa, use its ‘skill’ to add items to your shopping list via voice whenever you think of an item you need. This way you won’t run into any surprises when you prepare your meals.

4. Invest in a slow cooker and prepare dump dinners 

Dump dinners are slow cooker recipes where all you need to do is throw all the ingredients at once. These recipes are ideal for people with busy schedules! Prep all of the ingredients, throw them into Ziploc baggies and put them in the fridge of the freezer, if you aren’t ready to cook them. And when you need them, just put the ingredients into the slow cooker and let it cook all day.

5. Cook several things at once

Yes, you can cook potatoes and rice separately, but at the same time. Wondering how? Simply divide your pan with a thin wall made out of aluminum foil. This way, you can take out the entire section if it cooks faster than the other, and continue roasting the other half. Clever, right?

6. Freeze, don’t throw 

Did you cook more veggies than you needed for the actual meal? Don’t throw the leftovers! Put them in the freezer and use them for the following week. If you are new at preparing your meals at home, figuring out the right amount of food to prepare can be hard at first. However, repurposing your excess prep might save you precious time during the following week.

7. Fill your freezer with homemade frozen meals

Perhaps one of the most practical ways to enjoy healthy and home-cooked meals after a long day is to reheat DIY freezer meals. This means that you’d have to dedicate a few hours to preparing meals and freezing them. The main advantage is that unlike store-bought frozen food, you will know what these meals are made of. 

Tip: If you love smoothies, freeze separate smoothie packs with different ingredients, and all you will have to do in the morning is to blend them up. Who would imagine that breakfast could be done in just a minute?

8. 15-minute meals 

If you aren’t in the mood or simply don’t have the time to spend a few hours in the kitchen to prepare a decent meal, check out these 15-minute meal resources. They include preparing meals like instant pasta, sandwiches and wraps. The best thing about them is that these types of meals are super practical and are usually budget-friendly. 

Out with the old habits, in with the new: have you ditched ready-to-eat food from the supermarket yet?

Planning and preparing a meal very often fails because many people consider it complicated. Trips to the stores, shopping lists, complicated recipes, and the time needed to prepare a meal is more than enough to make a busy person feel overwhelmed and ready to throw away their apron. However, with these 8 practical tips you can turn the habit of cooking your own meal into a pleasant experience. It may take an hour or two the first time, but within time it gets easier and easier and once you adopt the habit of cooking for yourself, you’ll wonder how you hadn’t started earlier. So, find your motivation, and let’s get cooking!

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