Are you hungry — or are you getting ‘hangry?’

You know the feeling. It’s when you’ve waited just a little too long to figure out what you’re going to eat and where you’re going to eat it.

This can happen at any time, but we’re all especially prone to hanger now. Going out to restaurants may still feel a bit dicey. Street food options feel scarce.

That leaves only one option left. You’re going to have to order in or (worse) make your own food.

Deep breath. It’s going to be okay.

For all the jokes about people baking bread during quarantine, there are still many of us whose skills in the kitchen have been limited at best. Fortunately, there are now plenty of services and gadgets that have been designed to help novice home cooks.

These are ideas to make meal prep as simple as possible while still allowing you to enjoy food that’s as delicious as possible. Let’s dig in:

Tips and Tricks on How To Meal Prep With A Busy Schedule

Cooking healthy meals each day without resorting to using prepackaged and prepared foods is not easy. You already have a busy schedule. If you are stretching your time to the limit, now, how can you find time to cook?

The answer for many people is going to be meal prepping. The most nutritious and delicious meals don’t come out of a box. They are critical for healthy aging, though. Proper meal prep ensures you eat right, enjoy cooking for yourself and your family, and still find time for all the essentials in life like going to work, and exercising, and enjoying some me-time.

These simple meal prep ideas take almost no effort. They can be an effective part of a weight loss plan and save you money and time.

Plan Your Meals and Shopping List in Advance

Creating a meal plan and shopping list is the key to cost-effective and time-saving meal prep. Meal planning helps if you are sticking to a diet, too. It’s easier to stay on track if you have everything planned out in advance. It starts with deciding what you are going to eat for the whole week. Plan something for each meal and snacks if you need them.

Once you have the week mapped out, do your meal planning in three steps:
  • Select a meal and find a recipe for it.
  • Make a shopping list from the recipes.
  • Purchase only the food on your list when shopping.
The first step makes it all worthwhile because it gives you a chance to find new recipes and try new things.

Once you have all the recipes for your meals, make a list of the ingredients you need to purchase. Using the recipes to create your shopping list makes it easy to see how much you need each thing. For example, if you have three recipes that call for fresh kale, you can get an idea of how much to buy.

Pro Tip: Organize the list based on the setup of your favorite grocery store. For example, if the first section you walk through is produce, list all your fresh vegetables and fruits at the top. This also will help reduce the urge to impulse buy because you won’t be looking around trying to find things. Remember, mainly stick to the perimeter of the grocery store because that is where all of the fresh foods are!

Get Creative When Cooking In Batches

Cooking in batches is one of the best ways to meal prep when time is short. It means you can still enjoy healthy food that you make yourself. You just cook less often. It works in restaurants, and it will work at home, too.

Meal vs. Ingredient Batch Cooking

There are two ways you can approach batch cooking. You can cook a whole meal ahead of time and freeze it, or you can cook key ingredients and mix and match them as needed for each recipe. There is no wrong choice. It depends on your personal needs.

Batch Cooking by Ingredient

If you batch cook by ingredient, you can be a little more creative. Choose recipes with similar base ingredients, like roasted or raw vegetables or fruits, for example, and have them ready in advance.

You can use the prepped ingredients for soups, put them on salads or add them to stir-fry for something quick. Batch prep by ingredient is a practical option for grab snacks, too.

Follow this concept for power proteins like boiled eggs and lean meat. You can grill several chicken breasts, shred the meat and then fill enough baggies to cover your meals.

Batched ingredients work well for one-bowl meals when you don’t have anything planned, too. Throw some shredded chicken and roasted vegetables in a bowl, add a pre-made sauce or dressing plus some spices and herbs, and you have a quick, healthy meal.

Batch Up Your Condiments, Dressings, and Sauces

Clean eating is all the rage right now, so more and more people are making their own sauces and condiments. You can make everything you need from hummus to your favorite salad dressing ahead of time.

Once done, you can put them in large containers and add a label. Or separate them into serving or recipe sizes and freeze them in airtight bags. Just thaw them out the night before you want to use them.

Assemble Meals in One Container

If you decide to cook whole recipes and freeze them, separate them into proper portion sizes. That will help you stick to a diet if weight loss is a goal. It will also let you know exactly how many servings you have of that dish at a glance.

If you don't want to cook ahead of time, assemble the prepped ingredients in one container, so all you do is open it up when you are ready to cook. You can also look up one sheet pan meals to make things even easier. This is a practical choice for quick meals like salads. Put your salad dressing in an airtight container, and then fill a container with your fresh salad ingredients. Put the lid on, and you have one salad ready to go to take for work or for a fast supper after a long day.

This option would work well for any slow cooker or instant pot meal, too. For instance, put all the fresh ingredients you need for a soup or stew in one container. Batch cook your stock and store it. In the morning, fill the slow cooker with the stock, dump the ingredients in from the container and turn the slow cooker on before leaving the house. Imagine how good your home will smell when you come back.

Tips to Make Meal Prep Easier

Meal prep doesn’t have to be time-consuming, not if you are organized.

The Right Kitchen Tools

Start with the right tools. If you anticipate chopping many vegetables, it might be worth the money to invest in a good food processor. Almost any firm vegetable can be chopped, minced, or diced in a food processor.

You also want to make sure you have a good knife. Good doesn’t have to mean expensive. Just a knife that stays sharp and is right for the job you are doing. Don't try to pair food with a chopping knife, for instance.

Airtight storage containers are a must to keep refrigerated and frozen prepped foods fresh. You can also use airtight freezer bags. Ideally, you will freeze in small batches, so don’t buy only the jumbo-sized bags. Make sure raw fruits and veggies are completely dry before putting them away to keep them fresh.

Keep Things Simple

If you want to make an extravagant recipe or meal, save that for a day when you can give it the attention it deserves. For the average week, though, keep things as simple as possible. Focus on good nutrition and easy preparation.

Stock Up on Staple Items

The better-stocked your pantry, the easier the meal prep. It also gives you the option to buy dry goods in bulk. Keep your spices and other things you use a lot in stock, so you don’t have to shop for them weekly.

When creating your meal plans, shop your pantry first to see what you might already have on hand. Maybe you bought something last week and didn’t use it. It will save you money and time at the grocery store.

Make a Book of Your Favorite Recipes

Buy an inexpensive scrapbook at the local store and use it to compile your favorite recipes with grocery lists attached. When you find a recipe that works well for you, print, type, or handwrite it out, make a list of the ingredients you will need to buy to make it, minus the staple stuff you always have on hand and store it in your book. Don’t forget to include serving sizes and other nutrition information.

You might want to add tabbed pages to your book to keep it organized, too. Maybe make a section for soups and one for salads, for example. Or you could separate it by meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

Be Consistent

Set a time each week for meal prep, so it becomes part of your lifestyle. Pick a weekend afternoon like Sundays so you can get prepared for the coming week. Make it a priority, too. The more you do it, the easier it will be and the faster it will go.

Make it a Family Affair.

Food prep can be a great family project, so don’t be afraid to get others involved. It’s something you could do with the grandchildren on the weekends. You are getting some help and teaching them valuable healthy lifestyle skills at the same time.

There is no reason you can’t eat right all the time. It just takes some planning, the right motivation, and blogs like this one where you can learn how to maintain healthy eating habits.

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