Meal prep shortcuts are lifesavers, and they’re nothing to be ashamed of. If you’ve followed Workweek Lunch for any length of time, you know that the meal prep process doesn’t have to be a sadistic activity that takes hours and hours of your precious free time. In fact, most of the meal preps you’ll see here take around two hours, which is less than 2 percent of your time for the week. Pretty amazing, right? Meal prep is supposed to make life easier and free up your time, not take more of it.
That said, we’ve all had one of “those weeks.” You know, the ones we’re talking about. It’s when you’re hard-pressed to find enough time to sleep, let alone cook a meal over and over. We’ve all had weeks where the meal prep takes a back seat because work or school or taking care of family rules all of your decisions. All of a sudden it’s Friday and you’re working how it’s already the weekend.
We’ve all had one of “those weeks.” We also have all had Lazy Weeks, where you know future you will thank you for meal prepping, but jeez, two hours in the kitchen (plus shopping time, ah!) sounds like torture. Maybe you’re distracted by other things (great weather, work, or napping—all valid distractions). Regardless of whether you’re crazy-busy or just want to get back to Netflix faster (been there), we’ve got meal prep shortcuts that will keep your prep time short. But without sacrificing flavor.
Best Meal Prep Shortcuts
At the Store
Get Your Groceries Delivered
I enjoy grocery shopping, provided I can get there at 10 am on a weekday when the aisles are blissfully empty and the shelves are fully stocked. Grocery shopping on the weekends, though? Nope nope nope, unless I get there before 9am, and that isn’t always possible.
Maybe you hate grocery shopping no matter what time of day you go. If you can afford a small fee (between $5-10, depending on location), try out grocery delivery. Many grocery chains offer their own grocery delivery service, or you can order non-perishable items online through companies like Instacart, Prime Now or Thrive Market. I’m also a big fan of Butcher Box, for example. As a meat delivery service, it makes it easy to order high-quality cuts. You arrange for a specific delivery date, and voila! How amazing is that?
Grocery delivery is an especially great option for those in cities. It saves all that lugging of groceries on the subway and up flights of stairs. It’s also a good option if you’re not able to drive or you’re not feeling well. The only drawback to grocery delivery is the fact that it’s typically not instantaneous. You need to plan ahead by a day or so. In most cases, you’ll need to wait for a “shopper” to become available. This can take a while during peak times and in large cities, understandably.
You’re also at the mercy of the selection skills of your designated shopper. However, you can add notes to your order if you need something specific, like an unripe avocado.
Pick up your groceries
If you don’t want to or can’t spring for delivery, many stores enable you to order online and pick up the grocery order. They still do the shopping for you, but you can just pick it up while you’re doing other errands. In those cases, the store employee typically brings your order out to your car. Then they will go over anything that’s missing or they replaced. It’s a decent compromise.
Let the Grocery Store Help
Your local grocery store can do a lot more for you than you likely realize. First up: the produce section. Chances are, there’s a section fully stocked with vegetables prepared in various ways. Imagine things like steamed beets, spiralized zucchini, pre-chopped mirepoix (or onions, celery, and carrots). We sometimes really appreciate the pre-cut butternut squash. These items are definitely more expensive than doing it yourself, but this is helpful if you know you have a really busy week ahead of you.
The deli section is another area where you can lean on your grocer. Rotisserie chickens are a lifesaver when time is tight. They’re a gift that keeps on giving. Just remove the meat and you’ll have between 3-5 cups of chicken to add to soups, salads, quesadillas, sandwiches, and more. My favorite rotisserie chicken recipe right now is this take on Greek avgolemono soup from Pinch of Yum. (And then when you’re finished prepping, you can use the carcass to make stock if you want!)
Next up, visit the butcher counter! Many of us head straight for the pre-portioned meats, but your butcher does much more than just stock the shelves. For starters, he or she can get you exactly the quantity of meat you need, so you’re not wasting any. It’s also helpful to get exactly what you need. This way, you don’t have to adjust recipes to account for what you found on the shelf. Most butchers will also help prep your meat, by tenderizing or pounding meat into a specific thickness, for example. You can also have bones removed, or ask for the meat to be cut into cubes or seasoned. Sometimes you’ll find all of this already prepped and shrink-wrapped, just ready for you.
We also recommend taking a walk through the canned goods and frozen food aisles. Canned fruits and vegetables are often a great value and many are pre-cooked, making them ready-to-use in a variety of recipes. Frozen foods get a bad rap (TV dinners, anyone?), but the freezer aisle also features fresh-frozen fruits (even avocados!) and vegetables in a variety of formats (riced, diced, and everything in between), for prices that are often similar or better than those of fresh produce.
Opt for Pre-Made Instead of Homemade
Homemade sauces, broth, and marinades are amazing and easy to make, but they do take some additional time. When time is short, opt for store-bought broth, herb pastes, pre-made sauces (like tomato sauce, peanut sauce, and salsa), and canned beans. Not only will it save you time, but there are so many options available that you’re sure to find something you like (or maybe try something new!).
You will, of course, pay slightly more for the convenience, but it can be really worth it. I hate chopping ginger and swear by frozen pre-minced ginger. Is it expensive? Considering I could buy an entire pound of raw ginger root for about same price, yes. Is it worth it? 100% yes.
Best Meal Prep Shortcuts
Get Cozy with Your Crockpot
Crockpots and Instant Pots are so popular right now, and for good reason. These two appliances can seriously squash your hands-on cooking time. Crockpots, in particular, are very affordable and can accommodate large quantities of food at once, which makes for great meal prepping. A slow cooker does take up some space but is well worth it—if you use it.
Picking the right size crockpot is key. Slow cookers come in tiny, 2-quart sizes (perfect for a tailgate) all the way up to 10 quarts. It can be tough to know what to buy. A slow cooker needs to be filled at least halfway to ensure proper cooking. A 4-5 quart slow cooker can accommodate a family of two (with leftovers) to four (no leftovers), whereas a 6-10 quart can accommodate larger families—leftovers TBD.
Using a slow cooker is incredibly easy: simply load it up with veggies, meat (or beans), and some liquid, set the temperature, and go about your business until the time is up. Some swear by cooking food overnight (talk about multi-tasking!) and others leave it on while they’re at work. Pick a method that works with your schedule, find a recipe, and get cooking!
Try A Buffet-Style Prep
Buffet meal preps entail preparing each component of a meal separately and then combining them in new ways during the week. They allow you to take advantage of the time-saving benefits of meal prep, without committing upfront to what those components will build.
For example, you could prepare two different proteins, a few roasted veggies, a sauce or dressing, and some rice and pull together a Buddha Bowl, salad, or wrap very quickly during the week. This is a more low-key way to prep, and it kind of honors your intuition. Sometimes you might want to have those roasted potatoes three days in a row; other times you might wanna mix it up.
You can check out some more buffet prep ideas here!
Get A Done-For-You Meal Plan & Grocery List
Sometimes, the most overwhelming part of meal prep is just deciding what you’re going to make. And how it’ll all fit together. And how you’ll use up all the ingredients you need to buy without eating the same thing for five days.
Enter: the WWL Meal Prep Program. This super affordable program gives you complete grocery lists and meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For the entire workweek. All the planning is done for you, so all you have to do is shop, cook, and eat.
Don’t you feel more Zen already?