Have you ever had to choose between a workout and a cooking session?
I know I have. And my hope for you is that through your cooking journey, you find yourself in that position less and less as time goes on.
Before I learned how to cook meals quickly, I really struggled with this. I knew cooking was the best way to fuel my body with healthy, tasty and cheap meals, but it took way more time to do than running into the nearest takeout place for a sandwich.
The good news? You don’t have to choose. You CAN learn how to get meal prep done in an hour. Part of it is skill… but most of it comes down to strategy.
1. Think big batch in a small amount of time
When you only have an hour to make the meal prep magic happen, it’s definitely not the time to whip out your gourmet cookbook. Instead, you’ll focus on easier meals with less ingredients that taste great in big batches. No special sauces, no recipes with a zillion steps…
Think baked ziti. Think soup and chili – meals that make many servings and don’t require too much attention. And think about what you’d make if you found out your entire family is coming to your place tomorrow and you’re expected to feed them all.
Big batch meals are great for cooking with limited time because you can easily clean while the meal is in the oven or on the stove. These meals tend to take longer to cook, but they need less attention, giving you the opportunity to multitask without the risk of ruining the meal.
It also helps that they’re usually made in one pot, dish or pan, which cuts down the time you have to spend cleaning up!
When you think big batch, you might be thinking about making a giant salad. Salads may be quick, but they’re not ideal for meal prep UNLESS you pack them in mason jars or keep the ingredients separate until you need to assemble a meal with them. Otherwise, you’re in for some sad, soggy salads.
Here’s a list of low-maintenance casseroles (great for big batch meals) from Buzzfeed that’s a great place to start when looking for these types of recipes.
2. Canned and frozen ingredients are key
There’s nothing wrong with canned and frozen veggies! To be honest, this is the first year I’ve truly experimented with both canned and frozen produce. The verdict? Faster cooking.
Yes, fresh vegetables and ingredients are ideal. But in a pinch, it’s easier to drain and rinse a can of corn or tomatoes and throw it into a dish than it is to prepare it fresh.
When cooking with limited time, you might have to sacrifice some things, but the pay off is that you STILL get to eat your own home-cooked meals that you have full control over instead of resorting to takeout just because it’s faster and convenient.
Not sure how to use canned and frozen veggies and make them taste good?
My best suggestion is to use them in stir-fries, rice dishes, chili and casseroles. Don’t try to roast canned green beans or frozen broccoli and expect it to be crispy – it will just be mushy. The key is to mix the canned/frozen produce in with other ingredients.
And if you’re more into frozen ingredients, here’s a list of meals you’ll love from Babble.
3. Consider tools to help you speed up the process
If you want to go all out by making multiple meal components (a bunch of rice, hard-boiled eggs, pulled pork, etc) consider investing in some tools to streamline (and speed up!) cooking certain ingredients that normally take a long time or a ton of attention.
For example, a rice cooker can help you get it right every time without worry about burning it (I’ve made that mistake way too many times)
Grab this rice cooker for under $30 that you can not only cook large quantities of rice in, but also cook full rice meals!
And here’s a great egg cooker for under $15 if you’re someone that eats a ton of hard-boiled eggs — a great source of easy protein.
If you have a tiny kitchen, or maybe a kitchenette without an oven, consider investing in a pressure cooker like the Instant Pot. You can cook a lot of different types of meals in it and in a very short amount of time.
Chopping vegetables often takes the most time in the cooking process (if you’re not using canned or frozen). A tool like this veggie chopper (it looks so fun!) can help speed up the process.
4. Master multitasking in the kitchen
Fast batch cooking gets even easier when you can master the art of multitasking. It takes practice, but once you get it down, you’ll save yourself loads of time.
The trick is to pick recipes that either need to be cooked in the oven OR stove. Then you can choose two to be done at the same time: one on the stove and one in the oven.
Below are some ideas if you want to cook two recipes at once and get multiple meals. The ones listed below could pair really well with each other!
On the stove:
Sweet Potato Skillet – super easy to change up with different ingredients
One pot curry – cozy and easy to make with lots of canned and frozen ingredients.
One pot pasta – great for any season!
In the oven:
Sheet pan chicken – a classic dish with endless variations
Baked frittata with veggies – an awesome cheap breakfast that’s freezer-friendly
Enchilada bake – a one-and-done dish that’s packed with veggies (you can easily make this vegetarian)
These are just a few examples of versatile dishes you can make with just the stove or just the oven when you only have an hour to prep.
If you don’t want to spend hours and hours searching for the right recipe that will definitely work for meal prep, you should definitely check out the Workweek Lunch Meal Prep Program. In this $7.99/month program, you get access to healthy meal plans that change every week so you never get bored. Click here to learn more.
The more you practice, the faster you get.
Practice is probably the most underrated strategy on this list. You can get all the tools in the world and pick the easiest, fastest recipes. But without practice, you won’t have the confidence you need to get it done in an hour. Trust me on this!
Three years ago, I was still burning rice. Now? I can confidently cook anything, and the confidence alone saves me tons of time.
Next time you feel like you don’t have enough time to cook healthy food to fuel your body with the highest quality meals… think again! You now have these tips and tricks under your belt.
And if you’re ready to take meal prep more seriously, sign up to be a VIP and immediately get my free Meal Prep Essentials For Busy People guide.