These Meal Prep Tricks Will Save You Cooking Time Every Week

Do this today and you’ll eat well all week long.
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Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Prop Styling by Beatrice Chastka, Food Styling by Rhoda Boone

As a procrastinator and an impulsive cook, I scoff in the face of meal planning. Against all conventional wisdom and popular advice, I’ll wait to do my grocery shopping for dinner until the very last moment, when I’m ravenous. But when I do accidentally do myself the favor of marinating some extra lentils or frying some extra shallots for a few days’ worth of salads, I am shocked by how much better the week goes.

While I may never have a refrigerator full of color-coded containers of perfectly diced vegetables, I’m always looking for ways to get ahead. In the spirit of open-mindedness, I asked my Epicurious colleagues about how they prep for a busy work week—the little painless steps they take at the beginning of the week that help them cook smarter and eat better in the ensuing days. 

Keep the grill going for a few extra minutes

Chicken and mushroom quesadillas are even speedier if you have some grilled chicken ready to go.

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Prop Styling by Beatrice Chastka, Food Styling by Kate Schmidt

“I’m awful at meal prep, but my family (okay, my husband) will often grill a bunch of chicken on a Sunday afternoon and we use it throughout the week for kids’ lunches, salad, chicken salad, quesadillas, etc. Having quick access to cooked protein makes it easy to fill in the rest of a meal.” —Emily Farris, senior commerce writer

Don’t feel like you have to tackle the whole week

“Figuring out five days of weeknight meals all at once is overwhelming, especially if you’ve had a busy weekend. And let’s be honest, meal components that you cooked Sunday may not be super appealing come Thursday. So just think about two days at a time. A mini-plan can feel so much more doable, and help make sure that you’re not wasting the bits and bobs that accumulate through the week. Break it down: Plan one big dinner (whether that’s for Sunday night or Monday), plus a second-day dinner that uses the first meal’s nextovers—the protein from one meal can be used a different way in the next. Then reset. Take a breather. Order takeout, make pancakes, or call it picnic night. Then you can do a little fridge inventory and plan another little set of home-cooked meals for the rest of the week.” —Maggie Hoffman, digital director

Make a lot of vegetables, and remix them a million ways

With some blanched green beans handy, you’re halfway to a niçoise

Photo by Andrew Purcell, Prop Styling by Alex Brannian, Food Styling by Carrie Purcell

“Steam up a bunch of sweet potatoes, blanch green beans, roast asparagus, etc. Then you can mix and match them for a variety of uses throughout the week until they run out. I find I eat so many more vegetables when they’re just already cooked for me, and I feel excited and more creative and compelled to use them in different ways, as opposed to staring at something I need to use from scratch.” —Sasha Levine, site director

Be smart about your condiments

“Don’t underestimate condiments. They can be powerful and efficient ingredients that help develop lots of flavor. Ketchup, store-bought achars or chutneys, pickles, hot sauce—you name it.” —Anikah Shaokat, associate editor

Long live the baggie of pasta

“On especially busy weeks—if I'm trying to treat my future self—I will cook off a pound of pasta, toss it in a little bit of olive oil, and store it in the fridge in a large airtight container or gallon zip-top baggie. (Make sure to save a little bit of the pasta water in case you need to use it later in the week.) That way, throughout the week, I can make easy one-pan sauces (like a quick burst cherry tomato sauce) and throw the already cooked pasta in. It makes for a quick dinner with only one pan to wash.” —Jesse Szewczyk, food editor

This 15-minute burst cherry tomato pasta is even faster with leftover pasta.

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell

One container of lettuce, many salads

“If your office has a fridge where it's kosher to leave stuff, bring the whole container of lettuce to the office with you and leave it there for the week. No need to portion lettuce into containers every day.” —Zoe Denenberg, associate editor, cooking & SEO

Have your own personal dressing of the week

“For me, the absolute best meal prep is having a jar of really good homemade salad dressing in the fridge. It makes eating vegetables just feel so much more doable. Change it up every week—having a jar ready is such a delight, even if it’s just enough for a couple of days.” —M.H.

Give yourself the gift of a fruit routine

Cut up and freeze a pineapple today, and drink it all week long.

Photo by Ed Anderson

“I buy a large-format fruit (LOL), like pineapple or cantaloupe, every Monday when I work from home and cut it up so I have some ready to eat for the whole week. I typically freeze a pint of it so it can last longer or can be tossed into smoothies!” —Kate Kassin, editorial operations associate

There’s no such thing as too much rice

“Never make enough rice for just one meal. Leftover rice can be turned into fried rice, obviously, but you could also return it to the stove with some stock to make a rice porridge (think risotto, arroz caldo, jook). Top it with whatever you have in the fridge or pantry: some shredded rotisserie chicken, some leftover grilled veg, a tin of smoked fish, etc.” —Joe Sevier, cooking & SEO editor

Give every week a loose theme

“Sometimes, I do lunch meal prep themes for different weeks like rice, noodles, sandwiches, etc. This way it’s exciting to make similar food for that same week but not eat the same thing each week.” —Gigi Wong, senior analyst

Leftover vegetables are just miso soup waiting to happen

When in doubt, throw your leftover vegetables into a miso soup.

Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Judy Haubert

“I always try to keep tofu and miso in my fridge because my fave work-from-home easy lunch or dinner is miso soup using up whatever veg I have laying around.” —Alaina Chou, commerce producer

You can absolutely meal prep your desserts too

“For me meal prepping is as much about baking as it is washing, chopping, and cooking. Baking something big (like a 9x13" pan of coffee cake) means that a satisfying on-the-go breakfast is actually a possibility. I’ve even cut the coffee cake into squares, individually wrapped them, and stashed them in the freezer to eat throughout the week. You just thaw it on the counter overnight and it’s good to go.” —Jesse Szewczyk, food editor