10 Meal Prep Hacks to Save Time & Money
After a full day working, studying or socialising, who hasn’t abandoned cooking plans and succumbed to a takeaway or Deliveroo or cold baked beans straight from the can? That’s definitely me! Too many times…per week! Jess, our resident Nutritionist and creative cook, shares some tried and tested meal prep hacks for busy lives, to reduce the hassle and tease out your inner chef!
Meal prep can be very tedious, but doing some in advance can save you time and money, and you’re likely to make healthier food choices! Follow our simple hacks, so you can grab your pre-made ingredients from the fridge and quickly combine them for a delicious meal.
Plan meals and shop for the week ahead. You’re more likely to stick to your shopping list, you can take advantage of good deals and seasonal produce, prep food ready for cooking, and you’ll be far less tempted to grab a fast-food feast!
Read the recipe…before you begin
Yes, this should be a no-brainer, but I’ve been caught out too many times by basic instructions that can waste time and drive you nuts, like ‘cook in a pre-heated oven’, ‘chill overnight’, ‘use (butter) at room temperature’. 🙄
Set up an assembly line
When you’re cooking several items, it saves time to do everything in stages: Pre-heat the oven and get out all the equipment and ingredients you need. Then do all your washing > then chopping > then seasoning > then cooking > then relax! 🙂
Choose food for multiple meals
Cooking newbies might prefer shopping and preparing for specific recipes, but you’ll save time and money if you choose ingredients to use in a variety of dishes.
Prepare in different ways > cook once > several meals sorted!
See our hacks for batch cooking.
Batch cook (once a week)
A great way to cook for busy lives – make double quantities and refrigerate/freeze for a later date (e.g. chilli, stews, soups and pasta dishes). Not only will you save on cooking time, but it’s only one lot of clearing up – big bonus! And forget ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’, gather willing housemates, put on your favourite playlist and get cooking!
- Roast a chicken at the weekend to use throughout the week in meals, salads, soups and sandwiches.
- Left-over fish can be quickly combined with herbs, mash and a beaten egg for delicious fishcakes.
- Use fresh or tinned tomatoes to make tomato sauce in bulk. Freeze it in batches and season it differently to transform it into pasta sauce, a spicy base for chilli or stews, or to liven up veggie, meat and fish creations.
- Make extra roasted vegetables e.g. sweet potato or a Mediterranean medley. Use hot veg as a perfect accompaniment to almost any meat or fish dish, then enjoy the rest later in the week: reheat with melted cheese, spritz with a lemony dressing to top a bowl of quinoa, pack into wraps with hummus and leaves, or save for savoury breakfast muffins.
Mediterranean Roast Veg
This is more of a simple method than a recipe, as you can roast most vegetables in this manner, adjusting the seasoning and using up whatever you have in the fridge.
2 red/yellow peppers, 1 aubergine, 2 courgettes, 1 large onion, 1 pack of cherry tomatoes
- Chop veg into large bite-size chunks and spread evenly on a baking tray.
- Season with salt and pepper, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, a handful of torn basil leaves.
- Drizzle with olive oil and mix well.
- Roast in a pre-heated oven at 220°C for 30-40 minutes, until veg are tender and gently toasted. Toss once or twice midway to ensure even cooking.
Superfood Salad – fresh from the fridge!
Make a wholesome meal in minutes from pre-cooked sweet potato, chicken and quinoa.
Just add chopped kale, hemp seeds and hummus.
(You could swap the chicken for tinned tuna).
Prep fruit & veg in advance
Even if you don’t have time for batch-cooking, a bit of weekend prep can speed up workweek meals. Wash, peel, chop and store in containers in the fridge, ready to eat or cook. (You can buy pre-prepared fruit and veg in supermarkets, but it’s a lot cheaper do to it yourself!)
You’ll have to hold off prepping some things until just before you eat them e.g. avocados and apples, which will discolour.
Consider food timelines
Reduce waste by knowing what to east first and what to do last minute.
- Some fruit and veg keep better than others e.g. berries go mushy and salad leaves wilt – so plan to eat them earlier than food that stays fresher longer
- Most fruit and veg will freeze OK, so if you’re not going to use it up, chop it, pop it in a freezer bag and save for later (e.g. banish brown bananas – peel, slice and freeze instead!)
- Make salad dressings in advance, but keep them separate until you’re ready to eat (or the salad will go soggy). Then just whisk, drizzle and dig in!
If you own a slow cooker, you’ll probably know the joys of producing juicy flavoursome dishes: throw in chopped veg, meat, herbs and spices and cooking liquid; then switch it on and off you go. Revisit several hours later for a heavenly ready meal!
Even without a slow-cooker, hearty one-pot meals are simple to make, great for freezing and reheating, and there’s less washing up!
Fill the freezer
For an unplanned night in, or unexpected guests, or no energy to cook…
5 Freezing Tips
- When freezing food, make sure it is properly wrapped or in sealed containers to avoid freezer burn.
- Split into portion sizes, label with contents and when-to-eat-by dates.
- Always cool cooked dishes before freezing.
- Freeze only fresh, good quality food; freezing does NOT kill bacteria. Don’t refreeze food (unless you have cooked the food before freezing it for a second time).
- If in doubt, throw it out. If you’re not sure how long something has been lurking at the back of the freezer, or it looks a bit suspect once defrosted, just chuck it, don’t risk it.
Freeze with ease
- Ready frozen veg and fruit is convenient (use handfuls as you need them). It is also nutritious, because it is generally frozen immediately after picking, so doesn’t lose nutritional value during transportation (and often tastes better than products that have hung around on supermarket shelves e.g. peas, beans and sweetcorn).
Tip: Throw frozen fruit into a blender for an ice-cold speedy smoothie!
- Most cooked meats can last in the freezer for several months.
If you cook extra, split into single servings, pop into freezer bags and label with contents and eat-by dates.
- Most bread (for up to 3 months). Toast slices from frozen.
Soft herbs (e.g. parsley, chives and basil) go limp so they won’t be good for garnishes, but are fine for flavouring food. Freeze small quantities in ice cube trays and add direct from the freezer.
Hard herbs (e.g. thyme, sage and rosemary) can be frozen whole. They will then crumble easily, so there’s no need for chopping!
- Grated cheese – use handfuls straight from the freezer.
- Butter/margarine (up to 3 months).
- Milk for up to a month. Defrost and shake well before use.
- Fruit and veg with a high water content will go limp and mushy e.g. lettuce and cucumber.
- Whole eggs & egg-based sauces e.g. mayonnaise will curdle.
- Yoghurts, single cream and some soft cheeses go watery.
Keep it simple
And finally…if time is tight or you’re a newbie cook, don’t be over-ambitious – life’s too short to stuff a mushroom!
Find out more:
Cook food to boost your mood! Find out how good eating habits and the right nutrition choices can make us feel happy & energised
More recipes to cook in advance for the week ahead: