Learn how to simplify meal prep ideas for the week with 5 easy strategies + get my best meal planning tips.
Let’s face it – even if we like to cook, coming up with meal prep ideas for the week is a CHORE.
There’s always another meal just around the corner only hours away, and if you’re feeding a household, there are additional schedules and food preferences to juggle. Most of us have goals around our food whether it’s meal planning to lose weight, save money or follow a particular eating style.
Finally, factor in your own limited time and energy to plan, shop, prep, cook and clean, it’s no wonder so many women look to Pinterest for meal planning help!
Why Pinterest isn’t perfect for meal prep ideas
There’s no question that Pinterest is an amazing tool for recipes, but the sheer volume of enticing options is overwhelming. Pinterest is designed to keep you browsing, so jumping on Pinterest for a few minutes to choose a couple recipes is easier said than done. It’s kind of like going to Target for shampoo and walking out two hours later, $250 poorer.
The overwhelming temptation of clicking through options on Pinterest to find “the best” recipes not only leads to time lost but also decision fatigue. Even if you don’t consciously notice it, the more choices you are presented with in a day, the more exhausted your brain gets, which leads to you either (A) making an impulsive decision or (B) doing nothing.
Decision fatigue from endlessly browsing for meal prep ideas for the week can manifest as ultimately choosing recipes that don’t match your goals or not making a plan at all and relying on prepackaged foods, pizza and takeout…again.
But seriously, MEAL PREP CAN BE SIMPLE.
Keep reading for five ways to simplify meal prep ideas for the week and my best meal prep tips.
5 Strategies to simplify meal prep ideas for the week
You’re probably familiar with Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday and Pizza Friday. Themed meal days are popular because they take the guesswork out of what to cook that day.
However, you don’t need to stick to these limited ideas! Use the theming strategy to simplify your meal prep ideas for the week, but get creative and change it up every week, month or season.
Broaden your ideas to theme meals around things like:
- Cooking tool (e.g. Instant Pot, grill)
- Cuisine (e.g. Italian, Mexican)
- Type of dish (e.g. salad, casserole)
- Don’t forget date nights or takeout – they count!
This winter, my meal prep ideas for the week have looked like this:
MON: Instant Pot soup
TUES: Mexican food
WED: Protein & Veggies
FRI: Comfort Food
Note: The latest Skinnytaste cookbook, One and Done, is perfect for theming meals! The book is divided into sections by cooking tool such as Air Fryer, Instant Pot, Sheet Pan etc.. Cooking with different tools makes it easy to get a lot of meal prep done at the same time. So many people say it’s the best Skinnytaste book yet! Get the book on Amazon.
2. “Cook the Book”
Cook the Book means you choose a cookbook and limit yourself to that book for all of your meal prep ideas for the week. You can also do this with a blog (“Cook the Blog”). Like theming, choosing one source for your meal prep ideas greatly simplifies decision making.
Cooking from a book versus a blog has the distinct benefit that typically, many of the ingredients are common across recipes, so you don’t end up with a lot of pricey one-off ingredients for only one recipe. Personally, I like to switch it up. Cooking from books is a fun way to learn about a particular cooking style or culture, and cooking several recipes from one blogger helps build my list of reliable go-to food blogs. (Or determine which blogs to forget. We’ve all tried too many recipes that were Pinterest fails, amiright??)
Some of my Favorite “Cook the Book” Cookbooks
Trim Healthy Table from Trim Healthy Mama – the authors have something like 10 kids, so these recipes make a TON of food, which is perfect for meal prep. Recipes are high protein with many low carb and low calorie options for weight loss.
Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi – This cookbook was a global sensation the year it published, and if you start cooking from it, you’ll understand why. I love so many recipes from this book, but the zucchini burgers are outrageously good, even made ahead and eaten as leftovers.
Some of my Favorite Blogs to “Cook the Blog”
Ambitious Kitchen – Clean eating recipes. I especially love her meatloaf options and enchiladas.
Minimalist Baker – Simple, plant-based meals with easy to search recipes by main ingredient. Recipes note how long leftovers last (perfect for meal prep) and also if they can be frozen.
Lillie Eats and Tells – Lean, yet filling recipes with calories/macros. Recipes usually give different options for using up large batches of meal prep ideas like Instant Pot BBQ pork. (Yum!) She cooks almost exclusively from Trader Joe’s and Costco ingredients, which is convenient if you’re like me and shop the same!
3. Follow Meal Plans
Nothing simplifies meal prep ideas for the week more than letting someone else do all of the planning! Plenty of people will sell you meal plans, but just as many publish them for free!
Favorite Free Weekly Meal Plans
The best part of free meal plans is well, they are free! Even if you don’t follow it exactly and end up swapping out one or two ideas, they can still eliminate some time-consuming decision making and offer great meal prep ideas.
Favorite Paid Meal Plans
The benefit of paid meal plans is that you can get meal prep ideas and meal plans to help you reach a specific goal or follow a particular style of eating. The other bonus is that instead of just dinner, these paid meal plans typically include three meals a day, plus snacks.
Clean Simple Eats – No-fuss recipes planned for every meal for the day with seasonal group challenges
Cooking Light Diet – Just about any recipe you can think of made light enough to eat on the average woman’s calorie budget. Robust system customizes ideas for all snacks and meals with calorie targets.
4. Organic Produce Delivery
There are these amazing organic produce delivery companies popping up nationwide that delivery organic produce unwanted by large buyers like grocery stores and deliver them to your home for much less than you’d ever pay in store. (Seriously, this organic produce is even cheaper than buying conventional at your normal store.)
The benefit for simplifying meal prep ideas is this: receiving a weekly box of curated produce not only ensures you include plenty of fruits and vegetables into your week, but almost all of the decision making is done for you, automatically. It’s much easier and faster to figure out “How do I want to serve sweet potatoes,” versus “What do I want to make for dinner?”
My experience with Misfits Market has been nothing but positive and truly simplifies my meal prep and planning each week. It can even be combined with strategies like Theming and “Cook the Book.”
You know those weeks that were crazy, but your meal prep made it easy and the recipes you tried were all great? WRITE THAT DOWN and reuse those meal prep ideas later!
I actually give credit to my husband for this idea. I am nuts about journaling, but I’ve never systematically recorded and organized my go-to recipes and weekly meal plans that were better than average. After hearing me complain for the umpteenth time that I inevitably couldn’t remember “those great recipes from the other week,” my husband insisted I start writing them down to keep track. Smart guy!
Keep a dedicated Google Doc, paper journal, bullet journal – anything works, as the most important part is keeping track in the first place. I personally keep my best meal prep ideas and meal plans in Evernote and have nailed down a simple system that makes this process pretty effortless. I’ll share soon!
Meal Prep Tips
Try out these meal prep tips to see how meal prep can simplify getting meals made and save you time, money and stress!
1. Plan and grocery shop once.
I used to make a big trip to Trader Joe’s 2 or even 3 times a week – such a waste of time! Now I plan and get everything in one big trip. If I forgot something or run out of an item, I just do a quick stop at my local neighborhood store.
2. Prepare enough food to last at least one round each of dinner and lunch.
If your family are big eaters and you run out of food, simply double a recipe or add on filling side dishes to make the main dish stretch for more meals.
Pro tip: Stash away a serving for your lunch before you even serve dinner. Works every time. 🙂
3. Focus on “prep.”
If you search meal prep on Pinterest, you likely assume meal prep means you cook complete meals in advance and store them away in tupperwares for the week. It’s not true! Though you can do that, I think there’s a better way: focus on the word prep.
I like to dedicate two prep days a week, such as Sunday and Wednesday.
On each prep day, do prep tasks such as:
- Move any frozen proteins you’ll need in next few days to the fridge to thaw
- Prepare any dips, sauces, dressings and marinades
- Chop, dice, spiralize vegetables
- Cook rice, pasta, potatoes and grains
- Prepare soups, chilis and curries. They almost always taste better the next day, anyway!
- Grill, bake, roast proteins
- Portion snacks
What do you think is the most stressful part about meal prep?
What are your best meal prep tips?