Some nights it feels like it is a race to try to get dinner on the table as fast as possible. As much as I love to cook, there are days that I really don’t feel like making things after a long day of work. So learning how to meal prep has been such a game-changer for both me and my clients! Once you get over the hump of planning out your meals for the week, the next step is execution.

Just like with meal planning, meal prep is going to look different for each person! if preparing everything on one day works for your schedule, great! If not, no worries! There are still different types of meal prep that you can do to help you get ahead for the week and help get dinner on the table in no time.

How to Meal Prep

You might hear “meal prep” and think “Klara I don’t have 12 hours on a Sunday to devote to cooking.” It is a common misconception that the only method of meal prep involves spending an entire day cooking everything. I’m going to show you how to meal prep 5 different ways so you can decide what works best for your lifestyle. And remember, be flexible! Depending on your schedule, you may find that different meal prep methods work for different days and weeks.

1. One and Done

The “One and Done” method is probably what most people consider the standard type of meal prep where you prepare most if not all of your meals in one day, and reheat the food throughout the week. This method might work best for you if you don’t want to spend alot of time cooking at the end of the day (like if you often get home late) and want to eat quickly. Using the “One and Done” meal prep method, you would prep all of your meals for the week on one day (many people just prep lunch and dinner, however, breakfast could be included as well). Once all of your meals are prepped, you can divide them into containers for yourself and your family for the whole week or put them in the fridge and have everyone serve themselves. This allows everyone to grab what they need when they need it.

Here are some tips for using the “One and Done” method:

  • Think about your cooking methods when planning the meals. Try to pick a few different ways of cooking to make things easier for yourself. Consider simultaneously throwing a meal in the slow cooker, making another “sheet pan” meal, and cooking a “one pot meal” so that you don’t have to watch all of your dishes carefully.
  • “One and Done” doesn’t mean you have to eat something different each day. This comes down to personal preference. If you don’t mind eating similar dishes during the week, you may only need to prep two recipes with the appropriate portions.
  • Play around with seasonings. Just because you’re baking chicken doesn’t mean you have to season it all one way. Consider baking all of your chicken on the same sheet pan, but seasoning half with Italian herbs, and the other half with Mexican spices. Serve the Italian chicken with sweet potato and zucchini while the Mexican chicken can be made into a taco bowl with rice, black beans, cheese, and lettuce. That way you have two different meals, with minimal effort.

Favorite Recipes for “One and Done” Meal Prep:

low cholesterol
Sweet Potato Chili instapot recipes for beginners
Baja Chicken Bowl
Vegetarian Greek Bowl

As you can see, each of those meals required a different cooking method, so you could multi-task while making them. And at the end of the day, all meals are ready to be eaten for lunch and dinner for the week!

Want more tips for an easy one and done meal prep day? Check out this blog!

2. Leftovers for Lunch

Maybe you have a routine down for dinner, but lunchtime remains a struggle! This method of meal prep requires more planning than anything. If you find that you have time to cook when you get home, but lunchtime is trickier, this is the method for you! We still recommend planning what type of meals you would like to cook ahead of time but keep the portion sizes in mind. If you’re cooking for a family of 4 but all 4 of you want to take leftovers for lunch, remember to make sure to cook 8 portions of the dish. To save time in the morning, pack up your lunch portions in the evening so your lunches are ready to go the next morning.

3. Round Two Meals

“Round Two Meals” involve using leftover ingredients from previous meals earlier in the week to make dinner quickly. We also recommend that you plan for this. If you know you will need extra rice for another meal later in the week, be sure to cook enough. Here is a sample menu with some Round Two Meal ideas:

Here is a “Round Two Meals” Sample Menu:

how to meal prep

4. Chop and Go

If you want to get a leg up on dinner time, consider chopping your veggies and marinating your proteins ahead of time. This way, you can easily throw together dinner when the time comes. For example, here are three dishes that could be on your weekly menu:

Chicken Ranch
low fodmap stir fry for easy meal
warm soup for winter

Sheet Pan Ranch Chicken with Green Beans and Potatoes

During a meal prep day, take two containers, and chop potatoes and green beans. Remove chicken from the freezer (if needed) to make sure they are defrosted and ready to cook.  When it comes time to cook, lay green beans and potatoes in a single layer. Add chicken and season all with ranch dressing mixture. Bake in the oven.

Chicken Stir Fry 

On Sunday (or as time allows), consider chopping all the vegetables for the stir fry and putting them in a container or plastic zipper-lock bag (you can also use pre-chopped frozen). In a separate bag, add chopped chicken and marinate as desired. When it comes time to cook, cook your rice, preheat a skillet, and cook the stir fry as desired.

Vegetable Bean Soup

When you’re meal prepping, chop all veggies for your soup and make sure your beans are ready to go (soak them overnight if needed). Place all ingredients in a slow cooker with vegetable broth and cook for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high.

5. Lunch Prep

If leftovers aren’t your thing, but you still want to make lunchtime easier, consider preparing your lunches for the week ahead of time. Consider things that will hold well in the fridge like:

mason jar salads
rotisserie chicken last all week
Kid Friendly Lunch Box Ideas

Bento Boxes (compartmentalized lunch boxes)

When planning dinner, feel free to pair this method of lunch meal prep with either the Round 2 Meal or Chop and Go meal prep method to help you get dinner on the table during the week.

Your meal prep method can look like one of the methods listed above, or it could be a combination of a few. Don’t be afraid to try out a few options to see what works best for your family.

Need more meal prep inspiration? Check out our guide to the ultimate Meal Prep Sunday

Klara Knezevic is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Maryland. She has over a decade of experience in the nutrition field and currently serves as the CEO and co-owner of Rebecca Bitzer and Associates, one of the largest nutrition private practices in the country. Klara is passionate about sharing practical nutrition tips to help you feel confident in the choices that you make. Coauthor of Cooking with Food Sensitivities Survival Guide and Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating.