Set yourself up for a week of healthy, easy meals with a bit of weekend prep that won't require hours in the kitchen.

Carolyn A. Hodges, R.D.
Updated July 28, 2020
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Scroll through your social media feed and you may come across an image of someone's countertop lined with a week's worth of meals and snacks perfectly portioned into single-serving containers. That's meal prep to the extreme and go you if you have time to do it! But do you know what also counts as meal prep? Cooking a batch of brown rice for the week. Or grilling extra chicken to top lunch salads. Or chopping up an onion and bell pepper for tomorrow's chili. Meal prep is not just for a certain type of person—it's for everyone—and can include anything that cuts down on time and energy spent during the week preparing meals.

Whether you've got 15 minutes or an hour to spend in the kitchen on Sunday, any meal-prep will set you up for a more productive and delicious week ahead. These 6 easy ideas are simple meal-prep steps you can do on a Sunday to make for a more productive week.

Carolyn A. Hodges

1. Make a batch of grains

Having cooked grains like brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat couscous in the fridge reduces time spent preparing meals later in the week. These cooked grains reheat well, or can be eaten cold, and are so versatile. Top cooked quinoa with canned beans and vegetables for a quick lunch grain bowl or saute cooked brown rice with frozen vegetables and seasoning for an easy fried rice. You can even prep oatmeal in advance and simply warm up at breakfast. And because cooking grains requires very little hands-on time, you can have them going while you prep other things. Consider doubling the batch and freezing half for another week.

2. Cook-up a versatile protein

Cooked chicken, hard-boiled eggs and roasted tofu all have two things in common—they keep well for a few days in the fridge and can be used in so many ways. Pick a protein that can multi-task then build a few meals around it. Cooked chicken breast or thighs can be shredded and tossed with BBQ sauce for quick sandwiches, baked into a healthy casserole and used to bulk up a main dish salad. Recipe-ready vegan proteins like tofu or cooked lentils can be used in many of the same ways. And hard-boiled eggs make for heartier avocado toast, quick snacks and easy salads.

3. Get dinner ingredients prepped & ready for cooking

If you're not up for preparing entire dinners in advance, consider getting a jump start by prepping some of a meal's ingredients. If a recipe calls for vegetables like carrots, celery and onion, these can be chopped and refrigerated for a few days until you're ready to cook. Fresh herbs, lettuces and hearty greens like kale will hold up well when washed, dried and properly stored in the fridge. You can even measure-out your dried herbs and spices into a container to save yourself a dinner prep step later in the week.

4. Prep breakfasts or lunches for the week

Easy-to-grab breakfast or lunch options will come in handy whether you're eating at home or packing up food for work—imagine all the time you'll save on those busy mornings! Stash your freezer with a breakfast option or two, like freezer burritos you can quickly reheat when you're craving something warm and comforting, or smoothie packs to cut down on the time it takes to blend up your favorite fruity combo. Or arm the fridge with a week's worth of satisfying lunches (many of these can be prepped on Sunday in about 30 minutes!).

5. Mix up a vinaigrette or sauce

Picking up a bottle of salad dressing is convenient, but whisking up a batch of your own is even easier than you think. Plus, preparing your own dressings means you can control what goes in and what stays out, like excess sodium. And it will take you about 5 minutes using ingredients you likely have on hand. A classic vinaigrette is perfect for topping green salads throughout the week, but don't forget about sauces like tahini sauce or peanut dressing that can be used on grain bowls, in wraps or as dips to make meals more exciting.

6. Plan out a snack or two

Grabbing a snack is a lot quicker than making a meal so you might be wondering why bother with the meal prep here. It boils down to convenience and mindful portions. When hunger strikes between meals we may be tempted to graze on anything in sight, sometimes reaching for foods that actually leave us craving more. Prepping a couple snacks that contain fiber and protein will provide lasting energy to keep you fueled until your next meal. Be sure to plan for satisfying snacks that you actually enjoy eating!

The Bottom Line

No matter how much or how little you do, your future self will thank you for doing these prep steps to make for an easier week. Plus, when healthy food is prepped and ready, it makes is so much easier to follow a healthy, balanced diet. Check out our easy-to-follow meal-prep plans and meal-prep recipes for more healthy eating inspiration!