Don't jump ship on your meal prep when you're super busy! Instead, tweak your meal-prep plan to maximize your time. Focus on tasks that yield big returns to help you eat healthy during the week. Maybe you won't have time to get everything done on Sunday, but any time spent prepping meals for the week ahead is time well spent, even if it's only 30 minutes. Here we break down easy meal-prep steps you can do even on your busiest days and offer up two 30-minute example plans for streamlining your lunches, dinner and snacks for the week.
Optimize Your Meal Plan and Shopping List
In order to cut down on time, streamline your meal plan and to-do list. A little bit of strategic prep can go a long way to help you eat healthy all week.
1. Be Recipe Savvy
Choose recipes and meals that use ingredients you can prep once and use multiple times. Trim Brussels sprouts to be used in three different dinners—a pizza using store-bought dough, a convenient one-pot pasta and an easy-cleanup sheet-pan meal. Or cook a batch of roasted vegetables to use as toppers for quick quinoa bowls or as a filling for tacos or wraps.
2. Shop with Shortcuts in Mind
On weeks when you're crunched for time, go for already-prepped convenience items at the store that you might not normally buy. Healthy shortcuts like microwavable brown rice pouches, peeled and chopped vegetables, washed and chopped salad greens, or a rotisserie chicken can save you serious time in the kitchen. And take advantage of the easy pantry items you'll likely already have on hand, like canned beans, dried pasta and canned tomatoes.
Related: 7-Day Pantry Staples Meal Plan
Meal-Prep Tasks You Can Do in 30 Minutes or Less
You don't need a full Sunday afternoon to meal prep for the week. There are a number of tasks you can easily knock out during a 30-minute window. Or if a half hour feels too long, try one of the shorter 5- or 15-minute tasks. The keys are to narrow your focus (so you don't start what you can't finish) and to commit to tasks that will save you the most hassle during the week. Write down a quick prep to-do list to stay organized and on track.
5-Minute Meal Prep
- Chop vegetables for snacks (like peppers and celery) or for recipes later in the week (like onions and sweet potatoes).
- Rinse, dry and store lettuce, fresh herbs and other greens.
- Whip up easy mason-jar vinaigrettes for salads and grain bowls.
- Assemble snack bags for the week by portioning out trail mix, crackers or other shelf-stable foods into grab-&-go bags.
15-Minute Meal Prep
- Make a salad or dip for the week, like Tuna & White Bean Salad or hummus you can spin four ways.
- Prepare ready-to-blend smoothie freezer packs for fast breakfasts.
- Cook a batch of hard-boiled eggs for high-protein snacks for the week.
- Mix up a batch of overnight oats and divide into single-serve containers.
30-Minute Meal Prep
- Prepare a batch of quinoa, bulgur wheat or quick-cooking barley or brown rice.
- Chop and steam quick-cooking vegetables, like green beans, broccoli and baby carrots.
- Cook simple proteins, like boneless chicken breasts or ground beef, to use throughout the week.
- To make it easy to get in your veggies, cook a big batch you can use throughout the week (try the 25-minute Broccoli with Balsamic Mushrooms recipe).
If you can't fit in everything you'd like to in one prep session, see where you can work in some additional prep throughout the week. In the morning as your coffee brews, tackle one of the 5-minute tasks mentioned above. On the way home from work, pick up a rotisserie chicken or another protein from your grocer's prepared foods section. While dinner cooks, chop extra vegetables for lunch or dinner the next day or get a batch of overnight oats going in your slow cooker for easy breakfasts all week.
Try It Out: 30-Minute Meal-Prep Plan
Make the most of a short meal-prep session with these 30-minute play-by-play prep plans!
How to Meal-Prep a Week's Worth of Grab-&-Go Lunches and Snacks
In 30 minutes, you can prep your lunches and snacks for the whole week. Here you'll make Basic Quinoa and Lean & Spicy Taco Meat to use in easy taco bowls for lunch, and the Homemade Trail Mix for a satisfying snack.
Step 1: Boil Water & Chop Onions
Begin by bringing the water to boil for the Basic Quinoa recipe. (Tip: Cover the pot to bring water to a boil faster.) As the water comes to a boil, chop the onion for the Lean & Spicy Taco Meat recipe.
Step 2: Cook Quinoa & Taco Meat
Add quinoa to the boiling water, reduce to a simmer and cover. As the quinoa simmers, cook the taco meat as directed.
Step 3: Assemble Snack Containers
While the taco meat simmers, combine ingredients for the Homemade Trail Mix in a bowl and divide into 5 single-serving snack-size containers or bags. Reach for no-prep fruits, like apples, bananas and clementines, as your other daily snack.
Step 4: Assemble Lunch Containers
After the quinoa and taco meat cool, divide one serving of each into 5 portable lunch containers. Top each with 1/3 cup canned black beans (drained and rinsed) and your favorite salsa. Wait to add other toppings, like shredded cheese or greens, until you're ready to eat.
How to Meal-Prep for Three Easy Weeknight Dinners
Save yourself time during the week by prepping ingredients for your weeknight meals on Sunday. With most of the ingredients ready to be cooked, getting a healthy dinner on the table is fast and easy. Here, we show you how to prep the ingredients for a few easy weeknight recipes—the Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans, Potsticker & Vegetable Stir-Fry and Sheet-Pan Chicken Fajitas.
Step 1: Wash & Prep Your Greens
Begin by washing and drying 1 bunch of chard for the Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans. Chop the leaves (you should have about 6 cups) and transfer to a zip-top bag or airtight container lined with a paper towel. Refrigerate until you're ready to use.
Step 2: Prep Stir-Fry Veggies
Rinse and slice 2 red bell peppers and 1 yellow bell pepper. You'll use these in the Potsticker & Vegetable Stir-Fry and Sheet-Pan Chicken Fajitas. Trim and halve the snow peas for the potsticker stir-fry recipe. Refrigerate the veggies together in an airtight container until ready to use.
Step 3: Prep & Store Cabbage
Rinse a small head of napa cabbage, removing any bruised outer leaves. Cut out the core and coarsely chop the leaves. You will need 4 cups for the potsticker stir-fry. Refrigerate in a zip-top bag or airtight container lined with a paper towel until ready to use.
Step 4: Prep Onions
Slice 2 yellow onions. You'll use half of the onions for the chicken fajita recipe and the other half for the skillet gnocchi recipe. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.
Step 5: Prep Chicken
Cut and slice the chicken breasts into strips for chicken fajitas. Refrigerate until ready to use.