I'm Sara, a professional chef and food blogger at The Frayed Apron where I share healthy recipes and teach people how to become intuitive cooks.
Today, I'm going to share some of my favorite meal prepping recipes and tips BIG BATCH style to help you shop like a pro, save time, and money. I'll also show you how to prep and store ingredients, and we'll talk a bit about shelf life. Without further ado, let's jump right in!
For basic meal prep, you will need bags that seal, plastic wrap, and containers with lids.
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Step 1: The Crock Pot Is Your Friend
It wouldn't be a decent meal prep plan without a crockpot recipe. Using a countertop slow cooker is a sure way to impart those cheap cuts of meat with incredible flavor. Plus, it saves you counter space and time to focus on the rest of your meal planning. This Ropa Vieja or Cuban Shredded Beef recipe involves throwing things in a crockpot (5 minutes) plus an 8 hour cook time on low. Leftovers can be saved in the refrigerator in a sealed container or bag for up to 4 days. Enjoy with eggs for breakfast or make it a meal with some pan-seared plantains.
Yield: 6 servings (tip: double this recipe!)
Paleo, Gluten Free
Step 2: Oh Sweet Casserole - That Freezes!
This next dish is a meal prepper's dream because you can easily portion the shepherd's pie into 2 baking dishes. Freeze 1 for next week and bake the other for this week.
Recipe: Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie
To Freeze: Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and place inside of a bag to prevent freezer burn.
To Reheat: Cover with foil and bake for up to 1 hour at 350 ºF or until warmed through.
Customize: Try using any ground meat you want or substituting french lentils for a vegan alternative.
Step 3: Vegetables and Protein: Chicken Piccata With Broccoli Rice
Next up we have a classic lemony piccata with a healthy twist with a sauce that is so easy to make, you should just memorize it!
You can portion the broccoli rice into containers for a go-to side. I like to store the chicken separately in the fridge for up to 3 days then reheat for a light dinner or lunch.
Serves: 4 - 6 (hint: double the recipe!)
Step 4: Pork and Cabbage (Freezable) Pot Stickers
These Chinese dumplings are so good! The flavor is beyond anything you will taste from take-out or store-bought.
First of all, you do not need to make the wrappers. Simply use wanton wrappers! The filling for these pot stickers takes less than 10 minutes to make. Forming, however, takes about 1 hour....BUT, you will have 2 gallon size freezer bags worth of dinner ready at a moment's notice.
To reheat, steam a handful at a time for about 22 minutes. Serve with some soy sauce or chile sauce for a spicy kick.
Recipe: Pork and Cabbage Pot Stickers
Yield: approximately 100 pot stickers (just go until you run out of filling)
Step 5: Dinner Is in the Bag With This Miracle Chicken and Zucchini
When you can throw dinner in a bag and have it turn out this juicy and full of flavor, I call that a miracle. This entire recipe takes less than 30 minutes and you can marinade for 30 minutes to overnight.
Leftovers hold up well in the fridge in sealed containers for up to 4 days.
Yield: Serves 4
Recipe: Miracle Chicken and Zucchini
Step 6: Challah French Toast Makes Sense for Meal Planning?! What??
This may look incredibly gourmet and beyond your capabilities, but it's not. You simply buy a loaf of challah and make a batch of maple whipped cream. Then, you can fry up the french toast on demand and garnish with toasted almonds. Here's how:
- Day 1: slice the challah and let dry out on the counter for up to 3 days, toast a handful of slivered almonds at 325 degrees F for 10 minutes. Store in a bowl on the counter or refrigerate in a plastic bag.
- Day 2: make the egg bath and whipped cream, store in sealed containers in the fridge
- On-Demand: Dip sliced bread into egg bath, pan - sear, serve with whipped cream, maple syrup, and almonds
Yield: 1 loaf challah serves 6
Step 7: Big Batch Dessert - the Sheet Cake
If you're the kind of person who wants something sweet in the house, this sheet cake style carrot cake holds up really well for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Plus, it's got some low-glycemic coconut sugar so it's much better for you than your traditional store-bought cake.
Storage and Serving Tips: Wrap the baked cake with plastic wrap or tinfoil and refrigerate. To serve, simply warm a slice of cake on defrost setting for up to 15 seconds.
Recipe: Farmer's Carrot Cake
Step 8: Go for the Stew! Think About Expansion
When I think of meals that can be cooked in a large batch (that store and reheat well) I immediately conjure up images of pots of stewed meat and vegetables in broth. When choosing a stew, know that grains can expand over time in the refrigerator. If the cold version looks thicker, reheat it. It may thin out a bit. You can also store grains separately and add them in as you serve.
Example:Borscht with Lamb and Beets reheats well as-is because it contains no grains and has a shelf life of 4 days. However, this Chicken Barley Soup tends to thicken considerably after refrigeration. So, I recommend simmering the barley separately for meal prep. You can then just add it to the soup on demand.
Step 9: Baked Goods Last Longer and Free Up the Fridge
When meal planning, it's sometimes nice to have a baked good because they store so well at room temperature, freeing up real estate in the fridge. Plus, who doesn't love a sweet and satisfying snack?
What I love about these oatmeal raisin cookies for meal planning is that they double as a dessert and breakfast - think of that bowl of oatmeal (only it tastes good).
Recipe: Old Fashioned Oatmeal Cookies
Yield: 28 3-inch cookies
Step 10: Meal Planning: Final Thoughts
When constructing a meal plan, start with a menu, then construct a shopping list.
Try to balance the work load by choosing easy large batch dishes like crockpot recipes, stews that reheat well, baked goods, and a combination of protein and vegetables.
Even if meal prepping seems involved, remember that you are actually cooking for the entire week. There's no rule that says you HAVE to meal prep in 1 day. Try adding any one of these recipes to your weekly rotation. Repetition over time will allow you to instinctively cook on the fly.
One of the absolute best ways to meal plan effectively is to learn to cook without a recipe. Start with some basic cooking techniques and those knife skills.
So, I hope you find this helpful. If you have some tips of your own, let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading,
Chef Sara from The Frayed Apron
Finalist in the
Meal Prep Challenge