It can be all too easy to resort to takeout when your schedule gets bananas. (Been there, ate that!) But a little planning can go a long way to make it much easier to prep delicious meals from scratch — yes, even on a busy weeknight. Here are 10 savvy shopping and menu strategies to turbocharge your meal prep efforts:
1. Build a menu.
If you have a family, invite them to the table to brainstorm daily meal prep themes. Not only will everyone feel invested and inspired to chow down, but this will also give structure to your weekly recipe strategy so it’s easier to narrow down your options. Need somewhere to start? We have weekly meal plans opens in a new tab for every mood, special diet and preference. Otherwise, dream up your ideal lineup of meal must-haves.
2. Round up your recipes.
Once you have the general theme for each day of the week, you can assign a recipe to each to keep things interesting or repeat your favorites. Bonus points if you can select more than one dish that calls for the same ingredient, such as celery, to limit the possibility of unused products. That’s what we call meal-prep mastery.
3. Make a list, check it twice.
Now that you have your meal decisions sorted out, write a list for all of the ingredients you need. This way, one trip will score you all the necessities so you don’t have to make a last-minute “Oh no, I forgot the organic raspberries!” trip through the express lane. For the most efficient mapping, organize your list in the order of how you tour the store. Organize your trip to end at frozen foods so your icy menu items don’t melt. Our app opens in a new tab makes it easy to search the sales, deals and local brands that are unique to your store — plus, you can add items to your list directly within the app.
4. Add easy meal solutions to your cart.
Reach for easy-to-love products that do most of the work for you. Whether it’s lightning-fast breakfast thanks to 365 by Whole Foods Market Blueberry Waffles opens in a new tab, a simple weekend lunch with 365 brand Plant-Based Nuggets opens in a new tab or a grand slam of a dinner with 365 brand Organic Cheese Tortellini opens in a new tab, our aisles are packed with wallet-happy, time-efficient picks. Plus, check out our Whole Foods Market Family Meals to find well-rounded dinners with options for even the pickiest eaters.
5. Stock the essentials.
A well-stocked kitchen is clutch, especially if you skip steps 1 and 2 and decide to do a little improvising. These pantry and refrigerator staples make it much easier to toss together a meal when you’re working off script:
Oils (olive, avocado, grapeseed)
Salt and pepper
Dried spices (smoked paprika, chili powder, turmeric, cumin)
Flavor-boosting condiments, such as mustard opens in a new tab, sriracha sauce opens in a new tab and balsamic vinaigrette opens in a new tab
6. Prep sturdy produce ahead.
Once you get home, to allow for easy grab-and-go snacking and quicker meal prep, wash and chop fruits and vegetables that will hold up well for a few days in the fridge. Rinse our organic seedless grapes and pop in a bowl, peel and chop carrots, and slice up bell pepper strips. Want to make your produce last even longer? Check out our master list of tips for storing produce opens in a new tab.
7. Batch cook the essentials.
If your weekly menu includes meats (like Animal Welfare Certified Organic Air-Chilled Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast or Animal Welfare Certified 90% Lean Ground Beef), meat substitutes, or whole grains (like quinoa or brown rice), cook them all on a Saturday or Sunday so you’re all set to start the week. The USDA offers a handy chart opens in a new tab to help you determine if you should refrigerate or freeze based on when you’re planning to use the ingredient.
8. Employ your freezer.
Speaking of the freezer, it’s one of the simplest ways to trim down on food waste and make fast-fix meals easier. Can’t make it through a loaf of bread before it gets stale? Freeze. Accidentally cooked too much of that stew? Freeze. Landed on a bounty of berries that you wish you could enjoy next week? Freeze.
9. Think root to stem.
Stop tossing those carrot tops or cauliflower stems! The former make a brilliant pesto opens in a new tab, while the latter can be steamed and smashed into a mashed potato–like side opens in a new tab. Broccoli stalks are spectacular spiralized, too. Looking for more ways to get scrappy? Check out our guide to using food scraps for plenty of ideas and recipes.
10. Give leftovers new life.
Don’t feel like you’re limited to leftovers of the exact same dinner for lunch tomorrow. If you crave variety, use your imagination to transform the extras into something that tastes totally new. A few ideas:
Use leftover rice in Brown Rice and Kale Arancini opens in a new tab.
Incorporate vegetable odds and ends and 365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Bacon opens in a new tab into Egg White Omelet Bites opens in a new tab.
Turn straggler slices of bread into Butternut Squash Panzanella Salad opens in a new tab.
When in doubt, put an egg on it and call it breakfast.