1 Hour to Food Prep: Your Fast, Easy Plan for Success

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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1 Hour to Food Prep: Your Fast, Easy Plan for Success

When hunger hits, having a fridge and pantry stocked with nourishing foods that are ready to eat, or cook, can mean the difference between noshing on something nutritious and hitting up the drive through for a fast food fix. In addition to helping you eat better, food prep can save time, money, and help keep things sane in the kitchen.

Along with a little meal planning, spending as little as one hour in the kitchen each week can help set you and your family up for a week’s worth of healthy eats. This food prep guide has everything you need to know to get started: beginner tips, equipment essentials, a step-by-step outline and even some food prep hacks for when you don’t have a full hour to spare.

5 Food Prep Tips for Beginnersv2.1

1. Find what works for you.  Some people will shop and prep all of their food for the week in one afternoon. Others find it more manageable to prep the night before for the next day.

2. It’s okay to start small.  If you’re new to food prep, begin with prepping just one series of meals–say, salad fixings or breakfast egg muffins you can eat throughout the week. Once you’ve mastered that, add on one more.

3. Prep before putting the groceries away.  If you have the time and can save yourself the hassle of having to put all everything away twice, do it!You’ll be more motivated to prep foods while they’re still sitting on the counter.

4. Keep your meal plan and recipes within arms reach.  You’ll most likely need to reference them at least a couple of times as you go.

5. Remember, it’s not all-or-nothing.  Don’t think you need to wash, chop and pre-cook everything for an entire week in one-go. Prepping and portioning food for cooking later, or even for one weeknight meal is better than doing nothing at all.   

FOOD PREP ESSENTIALSv2

FOOD STORAGE

Glass and/or plastic containers (with lids!): Clear containers are preferable as they allow you to see what you have which reduces the likelihood your freshly prepped food will be forgotten. Go for glass if you’re planning to reheat in the same container. Wide-mouth mason jars are inexpensive and great for storing chopped fruits and veggies or salad fixings. Less expensive, plastic containers are good for storing foods that won’t be heated in them–just opt for BPA-free.
Plastic bags: Gallon-size are perfect for storing large quantities of fruits and veggies, marinating meat or  freezing leftover soups and stews. Sandwich and snack-size bags are ideal for smaller quantities. Freezer bags are thicker than regular plastic bags making them more resistant to moisture and oxygen, making your food less likely to get freezer burn.
Disposable freezer pans: These are great if you’re planning on freezing ready-to-bake casseroles, pasta dishes, marinara and more.

KITCHEN APPLIANCES, POTS & PANS

Slow cooker:  Slow cookers are great for preparing lean protein (such as chicken breast, beef round, pork loin etc…) as well as hearty soups, stews and even casseroles.
Rice cooker: A versatile piece of kitchen equipment, rice cookers can also be used to cook quinoa, dried beans and lentils bigger batches of oatmeal, steamed veggies (if yours has a steamer rack)
Griddle pan or indoor grill: Indoor grills and grill pans are great for smaller living spaces, those cold, dark months, or when you just can’t commit to firing up the outdoor barbie.
Immersion Blender: A must-have for pureeing soups and sauces without making a mess of the blender
Food processor: Even a small food processor with the right attachments can save lots of time slicing, dicing, mincing and shredding. It also opens up a whole new world of delicious recipes, like homemade pesto and more.
Basic cookware:  Don’t feel like you need a full set of shiny, new cookware to get started. One skillet, a soup pot and 2 saucepans will go a long way. Cast iron pots and pans can be a great, inexpensive addition to your kitchen, too!

THE SMALLER STUFF

Measuring cups and spoons
Sharp knives: A basic chef’s knife and paring knife will be able to handle most of what you need to cut
Spatulas and mixing spoons
Vegetable peeler
Can opener
Ramekins or mini prep dishes
Mixing bowls: At least a few of varying sizes–ones with lids are great for storing fresh fruits and veggies
4-sided grater: Great for everything from zesting citrus to shredding cheese or cabbage
Cutting boards: You can never go wrong with having a couple of different sizes but large boards make especially great prep surfaces
Markers: Sharpies for marking up plastic baggies; dry erase markers also work well for glass containers
Aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and parchment paper: Line pans with foil or parchment paper for less mess; cover bowls or prep dishes without lids with clear plastic wrap.
Scrap bowl: Save yourself from making dozens of unnecessary trips to the trash or compost bin. Toss food scraps into an empty bowl on your counter as you go and dump it once when you’re done!
Dough scraper: This handy-dandy bread-making tool is also great for scooping up food scraps from the countertop and transferring your prepped food into storage containers

Step-by-Step 1 Hour to Food Prepv2

Once you’ve planned out your weekly meals, done your grocery shopping, and got all of your tools in place, set aside a chunk of time to devote to food prep. While everything may not finish cooking in 60 minutes or less, here’s an overview of what you can tackle in just one hour.

1. Tackle time-consuming proteins  Get your meat marinating (just freeze if you won’t be cooking it within a few days) or pop some chicken in the slow cooker with a little bit of broth for easy shredding/chopping in 3-8 hours time.

2. Get your grains and beans cooking  Cook up a big batch of brown rice, quinoa or some dried beans to eat or cook with throughout the week. Just add water and let your rice cooker do the dirty work. Once your grains and legumes have cooked and cooled, either transfer them to a large container or divide into individual servings (typically 1/2–1 cup) topped with your batch-baked veggies and proteins for balanced, on-the-go meals.

3. Wash, peel and chop fresh fruit and veggies  (with the exception of berries which are best if washed just before eating). Chop like ingredients in one fell swoop. For example, if you need 3 diced onions for 2 different recipes, dice them all at once and divide as needed. To save on food storage containers, consolidate chopped produce that can be cooked or eaten together. For salad fixings, put washed greens into an air-tight plastic bag to keep crisp and divide veggie toppings into individual containers for fast salad assembly later.

4. Batch-bake veggies and proteins  Pre-cooked veggies and protein make great brown bag lunches and quick dinners after a long day. Preheat your oven while you prep your meat and veggies.

Prep-ahead proteins: fish, chicken (whole or sections), pork or beef tenderloin, hard-boiled eggs
Oven-friendly veggies: potatoes, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, winter and summer squash, cauliflower, eggplant, green beans, bell peppers

5. Pre-measure and group together recipe ingredients  Measure out recipe ingredients ahead of time and consolidate produce that can be cooked or eaten together, such as stir-fry veggies, salad fixings or fresh fruit. Label containers and food storage bags with the recipe name and/or day of the week you’re planning to cook it.

6. Tackle the little stuff–if time allows  Make homemade marinades and salad dressings for later in the week. Measure out spices, squeeze and zest fresh citrus, chop fresh herbs and garlic in advance.

5 Food Prep Hacks for When You’re Short On Timev2

No time for a full-on prep session? If you don’t have a spare hour or two to get a week’s worth of prep out of the way at once, here are 5 simple tips to cut down on cook time during the week:

1. Tackle the biggest time-saver first  If dinner is your biggest obstacle during the week, spend a few minutes prepping some lean protein and low-maintenance veggies that you can batch cook later on.

2. Opt for pre-chopped fruits and veggies  Fresh, pre-chopped produce is great but don’t forget frozen which can be just as convenient and easier on the wallet.

3. Prep the night before  It’s perfectly okay to divvy up your food prep into several smaller sessions. Keep your weekly meal plan in plain sight as a reminder for what you need to prepare for the next day.

4. Make use of your frozen leftovers  We all have weeks where food prep just isn’t possible. Seek out your stockpiled frozen soups and stews to help get you through when things get especially busy.

5. Divide and conquer  Divy up food prep duties between family members or roommates. If they’re going to partake in eating, it’s only fair!

About the Author

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
Elle Penner, MPH, RD

Elle is a nutrition and wellness writer, recipe developer, blogger and nutrition consultant whose favorite things include her camera, carbs and quality time with her toddler. For more from this busy mama, check out Elle’s lifestyle blog or connect with her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

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22 responses to “1 Hour to Food Prep: Your Fast, Easy Plan for Success”

  1. Avatar Lee Evans says:

    After cutting my finger badly on a mandoline earlier in the year I was forced to do all prep through the food processor. I quickly discovered I could prep the veg for 3 or 4 meals in about 15 minutes, so was worth the extra clean up.

    I layer it all into flat 2 litre glass dishes with plastic lids and in the fridge until needed. I’ve got a Panasonic microwave that has a sensor cook for veg so you just shove in a dish, press auto and it comes out pretty perfect each time.

    Ricing cauliflower with the blade attachment in the food processor is a great low carb alternative to rice.

    Now have easy veg at least twice a day, really makes a huge difference keeping hunger at bay.

  2. Avatar Cyberamie says:

    I am desperately seeking help with motivation. I have been struggling all my life. There are weeks that l do good meaning I go to the gym (giving my all – once a month with an instructor) and I eat well which lasts a few weeks and then everything seems overwhelming and gradually I gain back the few pounds I lost. I’ve been in a sabotage mode for the past few weeks regardless the fact that it is the holidays. Any tip to help me keep up my motivation would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

    • Avatar Ce says:

      This might sound like a bad advice, but it works for me. Cyberamie, I put pictures of me in a bikini when I used to be 18 years old on my fridge and in my bathroom. I don’t have kids just a boyfriend who behaves like a kid but it doesn’t bother him. He actually likes them. Ha!
      What the picture does is upset me but at the same time it motivates me to get lean again. I know I can be that person! I just need to stick to it. Having a visual aid helps me. 🙂 good luck!!

      • Avatar Erica says:

        I have also put pics on my lock screen of my phone and around the house actually ones of me fat so that when I got to reach for something bad I am reminded that I don’t need it.

    • Avatar Lindsay says:

      I struggle with the same thing. What I’m currently trying to work on is changing my “all or nothing” thinking. I relate to the overwhelmed feeling. (Even with housework!) I realized that once I start feeling overwhelmed I tend to give up everything rather than adapt or accommodate. Does that make sense? It’s ok to have a bad day, but I don’t have to turn it into a bad week (or month or two), I just need to start forgiving myself and move on. It’s definitely a process!

      • Avatar Holly Olp says:

        That reminds me of a quote I read “Giving up on your goal because of a setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat.” Don’t let a bad day snowball into something bigger! Remember every morning that today is a fresh start and a new opportunity to be good to your body 🙂

        • Avatar JenJenLepe says:

          I really Love this Quote. I have never heard it until today. I struggle with ups and downs on a daily basis regarding my body and weight. Recently I have decided to get back on track and it hasn’t been easy but I will get there a little at a time. Thanks for the inspirational quote I know it was in response to the gal a few comments above but I really liked your positive comment :))

      • The hardest hurdle to overcome with fitness and nutritional goals is consistency. Which there are many variables that contribute to not being consistent. Discipline, time, medical issues, support, knowledge, etc. If it were easy, more people would succeed. In training I have noticed that people either have to have a great support system in place with friends or family that contribute to their success or that person has to have a very strong internal motivation to succeed at all costs. Though once you know that feeling of success regardless of how you reach it. It does become addictive and makes things much easier. If you don’t have that extreme internal drive, make sure you surround yourself with like minded people who will build you up and not help bring you down. Group classes are great for that or trainers as well.

    • Avatar Anne Hesson Reeser says:

      Find a buddy

    • Avatar Val352 says:

      Check out the fly lady I don’t follow all of her program but the ideas behind it are really good about not being such a perfectionist I used to not be able to clean my bathroom without dismantling the sink. so that at all or nothing attitude can’t often hinder progress. What keeps me going is imagining life after a stroke, or being otherwise incapacitated. I much prefer going to the bathroom alone☺️

    • Avatar Janette says:

      Over the course of 10 years, I kept losing and then regaining the same 5 to 15lbs. over and over again. Even with training for several 10k runs and completing a half marathon, I could never seem to get close to my goal weight, I’d eat well for several months and see some weight loss, but always fell back into old habits and re-gain what I had lost plus a few more pounds. Last winter, I seriously injured my back and hip from running and ended up having to be completely sedentary for 8 months. To help keep myself from getting depressed, I started following the Fast Metabolism Diet, eating whole foods, fruit, vegetables, protein and whole grains. I finally found a way of eating that worked for me. I no longer felt like I was a slave to food. I think the key is once you get processed foods out of your system, it stops the cravings. I controlled the food instead of the food controlling me. I got through my injuries with my spirit in tact and I’m now 30lbs. lighter than I was pre-injury. Seeing how I was able to lose weight when I couldn’t exercise convinced several of my friends and family to give the diet a try and they’re seeing some success now too. That’s my tip. It worked for me.

    • Avatar Holly Olp says:

      Janette is right. It takes a bit to detox your body from processed foods but once you do you feel like a new person. Don’t expect yourself to commit to all the steps at once. Take baby steps and work your way up to healthier eating and better workout habits. Don’t plan to go from not working out to working out for an hour every day, and don’t plan to go from eating junk to all-star meal prepper over night. Start small, set goals that you can measure (i.e. plan three meals this week in advance, work out three times this week for 30 minutes, walk 5 miles in the next 5 days, etc…) and set a time frame that is short so you don’t burn out and you can see the light. Set goals for the week. Then beat them. Then repeat for the next week and add something in! You can do it, you just need to set goals, stick to your plans and celebrate your achievements along the way 🙂

    • Avatar Jessica L. S. says:

      i have the same problem. so, i have changed my mindset enough that i make healthy choices for the current day only. I try not to worry about the whole week, month, year, rest of my life. Most days, it works really well for me.

  3. Avatar Kris says:

    If i cook my protien meats one evening (usually just chicken). How long can i eat this over? My aim is to food prep mon-friday but time doesnt allow to do this prep every night for the following day? Any help much appreciated

    • If properly stored you should be good for the 3-5 days. Airtight containers will make it last the longest in the fridge. If you properly store the cooked chicken in the freezer and take it out for cooking it can last up to 4 months.

  4. Avatar Izzy says:

    Re. prepping rice.
    Rice should be freshly cooked, just once. Leftover cooked rice should always be discarded – it’s not safe to eat.

    • Avatar Mimi says:

      I cook my brown rice in large batches, portion it in 1/2 C servings and freeze for later use. Perfectly safe, and very convenient. Add some veggies and protein and Voila! Easy healthy meal!

  5. Avatar Anon says:

    I love how these “How to” guides just state the obvious but never actually give you instruction or processes to the ideas they are telling you about
    Seriously this blog is so vague, and the ideas are so obvious.
    And before anyone questions why i read this, I thought it was going to give some actual instruction on how to do something of these “Steps”.
    Waste of time to read this worthless ****.

    • Avatar Dave says:

      Clearly you missed the “Step by Step” section? The author outlines 6 steps to follow starting with the most time consuming foods to prep. I found it really helpful–no need to be so negative.

  6. Great information and will pass this along to my clients. If anyone needs any help or has fitness questions…feel free to ask.

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