Meal prep and cooking in general can be a daunting task, especially if you’re cooking in bulk or new to the art of cooking. However, when you follow these simple, yet effective tips on how to make meal prep easy, it’ll be guaranteed to save you time, money and effort in the kitchen and in the long run! Cooking meals often consumes a couple of hours in our day, simply buying food to eat from a restaurant or shop is often less nutritious, and almost always more expensive. In essence, nothing quite compares to making your own food by following healthy recipes, while also having peace of mind knowing exactly what ingredients you added to a meal.
We all lead busy lifestyles and many of us are seeking out techniques to take back some time for ourselves without compromising on cost or health. Cooking smarter, not harder is the theme of this blog, and with that in mind, the aim of this article is to make meal prep a less arduous task for everyone.
These tips are suitable for everyone, whether you’re a novice cook who has just step food in the kitchen for the first time, a student who are now stripped of the comforts of food served up to them, or a professional who is seeking methods to reduce the effort associated with cooking. So if you want to slash your effort and time spent meal prepping and batch cooking, then grab a pen and paper and take some notes!
Plan in advance
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. This idiom can be applied to all walks of life, and it’s no different when it comes to meal preparation and cooking. There are some quick and simple tips which can be followed to ensure a seamless cooking experience.
- Select the meal or meals that you plan to cook in advance
- Make a list of ingredients that you need, including the quantities for the portions you plan to make
- Compare the list with the ingredients already available in your kitchen
- Make a list of items to purchase in the supermarket and double check it (nobody wants to discover that they forget an essential ingredient when they’re mid-way through cooking preparation)
- Purchase the ingredients, especially fresh items, as close to the day that you plan to cook them
- Ensure you have all the tools and cooking equipment to execute the meal
- Prepare the foods that have the longest cooking time first, e.g. cook the meat first and then work on the vegetables or pasta
Invest in kitchen tools
We are fortunate enough to live in era where virtually anything you think of is available to purchase. The same applies to kitchen aids and gadgets. Remember that everyone needs to cook, and any tool that minimises the effort, time or cost associated with cooking has most likely been developed and created. While some cooking utensils may not seem the most reliable, beneficial or necessary, there are some core items that a well-equipped kitchen and cooking enthusiasts should own.
- A set of sharp knives: Cutting and chopping various food items will warrant a core set of knives. Purchasing a good set of knives is an investment that can last you a lifetime, provided the quality of the knives are good and you maintain them.
- The chef’s knife is a necessity as it will amount for up to 90% of your chopping activities, e.g. chopping fruit and vegetables, dicing meat and fish. This larger knife is a king amongst knives.
- The pairing knife has a much smaller blade that completes the tasks that the chef’s knife is too large for. This has greater precision, and uses include chopping up fruit and vegetables, hulling strawberries and mincing meat.
- Serrated knives are generally affiliated with cutting bread and they have a long, jagged edge. It’s excellent for slicing items with a waxy surface that the chef’s knife and the pairing knife cannot achieve as easily due to their smooth blade. These can be purchased in a large or a smaller size. I personally own both, but I generally err towards the smaller knife. Examples of foods that serrated knives are useful for include dicing tomatoes, peppers and pineapples.
Tip: Developing your knife skills is a lifelong lesson that will stand to you. Firstly from a safety perspective it could save you developing cuts, or worse, a deep cut which could cause serious damage; secondly it will enhance the quality of your cutting technique along with appearance of the food and efficiency in cutting.
- Chopping board: In your shopping cart along with your set of knives should be a decent chopping board. Many professionals utilise a set of chopping boards, but having one at a minimum is crucial. Wooden chopping boards tend to be of better quality when compared to plastic chopping boards. Wooden chopping boards have a more rigorous surface which limits the amounts of cuts and grooves which bacteria can lodge in, and it also tends to be kinder on your knives. Plastic, on the other hand, tends to develop cuts easier which can give rise to bacteria. Ideally, there should be a separate chopping board for meat or fish and another one for produce, e.g. vegetables, to prevent cross-contamination.
- Food scales: A food scales should be a staple in any kitchen, and what’s more, it shouldn’t be gathering dust in a corner either, especially if you’re following a meal plan or looking to lose weight or gain muscle – precision is key when it comes to your portions. Simply estimating the quantity of food is ok to do, but if you’re serious about following your food plan and even to merely ensure you accurately follow the recipe for best results, bite the bullet and weigh your ingredients. If you’re looking for complete precision in terms of quantities, choose an electronic food scales as it’s more precise to read.
- Food processor: These appliances are becoming ubiquitous throughout many households nowadays as people increasingly recognise the merits associated with owning them. Food processors are a multi-functional unit which can automate many of the manual tasks previously done by hand. For instance, it can chop vegetables, blend food into soups, batter, juices, smoothies, sauces and pastes, grind meat and even make homemade ice cream or yogurt and puree baby food.
- If you have never owned a food processor before and you are nervous about investing in one, or if you are short on space or just don’t want to splurge an excess amount of money on one, then this Cuisinart Mini Electric Food Processor has some of the best ratings for a mini food processor, and it can accomplish virtually all the tasks that the larger, more expensive food processors perform.
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- Food Dicer: Another items which is extremely valuable for cutting up food is this multi-purpose vegetable chopper, slicer, dicer unit. Instead of wasting space and money investing in a range of different utensils to slice and dice food in a multitude of ways, this unit has 7 interchangeable blades which facilitates numerous methods of preparing food, such as:
- To top it off, it even comes with an egg separator, mandolin slicer and a glove to protect your hand from cuts. Eating food prepared in the exact same way can make it somewhat monotonous and boring, not to mention, it hinders the variety of meals that you can make. By alternating how you prepare food, e.g. instead of dicing carrots, why not alternate between grated carrot, julienne carrots or even carrot chips.
Use quick cooking methods
Microwave: This certainly qualifies for one of the fastest cooking methods available. If you compare the microwave oven with a conventional oven, it’s evident that the latter requires time to heat up, along with the fact that it achieves a less efficient heating energy transfer method through conduction. A microwave oven requires little-to-no time to heat itself up; in addition, the heat transfer method of radiation for cooking and heating food is faster than the traditional oven. Electromagnetic waves zap through the air at lightening speed to directly heat the food, resulting in food cooked at an expeditious rate.
Tip: Par-cooking certain foods in the microwave accelerates the overall cooking duration, e.g. par-cooking sweet potatoes before banging them into the oven.
Pressure cooker: Nothing cooks food quite as fast as a pressure cooker. If you ever wonder how restaurants can cook meals so quickly, the reason is often due to the use of pressure cookers. The only potential downfall with these are that they can take a while to heat up before any cooking commences. Additionally, since it is a pressurised unit, it needs to de-pressurise before the lid can be opened. However, don’t let this deter you from investing in a pressure cooker.
Tip: Did you know you can buy multi-cookers which have as many as 8-10 functions incorporated into one single unit. Functions include pressure cooking, slow cooking, rice maker and steaming.
Slow cooker: While it’s not considered an expeditious cooking method, it does allow the cook to tackle other tasks. For instance, what many people do is they make a stew and put it in a slow cooker for the day; this means they don’t have to stand over a pot all evening after work, school or college and watching it to ensure it doesn’t boil over or burn. These units can typically be left to their own devices once you follow some slow cooker safety precautions. However, I’d be slightly hesistant to leave them cooking all day without being in the house to check on it at various intervals. Examples of foods that can be cooked in the slow cooker include:
- Banana bread
- Beef / lamb / vegetable casserole
- Beef stroganoff
- Beef / lamb / chicken / vegetable stew
- Chilli con carne
- Meats, e.g. chicken, beef, lamb, turkey, pork
- Vegetable soup
Tip: Tougher cuts of meat cook especially well in a slow cooker as they have longer to cook and become more tender.
Cook in bulk
Bulk cooking is a growing phenomenon, whether people simply don’t have the time to cook everyday or just don’t enjoy cooking, there’s no denying the fact that cooking in bulk is a much more efficient method of cooking than making single portions. If you are one of these people who engages in batch cooking or even baking, then leftovers and batch cooking are your friends!
If you’re new to cooking in bulk, or even cooking or baking in general, then these golden rules and tips for cooking in bulk could be your saving grace; the best part is that they’re easy to follow and apply to any meal that you make. I swear by those rules and it always pays off for me when I follow them. This article also elaborates on the above planning guidelines and includes more ingenious tips on planning your cooking or baking maraton in advance.
Use pre-prepared ingredients
We all know the monotony associated with making a homemade soup, it feels as if 90% of the time is taking up merely peeling and chopping the ingredients. You can save time by purchasing ingredients which are already chopped, par-boiled or even fully cooked. Some foods even come ready to put straight into the oven. All you have to do is cook the meal or heat it up. Examples of pre-prepared ingredients include:
- Diced vegetables
- Par-cooked vegetables
- Frozen vegetables
- Diced meat
- Pre-cooked meat and fish
- Boned and rolled meat, e.g. turkey
- Oven-ready meat
- Oven-ready meals
Tip: Frozen vegetables require minimal effort to cook, simply place them in the cooking vessel until they’re ready, no need for peeling or chopping.
- Proper planning is a fundamental element to ensuring a seamless cooking experience
- Cooking methods, such as microwaving and pressure cooking, facilitate shorter cooking durations
- Purchasing foods which are pre-cut, diced, oven-ready or already cooked reduces both cooking and preparation time
- While cooking in bulk may take longer initially, it ultimately saves on time spent preparing and cooking in the long run
- Investing in some good-quality cooking utensils can accelerate the preparation process and make cooking easier
While none of these tips seem technical or difficult to follow, they are still extremely effective at making cooking and meal preparation easier. Do you think you’ll follow any of these tips or do you abide by some of them already? Have you any tips to add to the list? Or do you swear by any cooking utensils that makes cooking effortless? Please post your comments and feedback below!
Boone, R., 2020. 5 Essential Kitchen Knives You Need Right Now. [online] Epicurious. Available at:
Callaway, N., 2008. This Is The Best Kind Of Cutting Board For Your Kitchen. [online] thekitchn. Available at:
www.taste.com.au. 2020. Top 100 Best Slow Cooker Recipes. [online] Available at: