Get organized by planning meals and prepping foods ahead.
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Credit: Courtesy of Macy's

Meal prepping is a smart strategy for busy home cooks and it's more popular than ever. The idea is to prep ahead, to make big batches of proteins, grains, and vegetables when you have time, most often at the weekend, then use them in different meals throughout the week. Toss them over salad greens, use to create a colorful grain bowl, or serve them with quick-cooking chicken cutlets or fish filets for a fast dinner.

Another meal prep option is to cook a specific recipe rather than elements—something like Easy Beef Chili—and repurpose it in several different ways throughout the week. We turned to our food editors for more tips on how to efficiently meal prep for a delicious week ahead.

Set a Plan

Before you head to the grocery store, don't just make a shopping list, outline the recipes you plan to make for each meal in the coming week. By having a solid plan, you won't be stuck trying to figure out a menu on they fly, and grocery shopping will be more efficient and intentional. By purchasing just what you need for the week ahead, you'll reduce food waste, which is beneficial for both your bank account and the environment. Eating healthy is also easier if you've planned ahead and have fresh ingredients and components of meals made in advance.

You can meal prep weeknight dinners or you can plan out all the meals for the week. For example, Tuesday night's dinner leftovers might not work for another night's meal, but they can be lunch on Wednesday.

What to Make Ahead

Meal prepping is a way to get meals on the table faster, because you have a game plan and have prepared some of the elements ahead. Roast a big batch of vegetables (perhaps while you're roasting a chicken for Sunday dinner), or slice them raw and stash them in the refrigerator ready for an easy boost of nutrients at every meal, whether that's in a salad, a stir fry, or a pasta dish.

On the weekend, Shira Bocar, our former food editor-at-large, cuts up fresh fruit, such as mango, pineapple, or melon, to give to her kids to snack on while she prepares dinner. She makes Martha's Favorite Vinaigrette to have on hand for an easy salad dressing, and will either roast a chicken or buy a rotisserie chicken to have around for dinners or for sandwiches. She also always cooks a big batch of whole grains that she'll use for lunches and dinners.

Former associate food editor Riley Wofford's go-to for meal prep is cooking a big pot of beans, and it's something she does on an almost weekly basis. "They're one of the most versatile things. They can go into soups, salads, or be marinated and eaten on their own on a piece of toast," she says.

How to Put Meals Together

First, think about what your family likes to eat, and plan the components or full recipes you prep ahead based on that. Also, consider repurposing ingredients. For breakfast, Shira feeds her family soft-cooked eggs, which she cooks in advance to use on busy weekday mornings. She will often use the eggs for dinner, too. "I try to always keep a package of Sun Ramen (fresh ramen with seasoning pack) in the fridge for quick dinners—I'll add greens to the broth and a soft-cooked egg," she says.

Another approach to meal planning is to use your freezer. Riley keeps a few staples in the freezer for busy nights when she doesn't feel like preparing a full meal. "I always have soup, chili, or at the very least, a quart of chicken stock in the freezer that I can reach for if all else fails," she says. She might use it for a quick soup, or in our quick turkey bolognese sauce.

Once you've got into the swing of meal planning, remember to switch it up a bit. We all have recipes and ingredients we rely on, the ones that always win with the family, but meal planning is also a great way to experiment with new foods, whether that's a whole grain like farro, or a vegetable your family isn't familiar with, such as sugar snap peas or spaghetti squash.

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