The Best Meal Prep Guide For Busy People On The Internet
This guide will teach you how to complete the best meal prep for your busy week in 2 hours or less.
Meal Prep For Busy People
Word on the street is that “life” prevents people from consistently eating well. If we’re being honest, not preparing your meals has to do more with a lack of preparation than with “life”. A meal prep for busy people is entirely possible, no matter your schedule.
This guide is a culmination of 4 years of tinkering to find the best, most efficient approach for cooking enough healthy food to get through the week in 2 hours or less.
There are two goals with this approach to meal prepping: simplify the cooking process and eat well. Most dishes I make during meal preps contain 6 ingredients or less, including spices. You’ll be less tempted to overcomplicate dishes once you’re used to eating wholesome food with a few quality ingredients. You’ll also feel much better and have more energy.
I tried my best to answer these 4 questions in this guide:
- How do I meal prep for the whole week in 2 hours or less?
- What is the best way to meal prep for busy people?
- How can I meal prep like this if I’m on a budget?
- Can I still meal prep in 2 hours or less per week if I’m responsible for feeding other people too?
Enjoy and post any questions in the comments section!
Get 6 Simple Meal Prep Recipes For Busy People
This guide will jumpstart your meal prepping abilities with 6 easy recipes you can make in 1 hour or less with minimal ingredients and preparation.
With this approach, you’ll be prepping a week’s worth of meals in 2 hours or less.
On Sunday, you’ll spend about 90 minutes doing your “big” meal prep for busy people for the workweek. This does not include 45 minutes at the grocery store.
On Wednesday or Thursday, you’ll spend about 30 minutes doing a “baby” meal prep for busy people to get you through to the weekend.
Adjust the days to fit your schedule and lifestyle.
Things You’ll Need
For each item below, I either linked to stuff I own or the least expensive alternative I could find that will get the job done.
- 2 Pans
- 1 3-Quart Pot
- 2-3 cookie sheets or baking dishes
- 2-4 large Tupperware containers
- 8 portable Tupperware containers (small enough to pack for the day)
- Aluminum foil
- 1-3 lean protein sources (see my favorites below)
- 3-8 vegetable options (see my favorites below)
- 1-2 fruit options
- 1 bag of long grain rice
- Olive oil or coconut oil
- Spices (specific recommendations below, but this all-in-one spice rack gives refills for 5 years)
- Preferred Snacks (optional, see my favorites below)
Things To Consider
This handy little device will save you more time than anything else in this guide. I use a crockpot for almost every weeknight “baby” meal prep. For $39, you can’t beat the value. I’ve had this model for 4 years and never had a problem with it.
To start you off, here’s a list of slow cooker recipes divided by category (breakfast, lunch, dessert, Mexican, BBQ, etc.) and another with 90 crockpot ideas for dinner. I bought this Paleo Slow Cooker recipe book for under $10 a few years ago and recommend it.
Door Delivery Food Services
I have never used either of these companies, but know friends that love these services. It doesn’t hurt to mention them as an option if they fit into your budget.
- Blue Apron– Chefs come up with a weekly menu that you pick your meals from. The meals arrive at your door with step-by-step instructions for cooking and serving.
- HelloFresh– Simple recipes and premeasured ingredients show up to your door each week so cooking is easy. Their plans reoccur each week and the price goes down if you are feeding a family.
Both companies offer incentivized deals to try their service once, so give it a try if it seems like a good fit.
While the majority of this guide is focused on eating, it’s worth mentioning hydration as well. Here’s how I keep things simple:
- Water– You should probably be drinking around 100oz of water a day, give or take. That number increases if you work out a lot. Get a water bottle to make this process easier. I carry one of these 32oz Nalgene water bottles with me everywhere. Drink 1 upon waking up, and then 2-3 more throughout the day. The key is to fill the bottle back up immediately after you empty it.
- Seltzer– If you’re the type of person that likes to change it up from water, have something available. In my opinion, La Croix is the best.
- Coffee– I drink between 2-4 cups of coffee each day with an Aeropress. If you are a coffee drinker, plan for it. For me, it’s less about the caffeine buzz and more about sticking to routines. In 2017, I started ordering Cafe Le Llave through Amazon. It’s a strong dark roast costing less than $5/lb and shows up to your house in bricks. What’s not to love?
To me, high-quality food comes down to lean sources of protein and fresh vegetables.
Amazon has made it easy to shop for most things from home, but you’ll probably want to buy perishable groceries from the store or a local farm if you aren’t using a delivery service. Eat Wild can help you locate farmers in your state that sell various grass-fed meats.
Your goal is to stock up on highly nutritional, flavorful, and reasonably priced items.
If there’s interest in the future, I’ll share some of the budget shopping techniques I adopted during my travel “year off” that kept my grocery bill under $50 per week. Here are a few of my favorite grocery store items:
Shoot for lean sources of protein that you can buy in bulk. Some of my favorites are:
Ground Turkey- $2.99/lb
I’m allergic to eggs, which limits breakfast options. I eat ground turkey with breakfast almost every day. It’s cheap, easy to eat, and you can make it taste good during the laziest of meal preps (AKA, cover it in random spices and stir until cooked).
Easy Recipe: Turkey Sloppy Joes w/ homemade sauce (30 minutes)
Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs– $1.83/lb
Boneless and skinless will mean less work on your end during your prep. You can get bone-in chicken thighs and other cuts of chicken much cheaper. Thighs cook well in a pan, the crockpot, and oven.
Chicken breasts are good too, but I probably go with these more because they cost less.
Easy Recipe: Soy Balsamic Glazed Chicken Thighs (40 minutes)
Flank Steak- $8.50/lb
Steak is usually the most expensive thing in my cart. I buy it probably once every two weeks, usually for a nice weekend meal. Flank steak is my favorite cut of beef but doesn’t really come in bulk.
A cheaper option is London Broil, which is usually $5-6/lb.
Easy Recipe: Grilled Flank Steak Fajitas (45 minutes)
Pork Tenderloin- $5-6/lb
One of the many benefits of living in Colorado is King Soopers, the best grocery store chain ever. They constantly have deals on pork loin (50% off or more), so I’ve always got one of these in the freezer. When you learn how to cook pork loin correctly, it’s delicious.
Easy Recipe: Oven Roasted BBQ Pork Tenderloin (60 minutes)
I can’t eat whole eggs anymore because of an adult onset allergy, but I’d eat them every day if I could. They are the most versatile food at your disposal.
In college, my roommates and I would go through a carton of 60 eggs every 4 days. If you like eggs, I can’t recommend them enough for a meal prep for busy people.
Easy Recipe: See the recipe section
Red Cabbage- $.89/lb
After years of meal prepping, I’ve concluded that red cabbage is the hidden gem of all vegetables. It’s dirt cheap, filling, and can be used in a variety of ways. I prepare red cabbage in 1 of 3 ways: sauteed in a pan with garlic and oil, roasted on a cookie sheet, or shredded raw into salads.
Probably like you, I walked by this stuff in the grocery store for years. I now buy a head of it every week and it never goes to waste.
Easy recipe: Red Cabbage and Shredded Carrot Slaw (20-25 minutes)
Whole Carrots- $1.25/lb
I strayed away from carrots for a long time, annoyed with their relatively higher carbohydrate count. Stupid logic, but that’s the truth. Now other than red cabbage, this is the vegetable I buy most frequently.
A 3lb bag of whole carrots usually lasts about 2 weeks. Carrots last a lot longer in the fridge than other vegetables.
Easy Recipe: Oven Roasted Whole Carrots (30-40 minutes)
Sweet Potatoes- $1.29/lb
Sweet potatoes are calorically denser than the other vegetables on this list, but they are good for you, taste good, and versatile for cooking with. For most meals, I choose to have either sweet potato, rice, or corn tortillas as my “carb”, so these are frequently in my cart.
I chop these up like homefries and bake them in coconut oil, nutmeg, sea salt, and cinnamon, or pan “fry” them with chili powder, paprika, and cumin.
Easy Recipe: Baked Sweet Potato Homefries (1 hour, less if you start them in the microwave)
Green Beans- $1.99/lb
I go through seasons with vegetables, but always make sure to leave the store with at least one green vegetable. I recommend you do the same. Green beans have been my green veg staple lately.
I should probably have more green vegetables in my cart, but I’ve eaten enough spinach and broccoli since 2014 to sink the Lusitania. They’ll come back around at some point.
Easy Recipe: Roasted Green Beans with Garlic and Fresh Lemon (30-40 minutes)
Other than how tasty it is, there’s a lot of good research out there about the health benefits of garlic. I cook with it daily.
Check out the breakfast recipe section for a little hack on eggs using garlic that I used to love before I developed an egg allergy.
You’ve been eating your whole life, so you should already know what tastes good to you. If this guide is a jumpstart into cooking for yourself, you may not know exactly which spices and flavors are your favorite.
Here are a few spices that get a lot of use in my kitchen:
- Pink Himalayan Sea Salt– I didn’t salt my food for years, but now add a little bit of this during the cooking process. When you remove it from your food, you appreciate it more once it’s added back in. That said, I never add extra salt to a finished meal.
- Chili Powder– I use chili powder during almost every meal prep, and have recently fallen in love with the Ancho variety. Jesse Pinkman and I share a mutual fondness of chili powder. “Nah man, chili p is my secret ingredient!”
- Black Pepper– Good black pepper adds a bitter, but satisfying flavor to your food. Use fresh cracked pepper if you can.
- Paprika– A mild spice that goes well on most meats. I use it mostly as part of a dry rub for pork loin or chicken.
- Curry Powder– My favorite food is good curry, so this is always bought in bulk. Curry powder can also be used in rubs, to jazz up chicken salad, and as a background flavor when roasting vegetables.
- Cumin– Cumin has an earthy flavor that pairs well with chili powder and a touch of sea salt.
As I already mentioned, I cook with garlic every day and also use olive oil as a simple garnish frequently.
You know the adage about “an apple a day”, right? I tend to go for the cheapest multi-colored option available, but my favorites are Gala, Fuji, and Ambrosia. My favorite two weeks of the year are when Honeycrisp apples go on sale.
Berry prices are finicky. One week you can get a whole carton of blackberries for $.99, and the next you have to fill out a FAFSA form before leaving the store with them. Because a carton of berries is a serving for me, I don’t buy them unless they are on sale. When they are, blueberries are my favorite.
Corn Tortillas– $2.29 for a 30-pack
Corn tortillas are an underrated option for meals and snacks. You don’t have to “feel like Mexican food” to use tortillas throughout the week.
I throw 3 of them in a pop toaster for about 90 seconds. They’ll come out with a different texture, and you can put any combo of meat and vegetable that you’ve cooked up on top.
Smoked Oysters– $1.89/can
I only discovered these recently, but have become a big fan. From the cans I’ve looked at, there is usually between 11-18 grams of protein in a 3oz can. Packets of tuna are another similar snack that you might consider.
Cottage Cheese- $2.49/carton
Cottage cheese pairs well with fruits and is a good snack before bed. It’s a good way to get in some extra protein, too.
Rice Cakes- $1.99/bag
Sometime in 2017, I started buying rice cakes again. I hadn’t had one since middle school, but they are actually a pretty great snack. When most of your diet is meat and vegetables, you start valuing foods with a crunch. Probably not the healthiest of choices, but there are certainly worse snack options. I’d avoid the rice cakes covered in chocolate or caramel, though.
Other Shopping Recommendations/Resources
- Only grocery shop 1x/week. Commit to this. You should be in the store for 60 minutes or less. If your schedule allows it, avoid shopping at busy times like Saturday morning.
- Find sales and buy in bulk. Buy an extra cut or two of pork when it’s on sale. Shop around to find deals on fresh vegetables or your go-to snack items in bulk. Check sites like Amazon Snack Delivery for the latter.
- Use your freezer. If you’re serious about meal prepping, here’s a great first step: clean out your freezer. Throw away everything with freezer burn on it to make room for perishable items you won’t use right away.
- Check out C2C shopping services. Services like Instacart deliver groceries to your house through an app with a small upcharge. Your first order is free in most major U.S. cities.
Parts of this section won’t be for everyone. No matter what your situation is, I think anyone can get behind saving more money. Here are a few keys to budgeting I’ve learned over the years:
“Design Down” Your Weekly Needs
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey teaches us to begin with the end in mind. Start with the end goal, and work your way back to the things that need to happen today for you to get there.
I recommend you apply this to your grocery budget. Figure out the answers to the questions below, and you’ll also have an idea of your budgeting and nutritional goals. This process is easier if you are shopping for one, but you can do it for your whole family, too.
Question(s) #1: How much do you eat in a day? What are your nutritional goals?
Start by figuring out how much food you eat each day. You can guesstimate that amount, or…
If you’re really serious, you can find your caloric needs for the day and a protein/carb/fat ratio that meets that number. This Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) calculator can help you figure out how many calories you need. Use this information as a guideline, not as dogma.
A gram of protein and a gram of carbohydrate are both 4 calories, and a gram of fat is 9. I won’t recommend the ratio of protein/carb/fat you should use, but this calculator might help you figure it out. Recording my daily intake in this app has been very beneficial for me.
I don’t necessarily recommend an approach like IIFYM forever, but do think it’s a good idea for anyone to count macros for a few weeks and understand their caloric needs. You have to try different things to truly understand what works for you, in my experience.
Question #2: What foods meet your nutritional goals?
How much ground turkey or chicken do you need to eat if your goal is 150g of protein a day? What (and how much) will you need to hit your carbohydrates and fat goals? Think of some of the “staple” foods you eat, or if you’re new to this meal prep for busy people approach, figure out the nutritional value of a few foods you eat regularly.
I’d recommend playing around with a macro counting app to see which foods might work for you. The one I linked costs a few bucks, but there are free ones out there.
Question #3: How much food will you need to eat like that over the course of a week?
Multiply your daily needs by the number of days you plan to eat like this. I think it’s fine for a lot of people to start with just the workweek to prevent overwhelm. Multiply your daily caloric and macro needs by 5 or 7 days, and that should give you an idea of how much food you need for the week.
Example: If your daily macro split was 150p/250c/80f, then your workweek requirement would be 750p/1250c/400f.
The most important thing is to remember your goals, and operate from that place. This macro split is probably an example of a large human with athletic goals.
Question #4: Given this information, what do you need to buy at the store?
So if your workweek requirement is 750g of protein, and 1lb of chicken has around 130g of protein in it, how much chicken should you buy? How much of your workweek requirement should you commit to chicken? (Even typing that out, I realize it’s a funny question to ask yourself)
Understand something. You don’t have to eat chicken for every meal. You don’t have to fill 300g of carbs with only rice or tortillas. This isn’t a robotic process by any means. The goal is to have an idea of how much food you need to make it through the week. It will take some tinkering, and that includes figuring out how much (insert food item here) you can stomach in a week without getting tired of it.
This is simply a fool-proof way to trim the fat (pun intended) from your grocery list. Meal prep for busy people means being efficient whenever possible. You’ll save money only buying what you need and probably eat a whole lot healthier with this approach. After 2-3 weeks, you’ll be able to go shopping without a grocery list reflective of your nutritional goals.
Know Your Staple Items
Another way to save money is to just assume you will be buying the same 3-5 of items each week. Add whatever else you need after you’ve listed your staple items. For me, those staple items are 2lbs of ground turkey, 5-7 apples, a head of red cabbage, and garlic.
You may desire variety more than others with your meals, but I’ll bet there are a few things you’ll still end up buying each week.
Buy The Essentials In Bulk
What are the essentials you need to have on hand for a meal prep for busy people? Whatever they are for you and/or your family, never run out.
Things like olive oil, coconut oil, coffee, spices, aluminum foil, and Tupperware containers fall into this category.
This isn’t a difficult step, but don’t overlook it. You won’t meal prep if you don’t have the right stuff on hand, which means you’ll spend more money eating out or blindly buying groceries. Either sign up for reoccurring delivery through Prime Pantry or make a monthly run to Costco for the essentials in bulk.
Now the fun begins- the part where you get to cook!
“Big” Weekend Meap Prep- 90 minutes
This does not include the 60 minutes or less you’ll spend at the grocery store. These are 2 step-by-step approaches you can use to ensure you have enough food for the first 3-4 days of your week.
Approach #1: Mix and Match Meal Prep-
- For the “Mix and Match” approach, you’ll need 5-6 items: 2 “main dishes”, 1-2 “carbs”, and at least 1 vegetable option if they aren’t in the main dish. Each component requires an appropriately sized Tupperware container.
- Prepare your main dish and carb first. Consider any of the recipes in this article or other foods you enjoy. If it’s a meat/vegetable dish with 5-6 ingredients, it should take 30-45 minutes to cook 2-3lbs of food.
- Once the food is cooking, wash all of your vegetables and cut them up into bite-size pieces. For this approach, either fill a container with raw vegetables or make one big salad you can eat for a few days.
- Once the food is done, place it in storage.
A typical “mix and match” prep might mean a container of chicken curry, a container of roasted pork loin, a large container with 6-8 cups of rice, tortillas, a large salad stored in a bowl, and some cooked vegetables. This will be my lunch and dinner for 2-3 days.
When it comes time to eat throughout the week, simply get a plate and 3-4 different containers of food from the fridge. Mix and match your items, using a few or all of the things you’ve prepared.
Approach #2: Big Dish Meal Prep
For those who don’t mind eating the same thing for a few meals, Big Dish Prepping looks like it sounds.
- In a large pot, make one main dish. Use at least one source of protein and 2-4 vegetables.
** If it’s a recipe like chili, consider making rice or having something else to put over the main dish.
- Store that large pot in your fridge or separate it into containers for the week.
With this approach, make sure the dish contains a lot of basic ingredients. You’ll want something with a lot of vegetables and flavor if you’ll be eating it for 2 out of 3 meals over the next few days.
“Baby” Weeknight Meal Prep- 30 minutes or less
Approach #1: Crockpot
The beauty of the crockpot is that you can meal prep while you sleep. No, really. Omit one protein source and prepare (chop up) 2-4 raw vegetable during Sunday’s meal prep, and have them ready to go on Wednesday night.
20 minutes before you go to bed, put all of the ingredients for your dish in the pot and add 1 cup of cold water. Set the crockpot to “low” and go to sleep. You’ll wake up to a fully cooked meal. Turn the crockpot off upon waking so it cools off while you get ready for work, and then store it before you leave.
*Pro Tip: To truly make this an all-in-one recipe, add a little extra water than seems necessary the night before. If you wake up with 30 or more minutes to spare in the morning, add 1 cup of uncooked rice directly to the “broth” in the crockpot. Add 1 more cup of water, turn the pot off, and stir.
In about 30 minutes, the rice will have soaked up all the juice from the dish you just cooked, turning the meal into a “jambalaya” of sorts.
Approach #2: Leftovers
Reap the reward of Sunday foresight by making a little extra each week, then freeze the leftovers in a large Ziploc back. Most meals will last 2 months in the freezer without any problems. So when Wednesday night rolls around after a particularly tough workweek, and you’ve got nothing left to give for a meal prep, you have the meals on hand to get you through to Friday.
Simply take the bag out of the freezer and leave it in the fridge or countertop. By morning, it should soften up enough to scoop out into individual containers.
Tried & True Meal Prep Recipes
Garlic Egg “Hack”
With eggs, the preparation options are endless. Even so, if you have eggs every day you’ll tire of them. I discovered this “hack” in college and made my eggs this way every day for a year.
It’s a simple tip: before you cook the eggs, mince fresh garlic and cook the garlic in a pan on medium-low heat with your preferred oil (I use olive oil). Keep the heat on medium-low heat so the edges of the garlic don’t burn before the eggs are even in the pan.
If you like, cook vegetables like spinach or peppers in with the garlic, much like you’d do when making an omelette. After 3-4 minutes of time in the pan, add your eggs in. The garlic infused oil will penetrate every nook and cranny of the eggs, and your eggs will have that awesome garlic flavor throughout.
Chicken and Vegetable Curry
4-6 cups of cooked rice
Preheat your pan on medium heat and add the oil in. Put all of the chicken in at once, browning it until there is no pink left anywhere. Once the chicken is cooked, add the garlic, bell pepper, onion, and broccoli. Stir for 3-4 minutes.
Add your spices all at once, stirring as you go. Like the chili recipe, it will seem like a lot of spice, but you’ll need it once you add the water. Add the green beans last (they stay crunchy this way). At this point, if you’re going to make rice, it should be cooking.
Once the spices have been added and the vegetables start to cook down, add 2 cups of water on top. Stir for a minute. Your goal is to add as little water as possible so the curry doesn’t get watered down. Add the can of coconut milk last, then set the heat at medium-low and let simmer for 30 minutes. Serve over rice or as-is in a bowl. This curry recipe heats up well and lasts about 4 days in the fridge.
Get 6 Simple Meal Prep Recipes For Busy People
This guide will jumpstart your meal prepping abilities with 6 easy recipes you can make in 1 hour or less with minimal ingredients and preparation.
Here is all the “meal prep for busy people” resources mentioned in the article.
*Some links/pictures below are affiliate links. If you purchase any of these items, I earn a small affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks in advance!
- Blue Apron
- 90 Crockpot Ideas For Dinner
- AllRecipes.com Recipe List for Crockpot Dishes
- Eat Wild
Food & Drink
Never Miss An Article or Podcast
Subscribe to get the latest from The Coach K Show delivered to your inbox each Monday.