Meal prep can be quite the production. My first attempt at meal prep was about 2 years ago. I was about to start an Advocare 24 Day Challenge and I knew I couldn’t eat clean if I didn’t prep for it. My friend, Amanda, came over and we got to work. We prepped a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. And it took all freaking day. We had the oven and several stove burners going all afternoon. The menu included hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal, chicken, green beans, rice, beans, and washed a ton of fruit and vegetables. We felt so accomplished, and everything turned out well. But there was no way I could give up four or five hours EVERY Sunday afternoon.
This year, my love and I decided to meal prep together weekly, and we probably only skipped or missed 2 or 3 weeks all year. Meal prep is convenient throughout the week, and it helps to add some balance when I bake things like this. Along the way, we figured out some ways to make our meal prep days more efficient, and I am going to share them with you today, along with a few recipes. Below is a list of tools we use to make our meal prep faster and more efficient so we can have our Sundays back.
Tools of the Trade
Not affiliate links, just products I love.
Crockpot and crockpot liners- This one seems obvious, but it is so nice to leave the oven out of it. You won’t waste time preheating, and it won’t heat up your house. Crockpot liners can be fairly expensive, but the time and sanity you will save is well worth the price. I use this crockpot and these liners.
Rice Cooker– This was a gadget I put off getting for longer than I care to admit. I kept telling myself that I could just cook rice on the stove. Then, I found out that it could also cook quinoa and oatmeal- and mine even has a tray for steaming vegetables! I love that I can dump my grain of choice and some water in the bowl, push the button, and leave it alone while I do other things. Rice and oatmeal on the stove always run the risk of boiling over and need to be watched. My rice cooker gets it perfect every time with no hassle. I use this one.
Meal Prep Containers- This was another expense I didn’t think was necessary. I used regular plastic containers for quite a while. None of them matched, so they were difficult to stack in the fridge. They would leak in my lunchbox and the refrigerator. They didn’t stand up to multiple washes in the dishwasher AND being microwaved with every use. Then, I discovered FitPacker containers on Instagram. I ordered a set of single compartment and a set of two compartment containers and they have served us well week after week.
Mixer- Keep reading to find out the best mixer tip possibly of all time EVER. My mixer is this beautiful piece of art.
Not used in this week’s meal prep (but still well-loved!)
Egg Cooker- My love and I are both crazy about eggs. He prefers scrambled, I prefer over-medium, but we both appreciate a good hard-boiled egg. This tool frees up yet another burner on the stove to be used for the main course. Simply pour water in the bottom compartment, poke a small hole in the top of the egg with the tool provided, stack them in the cooker, and flip the switch. It will beep when they are ready. These eggs have been exponentially easier to peel that any stove-top eggs I’ve ever boiled. I don’t make hard-boiled eggs every week because we each prefer to cook eggs our own way in the mornings, but I definitely make them on busy weeks. This is the one I use.
Grill- I can’t use a grill. When my love is available to help, he grills the meat while I prep other stuff, and it makes things go by VERY quickly, especially if you don’t have time to wait 4-6 hours for the crockpot. While the grill wasn’t used in prep this week, it has been used almost every week since we started weekly meal prep. Grills can be pricy. Keep an eye out on your local classified Facebook groups. We got ours for free when someone upgraded; we just had to buy the propane tank. Once, I tried using a George Foreman Grill, but wasn’t big enough to grill enough chicken for a week.
Meal Prep Recipes
This week, I made our favorite go-to meal, a new crockpot meal, and our favorite salad. I am giving you the steps in the order I completed them in order to make all of the recipes at once. My active time was only about 1 hour, 15 minutes, and I ended up with 20 containers of food. Maximum. Efficiency.
Bonus tip- I try to include a protein, a complex carbohydrate, and a vegetable in every meal that I prep. This helps to make sure you get full and stay full longer!
Ingredients you will need before you meal prep:
For the Buffalo Ranch Chicken Bowls:
4-6 large raw chicken breasts, with the fat cut off
1 packet dry ranch dressing seasoning
1 bottle Sweet Baby Ray’s Buffalo Wing Sauce
Carrots or celery for serving, if desired
For the Chicken Bean Burrito Bowls:
1 bag frozen pre-diced and cooked chicken
2 cans refried beans (we have tried several flavors and brands, but we always go back to the Rosarita No Fat Green Chile & Lime- sooooo good and they add some extra flavor)
1 packet or about ¼ cup taco seasoning (We used to use packets, but we make it frequently we switched to the bottle)
Individual cups of guacamole
Additional optional toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, tomatoes, etc.
For the Salad:
1 bag fresh baby spinach
1 pint fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
1 container fresh blueberries, washed
OPA by Litehouse Strawberry Poppyseed Greek Yogurt Dressing
Meal Prep Time!
To Prep the Raw Chicken:
We will start with the Buffalo Ranch Chicken Bowls. Begin by placing a crockpot liner in a large crockpot. Trust me. Use a liner. Place the chicken breasts in the crockpot and sprinkle half of the ranch seasoning on top. Flip the chicken over and sprinkle the remaining seasoning on top. I pressed the seasoning with my fingers to make it stick to the chicken better.
Now, pour the entire bottle of wing sauce on top. It should completely cover the chicken.
Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours.
To Prep the Rice:
Now that the chicken is cooking, it is time to prep the rice. My rice cooker came with a measuring cup. If yours works the same way as mine, pour 3 full measuring cups of brown rice into the bowl of the rice cooker.
Fill the bowl with water up to the “3” line. Push the button down and it will cook perfectly without any stirring or boiling over.
To prep the Chicken Bean Burrito Bowls:
Pour the pre-cooked, pre-diced chicken into a large saucepan with ½ cup water. Heat on the stove until chicken is thawed and soft.
Add taco seasoning to the mixture and stir until chicken is evenly coated.
Open both cans of refried beans and add them to the chicken. Stir over medium heat until beans soften. Place about 1 cup of the mixture into the big side of a two-compartment container. I use a measuring cup to scoop so portion sizes are equal. Place a single-serving guacamole cup in the small side. At this point, you can add any extra toppings you desire. Put the lid on and repeat until mixture is gone.
To Prep the Salad:
Every meal prep needs to include fruits and veggies. I will often steam our veggies, but we recently discovered a way to get our fruits and veggies all in one. Turns out fresh fruit makes spinach taste less like dirt and more like heaven. This salad is my absolute favorite form of salad. While it isn’t enough to make a meal on its own, it goes great with everything and makes a great snack as well.
Prep your fruit- wash and slice your strawberries, and wash your blueberries.
Place a BIG handful of spinach in a single compartment meal prep container. Top with ½ cup berries. Continue until you run out. Pour 2 tablespoons of dressing into small containers. This dressing pairs PERFECTLY with the spinach and berries, and 2 tablespoons is just the right amount.
Finishing the Buffalo Chicken Bowls:
At this point, your rice should be done! If it finishes before you’re ready to measure it, don’t panic! Your rice cooker will likely keep it warm after it is finished. If you wait a really long time to measure it out, turn the rice cooker off so it doesn’t burn to the bottom while it is warming. Measure out ½ – ¾ cup rice into single-compartment meal prep containers until you run out of rice.
When your chicken has been in the crockpot for at least 4 hours, cut it open to see if it is done. If not, cook it longer. If it IS done, now it is time for that life-changing mixer tip I mentioned earlier. Take the chicken out of the crockpot with a fork and place it in the bowl of your mixer. Leave the sauce in the crockpot.
Using the paddle attachment of your mixer, turn the mixer on “stir” or “low.” It will beautifully and easily shred your chicken for you, and it is totally worth a couple of extra dishes to wash.
Pour shredded chicken back into sauce in the crockpot. Stir until chicken is evenly coated in sauce.
Measure out ¾ -1 cup chicken and place in the meal prep containers with the rice.
Once your lids are on, you can bask in the glory of your wall of full meal prep containers.
Do you have any of these meal prep tools? Do you have a different can’t-live-without meal prep item? If so, share it- I’d love to know! Comment below with pictures of your meal prep container fortress!