I’m not going to lie, procrastinating has served me well in my life. In high school and college, it produced some of my best papers; I’ve gotten great deals on hotels and flights; come up with the perfect birthday or holiday gift in the very last moment. The only place this lifestyle habit really doesn’t work for me, as it turns out, is in the kitchen.
I’ve found that without some kind of thoughtful meal planning, I’m all too often throwing out well-intentioned but sadly forgotten about groceries and ordering takeout that’s not exactly in my budget. So with that in mind, here is a list of some essentials you need to stock your kitchen with in order to become a rockstar meal-prepper.
They say you can measure the skill of a chef by their ability to cook an egg. I say, when it comes to measuring the skill of a savvy meal-prepping home cook, you have to look at their ability to cook eggs (that’s plural, with an “s”)—and keep it interesting—all week long.
Make-once-and-portion-for-days-to-come favorites like frittatas, quiches, and casseroles are obvious favorites, but pro preppers will tell you that the meal planner’s best friend is the hard boiled egg.
Related Reading: 8 Ways to Boil Perfect Eggs Every Time
Make a dozen hard boiled eggs on a Sunday (store them in the shell and they can last a week in the fridge) and you have everything from a protein boost to your salad, or a tasty deviled snack, to a sandwich filling, and a saucy garnish for your veggies…you name it.
Cooking grains on the daily can feel daunting, time-intensive as they can be. Here’s the thing, though: Plain cooked brown rice, farro, quinoa, oats, bulgur, or [insert your favorite grain here] can last in the fridge for days, so really you only need to do the heavy lifting once or twice a week.
Or you can prep one of these 11 grain salad recipes and portion the batch out for lunch or an easy dinner side through the week.
Canned Beans, Legumes, Tomatoes, Fish, Broth, Etc.
While I don’t exactly yearn for the 1950s era canned food glory days, there’s no denying how essential these products can (pun intended) be to boosting the flavor and quality of your pre-planned meals. Not to mention, of course, the huge added bonus of their extended shelf lives and cost-efficiency.
Simple Houseware Stackable Can Rack, $18.87 on Amazon
Keep your cans neat with this storage rack.
Think chickpeas for hummus or an easy vegetarian curry; tomatoes for a save-for-later, all-purpose marinara sauce; beans for myriad uses in stews, soups, and side dishes. And of course, your favorite canned tuna for the classic throwback sandwich (or topping salads if it’s the good oil-packed stuff, which it should be; try our best tuna salad recipe ideas to get you out of a canned fish rut).
Related Reading: Our Favorite Canned Sardine Snack Hacks
When it comes to forward-thinking cooking, it’s important to stockpile fruits and vegetables with staying power. The trick here, of course, is nailing the prep.
Some veggies, like quick-to-cook Brussels sprouts, carrots, and cauliflower and broccoli can easily be stored raw with very little maintenance (although with the latter two you might want to go ahead and break up the florets ahead of time to save yourself the work later).
Prep Naturals Meal Prep Containers, $32.99 on Amazon
Long-lasting and leak-free, these three-compartment glass containers will keep your fridge organized and food fresh.
Other longer-shelf life vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, and butternut or acorn squash are best cooked first and then stored for easy reuse throughout the week (for instance, in our Warm Quinoa Salad recipe or our Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Arugula, and Pistachios).
Whatever your protein preference—fish, pork, poultry, beef—your freezer is your friend when it comes to being an efficient and successful make-ahead mealer. For example, one week you might thaw out and cook a plain pack of ground beef, using it one day to make bolognese, another as the base for tacos, and yet another for chili (all of which are, in themselves, easily reportionable and re-freezable).
Related Reading: The Best Meat Delivery Services & Butcher Subscription Boxes | Keto Meal Prep Plan
Or maybe another week you pull out the whole chicken, roast it the first night and repurpose it throughout the week in salads, sandwiches, and soups.
And if you have a slow-cooker, what’s easier than throwing in a pork shoulder that you can later shred for BBQ sandwiches or use as a topping for nachos?
Oils, Vinegars, and Spices
One of the essential cornerstones of meal-prepping is taking simple, plain ingredients and constantly reimagining them day after day in ways that keep them from feeling ubiquitous by week’s end. And for this, having a well-stocked pantry of diverse spices and oils is key. Sure, they require a bit of an upfront cost, but a little goes a long way and shelf life isn’t much of a concern.
See Gail Simmons’ favorite pantry staples for some inspiration, and our Guide to Cooking Oils.