Meal Prep Shortcuts that Will Get Meals Made Quick

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Dinner can be on the table in less time than you think, especially when you’ve got some quick and easy meal prep shortcuts in your bag of tricks.

asian bowl ingredients

Love to cook? Or at least love to eat? You’re in good company. I’m so glad you’re here.

Get frustrated when you run out of time to prep meals or when you spend hours in the kitchen trying to get a meal on the table? I hear you on that point, too.

As a self-proclaimed food snob, I love food! And, I really do love to cook. It’s something that helps me relax — sometimes — the cooking, but especially the eating.

Unfortunately, I don’t have two hours to make dinner every night like I did six children ago. While cooking has always been a fun hobby, there are days when I feel like, “Nope. Not gonna happen today.”

I know in order for us to eat good and cheap every day, and yes, those children seem to want to eat three times a day, I have to keep some meal prep shortcuts in mind.

Short cuts that help me get a homemade (or mostly homemade) meal on the table without my freaking out or spending more time than I need to.

Are you looking for some meal prep shortcuts to ease your way? Check out these strategies:

Meal Prep Shortcuts to Make Dinner Happen

whole chicken on cutting board

Grab a rotisserie chicken.

Seriously, those chickens from Costco are amazingly delicious and incredibly affordable. Unless you find a really great sale on chicken, you can’t roast a chicken for less.

Note: there are organic rotisserie chickens available at some grocery stores, so quality concerns shouldn’t plague you. This is an awesome meal prep shortcut to take advantage of.

Pick up one (or three!) and come home and carve the whole chicken. Serve part for dinner tonight and then work the rest of the chicken meat into future meals.

Head here to see what to make with a rotisserie chicken. You’ll be amazed at how versatile this one ingredient is!

You may find that your store sells the chicken already carved! My Costco does. It’s a little more expensive than the whole chicken, but an awesome shortcut when you’re pinched for time.

ralphs grocery store

Don’t be afraid of convenience food items.

There are convenience items and there are convenience food items. Some land in the junk food, not-really-food category, while others are true to their name: they provide you with real food in a more convenient form.

Think about products like shredded cheese, refrigerated pie crusts, bagged salad, and prepped vegetables. These are all very helpful in getting a good dinner on the table. Sure, they cost a little more sometimes, but they save you time.

If you’re a DIY person, just chill a bit. Done is better than perfect. Let some grocery shortcuts help you out!

vegetable fried rice

Prep extra.

When you plan your meals for the week or the next few days, consider how you can build them around common ingredients. There are lots of foods that fit well in different flavor profiles, so you can have variety, even with a core pantry of ingredients.

Maximize your time and money by making several dishes with like ingredients. Brown twice as much ground beef for two different recipes. Shred enough cheese for tacos one night and enchiladas a few nights later. 

Serving Tomato and Brie Pasta? Boil twice as much pasta and use the second half for a Southwest Pasta Salad.

Making rice for Pinto Beans and Rice? Make double and use the second portion for Vegetable Fried Rice later in the week. While you’re at it, make extra beans to stash in the freezer for another meal. Your future self will thank you.

chicken pot pie filling

Stretch leftovers.

Whether you’re making roast chicken, a holiday ham, or a pot roast, plan for some good ways to use up the leftovers, such as Chicken Pot Pie, Creamy Noodles with Ham and Tomatoes, or even Thursday Night Soup.

You can make these recipes with any leftover meat and veggies that you might have, allowing yourself the framework for some great meals with lots of variety. I purposely make extras sometimes to save myself some time. 

ingredients layered over couscous for salad

Keep a short list of quick-prep meals.

In the even that your Plan A goes off the rails, keep a list of quick dinner ideas on hand so that you’re ready with Plan B when you need it.

In fact, knowing your backup meal plan or having a list of pantry meals to make on the fly can be the difference between a home cooked meal and an overpriced takeout dinner.

meal prep checklist printables

Make meal prep a habit.

You probably don’t need any convincing that meal prepping is a worthy pursuit. The hard part is making it a habit.

One of the ways to build habits is to make the thing easy. And you can make meal prep easier if you’ve got a plan.

I can help with that!

I’ve put together this Weekly Kitchen Prep printable to help you think through the things you can do today to help you later. Want a copy?

When you subscribe to my mailing list below, I’ll pop that printable into an email right away.

Once you’ve downloaded the printable, print it off on thick paper. Bonus points if you laminate it so you can reuse it. Then, each week as you plan out meals for the coming days, make notes on your checklist of what you can do in advance to make dinner-making easier.

Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.

Want a little more help with meal prep?

kitchen winner meal plan logoSubscribe to the Kitchen Winner Meal Plans!

This monthly meal planning service is more than just a plan of random recipes dropped in your inbox.

With 35+ weekly plans, the Kitchen Winner Meal Plans provide 7 full menus complete with recipes, as well as the grocery list and meal prep checklist to help you bring meal planning dreams to meal prep reality.

When you subscribe, you’ll get instant access to all the plans available, with more being added each month. It’s a great way to have your meal prep and eat it, too.

Start your subscription today:

What are your meal prep shortcuts?

Tell us about it in the comments.

Meal Prep Shortcuts | Life as Mom

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Lynn says

    Great tips. I agree, I enjoy cooking. It helps me relax. When I am stressed out I cook a ton. I always helps.

  2. Sonshine says

    AMEN!!! Great post!

    I do those same tips! It does make life easier!

    I just wrote a post showing some of my meal shortcuts.

  3. Krista says

    I do a lot of the same. I try to always make extra rice. It's good for soups as well as fried rice the next day.

    If I'm chopping veggies, I try to chop up a few onions and whatever else is on hand & put in freezer (in sep bags) for soups. Celery is not popular in my house except for soups & stir-fry–I chop a whole bunch at once & freeze.

    I also cook up about 3 lb chicken breasts with 1 jar salsa in crockpot for a couple hours on low, then shred. I bag this up in several quart size bags for use in enchiladas, quesadillas, etc. Saves lots of time when I'm making mexican food!

  4. The Hunter's Wife says

    There’s nothing like quick and easy when you’re on the go all the time.

  5. Mrs. S says

    I do a lot of the same. Although I like Krista's idea for chicken and salsa in the crock pot! We eat Mexican once a week. Yesterday I made a big pot of chicken & noodle (we have colds and it was stormy out so it was a perfect fit!). I cooked extra chicken for Stir fry tonight. Just toss in some oil to brown before adding veggies. I also cook extra rice and freeze. Since we use brown rice this is a big time saver. I have only tried once a month cooking a couple times. I usually try to do a "prep session" once a week to get all our meats cooked and veggies chopped, muffins baked etc. for the coming week. I love to cook/bake, and this helps me to keep on loving it without the evening rush stress!

  6. JessieLeigh says

    I agree with all your tips!

    I try to make good use of the time when I’m not in the kitchen. If I’m out running errands, there’s soup or homemade taco or pizza sauce simmering away in the slow cooker. I leave my bread/bagel/english muffin/cinn roll dough to rise overnight. I want my food waiting on me and not vice versa! 🙂

  7. Honey says

    Jessica, remember me the “double- twin-and-one-spare” mom? I have a great recipe for you that I thought of when you mentioned hash browns o’brien. Its a weight watchers potato soup recipe. Its potato soup with 3 ingredients (or 4 if you add crumbled bacon). Just mix hash browns (1 bag), and chicken stock (4 c) in pot and simmer 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Then take a packet of pioneer country gravy mix and mix it with COLD water (amount listed on packet). Add this to the pot. You have fool-proof potato soup without peeling anything! And its delicious especially if you add fried, crumbled bacon to the top !

  8. Valerie aka Mamalovelock says

    Great tips!! Thanks for sharing!!

    We use a lot of onions in this house so I always chop extra for the rest of the meals that might need onions.

    When I make pasta I always boil a little extra for the kids lunch the next day and I add some veggie and some ranch dressing and I have quick pasta salad for lunch.

  9. FishMama says

    Honey, who could forget a mom w/ TWO sets of twins? Your recipe sounds great, but is it stil WW w/ fried bacon? 😉

  10. Leah says

    I kick my husband and kids out of the house for 2 or 3 hours on Sundays (we’re Jewish, so it’s not the Sabbath). I grocery shop (it’s empty while everyone’s in Church :)) and then I chop and prep as much as is reasonable.

    If I’m making veggie chili, I might chop up the onions and peppers (and saute them if time permits). Then when it’s time to cook, I have the hard part done (and it’s easier for DS3 to help me cook since no knives are involved). I hard-boil a bunch of eggs for snacks and breakfasts. I chop up cucumbers and peppers for healthy snacks for the kids (we dip them, along with baby carrots, in hummus).

    It helps me a lot, especially on nights when I’m not looking forward to cooking and it makes putting out snack a breeze even when the kids are hanging on my knees.

    Another thing? I make a double batch of EVERYTHING. We’re vegetarians so there’s lots of stir-fries, curries, soups, veggie chilies, and other items that keep well for the next night, and freeze well to use in the future. Tonight we’re having beans and rice that was dinner two nights ago!

  11. Honey says

    Well, I guess it would depend on if you used tvp bacon or something. Haha. I would not recommend it!!! It would surely take all the fun out of it to use fake-bacon! I forgot to say, I like it because you can keep all the ingredients on hand (potatoes and bacon in freezer and gravy mix and broth in cupboard). So its one of those ah-ha meals when you think you have nothing to make. And there is a coupon out there for buy 2 Ore-Ida hashbrowns and get a free steam and mash! (I think it’s on one of the little red machines, newspaper, or maybe check website or coupon loop etc.) You wrote that post about comparing and now I am having serioous anxiety about my run-on sentences-being that your a writer and all:)

  12. TheRoosterChick says

    Meal planning, double batch cooking, and prepping what I can the morning of helps me tons.

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