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As I mentioned last week, in my meal prep Q and A, I’m going to spend the next several weeks breaking down what goes in to meal prep and hopefully convince you to give it a try. The most common question I get is ‘What items do you need to start meal prepping?’
Items Needed to Meal Prep
This week is all about the tools. I love gadgets. I have a terrible habit of buying gadgets and then not using them and selling them for significantly less than I paid. I have these big dreams of someday becoming a minimalist, so I am trying very hard to make sure my shopping habits and future goals are aligned. It’s a mighty work in progress with some areas being easier to handle than others (don’t look in my closet).
Here’s the thing about meal prep, you don’t need much to get started. There are some items that will make your life much easier, so much easier that I do think it’s worth the investment if you don’t have these tools in your kitchen already.
I have a large chopper and a small chopper and these are the backbone of my meal prep and worth the investment. They take care of so much of the workload and in some weeks they handle it all.
I’m a HUGE proponent of meal prep and strongly believe ANYONE can do it. Sometimes I consider successful meal prep as simple as chopping vegetables for the week. That’s it. Even if I haven’t planned meals for the week, I still chop veggies. Almost every recipe calls for onions and if I find I don’t use them in a recipe, I’ll sauté them and use them in scrambled eggs or a frittata. There’s always a backup plan.
These might be the best tools for meal prep. I have a large 7 cup processor and a smaller 2 cup processor. I use them both, all the time. My little Cuisinart has lasted for almost ten years. It’s my itty bitty workhorse!
You don’t have to be fancy. If you go on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media outlet, you will see people take pictures of their beautifully prepared bento boxes. Even I am in awe of their meal prep. I’m only now testing them to see if I like them better. The jury is still out. I have always used the long Ziploc containers to store my food in bulk, breaking out what I need each day. There are cons to this method because it takes more time and in the long run, you use more dishes.
You need to be able to store your food that you’ve meal prepped. If you work away from home and prepped lunches, you need something that is easy to transport your meal from home to work to back home. If it is microwavable, you’ll want something BPA free.
It might take trial and error to find what works best for you so don’t invest a lot of money in storage, at least not until you figure out a system best for you. Also, if you have a shelf of Ziploc and Glad containers – try to save money and make those work for you! These are still my go to containers. Only recently have I tried special containers. But, you do need SOMETHING to store the food that’s why I put this on the need list.
I have cooked one meal in my Instant Pot, butter chicken, a very good meal, by the way. But, my Instant Pot isn’t for cooking, its main purpose in life is MEAL PREP! Let me tell you, this thing has been a game changer for me and it explains why I’ve been successfully meal prepping for a year now.
I buckled under peer pressure and here’s my story of buying my Instant Pot (Link to Post).
I detail how I use my Instant Pot for weekly meal prep and why I consider my Instant Pot one of my most important purchases (Link to Post).
A pressure cooker makes prepping your starches so easy. You start them and move on to something else. There’s no stirring, checking, babysitting things in the pressure cooker.
You need a couple cutting boards and I do keep specific boards that handle raw meat and ones that handle everything else. Here is a good article on why you should have separate boards (Why You Use Different Cutting Boards) I have too many, but really, 3 or so should be sufficient.
Knives. These range in price from cheap to I must sell a kidney, expensive. I love my Cutco knives but they’re pricey. Over the course of about 8 years, we have built up our collection of knives. We aren’t done, but we’ve invested slowly in our knife collection. One of the things I love about Cutco is their lifetime guarantee. We ship our knives back to them on occasion and have them sharpened, usually when we’re going to be on vacation on not missing them. This year, much to our surprise, they replaced a knife that wasn’t up to their standard.
Regardless of brand, I can’t express enough the importance of good, sharp knives. They are safer to use and will make the job easier.
I add these to the necessary list with some hesitation. I use them, not always though. If I didn’t grill all of my proteins and many of my vegetables, then I would use sheet pans more often. They are necessary if you are going to be making sheet pan dinners. They’re a fantastic way to cook a lot of vegetables at once, so I do feel that they are a fundamental part of meal prep and worth purchasing at least one if you don’t have them already. With that being said, I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend silicone mats for the sheet pans though. I can’t fathom why I waited so long to try these, but these are a lifesaver when cleaning up!
The poor slow cooker is quickly being replaced by the pressure cooker. Here’s the thing though, the slow cooker is something you start in the a.m. and it’s done when you get home. I love mine so much that I own two of them and for meal prep I do often use them both. It’s not a necessity, but it’s helpful to have especially if you’re meal prep isn’t a full meal prep. Then tossing in chicken or a roast in the a.m. for that evening is incredibly helpful! Another benefit of the slow cooker is if you have a tight budget, this is a much more budget friendly appliance than a pressure cooker. Slow cookers can be simple or more complex with auto programmable gadgets, but you pay for the extra features. Don’t pay for more than what you are going to use!
Take my word for it, buy a good set of stacking mixing bowls. You will use them a lot. I have these bamboo ones that we got years ago and they’re by and far my favorite bowls. They’re sturdy, easy to clean, and have five different sizes in the set. I also own a set of metal mixing bowls too, because, well, they can be used for cooking, marinating, serving at parties, etc. Mixing bowls are the underrated workhorses of meal prep.
What you Don’t Need
I have read countless books and articles on meal prep and some of the things that make the ‘need’ to buy list for meal prep crack me up! An avocado slicer? Say what?! How in the world is that making my life easier? No, no, this falls into gadgets you don’t need! Herb scissors? What’s wrong with my regular cooking shears that came in my knife set decades ago? Nothing. Again, even if I could afford the drawer space, these are not a need.
A de-stemmer? It supposedly makes cutting stems faster. Maybe. Not going to invest the money to try it because my knives work perfectly fine and this is most definitely not a need.
Keeping It Simple
Here’s the thing, there are many tools out there that can make things easier, but I don’t think any of them are NECESSARY. Remember, my sole purpose is to show that anyone can successfully meal prep – regardless of time limitations.
The other important point I want to get across is I’m trying to keep things simple. It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated. If, after you’ve tried meal prep for a few weeks, you might decide an avocado slicer is a need for your family – then by all means, get it! But, not yet. Start small and work your way up.
At the end of the day, meal prep is a flexible idea that can be utilized to save you time, money, and possibly help improve your health. I think many people get turned off to the idea because they feel it is boring because they thing it is all about eating leftovers. To take the next step, I have created a simple Meal Prep Doesn’t Have to be Boring Guide (CLICK HERE) to get this absolutely free!