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40 meal prep ideas to repurpose throughout the week

Save money, time and so much stress with these make-ahead recipes.
Recipe for slow-cooker minestrone soup
Casey Barber / TODAY

Meal prep is meant to save time and reduce stress, but knowing where to start can feel a bit overwhelming. There are a lot of opinions swirling around easy meal prep ideas and the best recipes for streamlining your week.

Ultimately, successful meal prep is about what will work for your lifestyle — the main factors being who you’re cooking for during the week and what you (and those in your household, if that’s the case) enjoy eating.

Visualizing the week ahead is key. Create a list of what to eat Monday through Friday list, with a tab for breakfast, lunch and dinner. From there, you can fill in the blanks — maybe you buy lunch at work or you’re going out to dinner on Thursday evening and don’t need to plan for those meals. We suggest starting with the proteins — determining these will help build the foundation of your week’s menu. Then, you can figure out how you might stretch the main into multiple meals, which can save even more time (and money!).

Once you get in a routine, meal planning becomes easier and lightens the weekday load. We promise a little prep will put pep in your step!

Breakfast

You’ll go nuts for these pecan-studded muffins. Make a batch on Sunday to enjoy all week long. The best part? The recipe calls for refrigerated biscuits, so the prep is easy, too!

Easy Egg Bites

With the help of a blender and frozen spinach, these protein-packed egg bites are the perfect on-the-go breakfast. They’ll last in the freezer for up to two months, so feel free to double the ingredients and bake an extra batch.

Cold Brew Overnight Oats

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Cold Brew Overnight Oats

Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN

Have your cup of joe and eat your breakfast all in one bite! For this genius recipe, rolled oats are soaked in a combination of cold brew and plant-based milk (feel free to sub regular milk in here if you’d like). Flax seeds and peanut butter provide an extra boost to get you going in the a.m.

Fancy bags of granola can cost big bucks, so whipping up a batch at home is guaranteed to save you money. Use this recipe as a guide rather than a strict set of rules: Swap the nuts, seeds and dried fruit with whatever you have on hand, then enjoy it like you would a bowl of cereal or sprinkled atop your favorite yogurt.

Coconut Chia Pudding

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Coconut Chia Pudding

Sweet Potato Chronicles

The pickiest of eaters will appreciate this fully customizable breakfast. Simply combine a handful of ingredients for the pudding base and let it do its thing overnight. In the morning, top it with fresh fruit, nuts, seeds and the sweetener of your choice.

These freezer-friendly muffins will win over the hearts of every banana bread lover. They’re totally classic (but get an extra-sweet touch from chocolate chips!) and require just three steps for what might be the easiest, tastiest breakfast of all time.

“Soufflé” might conjure up ideas of tedious (and temperamental) French cooking, but this make-ahead version is just the opposite. Store-bought puff pastry is filled with eggs, cheese, spinach and artichokes for a simple and satisfying breakfast that’ll make you feel fancy.

You’ll want to quadruple this decadent, dessert-like breakfast for the work week. Cocoa powder provides richness while skim milk, chia seeds and banana add oomph to these deliciously nutritious overnight oats.

Hard-Boiled Egg

Leave the green eggs to Dr. Seuss. Chef Geoffrey Zakaraian spells out three simple steps to achieve hard-boiled perfection. The bright yellow yolks and easy peeling might make it your favorite meal prep activity (it’s oh so satisfying).

Set yourself up for morning success with a healthy quick bread that tastes like pancakes! This recipe is a riff on the loaf made famous by Trader Joe’s. It’s a gluten- and dairy-free recipe, which opens the door for those with dietary restrictions but will more than satisfy those who don’t have any. Slice, eat, repeat.

Salads

Green Goddess Salad

This salad from the Baked By Melissa cupcake founder went viral for good reason — the green goddess dressing is packed with flavor and is fully customizable with whatever greens, herbs, and nuts you have on hand. Store extra dressing in your fridge to drizzle over breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Super fresh, nutrient-dense and easy to assemble, this salad checks all the boxes. Of course, it can be eaten right away, but trust us when we say it gets even better with a little time.

An antipasto-inspired salad that’ll make you pro-pasta salad (if you aren’t already): Spicy, vinegary pepperoncini, crunchy veggies and a mix of Italian cheeses and cured meats wake up a tired party staple. Say “ciao” to a once stodgy summer side!

Get whisked away to coastal Italy in just one bite. Briny and bright, think of this as a refined version of tuna salad. It’s bulked up with chickpeas, so it can no doubt be served a full-fledged meal.

There’s no need to even turn on a stove — let alone a kettle — for this easy and healthy tabouli-inspired salad. Just combine a few pantry staples and some fresh produce, then let the magic happen overnight. The couscous soaks up all the juices and is ready to go come mealtime.

Tahini is the not-so-secret star of this easy midday meal. The creamy sesame sauce coats whole wheat spaghetti and a boatload of veggies for a comforting, good-for-you bowl of noodles. For a heartier lunch (or dinner!)l, fold in a cup or two of shredded rotisserie chicken.

Caprese Pasta Salad with Crispy Prosciutto

Just when you thought Caprese salad was already perfect, crispy prosciutto enters the equation. The rest of the salad is easy to prep, but it should be tossed just before serving (no one wants soggy spinach). Save time by cooking the prosciutto in advance — just store it in an airtight container in the fridge.

Some dishes just get better with time, and this one is certainly the case. Knock this out up to five (yes, five!) days ahead to let the veggies bathe in the Thai-inspired spicy lime dressing.

Barbecue Chicken Quinoa Salad

Healthy meal prep got even easier with this Southwestern bowl. Cook the quinoa and chicken the night before (or swap in a rotisserie chicken to save even more time). When meal time arrives, you really just need to open a can or two and garnish your dish.

Soups

Slow-Cooker Minestrone Soup

While the ingredient list might be a bit intimidating, there’s not much to do once the prep is finished. (Plus, it wouldn’t really be minestrone without all of these flavor drivers!) Since the slow cooker does the work, there’s no need to tend to the stove.

Old-Fashioned Chicken Noodle Soup

A year-round classic, this tried-and-true soup is bound to warm your belly and your soul. Prepare this soup whenever you have down time, then freeze in individual containers so you can grab one whenever the mood strikes.

Spicy White Bean Soup with Greens and Turkey

Soups are one of the best make-ahead meals that exist, and recipe superstar Melissa Clark always finds a way to reinvent the wheel. This one is highly adaptable: swap ground turkey with chicken or beef, use any greens you love or have on hand and omit the red pepper flakes for those who can’t handle the heat.

Coconut milk, red curry paste, fish sauce and lime hit all the taste buds in this Thai-inspired soup. Simmer the broth a day or two ahead to save time, then simply reheat and add noodles when you’re hungry.

Mainly meat

Slow-Cooker Shredded Chicken

If you’re faced with a busy week, one of the easiest things you can do to streamline your meals is make shredded chicken. Here, the slow cooker does most of the work, setting you up for a successful week of easy dinners.

The Internet has spoken: Busy home cooks love a sheet pan dinner. In this version of Italian sausage and peppers, the links cook alongside the sliced veggies and potatoes, all working to flavor each other. If you don’t have time for the sauce, drizzle everything with a good jarred pesto.

Chances are, if you have one cup of shredded pork, you probably have two (pork shoulder produces a ton of leftovers!), so you might want to double this sauce. Ragu freezes beautifully, and it will bring you joy when you rediscover it in the depths of your icebox a couple of months down the road.

Cooking takeout at home can be just as delicious, plus it saves money and you can control the ingredients. If you’re tight on time, make the sauce and filling in advance, then reheat when you’re ready to fill the leaves.

Whole Roasted Chicken

Unlike store-bought rotisserie chicken, preparing poultry from scratch allows you to control the level of salt and spices. Sure, a whole chicken is the perfect centerpiece for a simple meal, but the meat (and bones — hello stock!) can also be stretched for days.

Siri Daly's Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork

Pork shoulder is one of the most economical cuts of meat available — and arguably one of the most flavorful. It’s also freezer friendly, so don’t shy away from the large yield. Think of using it beyond the bun — assemble quesadillas or scatter the filling over tortilla chips for Friday night nachos (yes, nachos can be dinner).

Rid yourself of Sunday Sauce rules: Meatballs can be a midweek meal, too. To save time, form meatballs and refrigerate them the night before (chilling them will also help maintain their delicate structure if they’re pan-fried). Gently simmer them in sauce (perhaps you made one ahead as well?), serve with pasta and dinner is done in no time.

Rice and grains

Rice isn’t that difficult to make, but preparing it certainly adds extra minutes to an otherwise speedy meal — especially if you consider the prep, cooking and standing time. For a narrower cooking-to-eating timeframe, make use of your Instant Pot and prepare a large batch of rice in just 15 minutes to use throughout the week.

Don’t you love when something sounds fancy but is actually super easy? Whip up this jasmine rice just as you normally would, but throw in an herbal tea sachet. Serve the rice with a heap of sheet pan roasted veggies for a speedy supper.

It seems like the possibilities of repurposing rotisserie chicken are endless — and that’s because they are. This time around, it’s stir-fried with cooked rice, frozen veggies, eggs and soy sauce for a meal that’s on the table in 20 minutes.

Toasted spices and creamy yogurt give life to leftover rice in this South Indian dish. Fresh ginger and chiles, plus yellow mustard seeds and curry leaves, perk up plain basmati, turning it into an unexpected side dish that’s jam-packed with flavor.

Vegetable side dishes

Sheet-Pan Korean Barbecue Cauliflower

Meat-centric Korean barbecue gets a new look with this veggie-focused sheet pan recipe. Cauliflower, mushrooms and bok choy take center stage, roasting under high heat and are then caramelized in Korean barbecue sauce.

Perfect Roast Vegetables

Whether you’re using up odds and ends from your kitchen or are trying to get ahead of the week by roasting a pile of veggies, it’ll help if you know the best methods for getting you from Point A (your cutting board) to Point B (your mouth). Roasting happens somewhere in between, and can vary from (A)sparagus to (Z)ucchini.

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Tahini

No offense to cauliflower (we love you!), but the lemon tahini dressing makes this cruciferous veggie instantly more appealing. Try it on roasted broccoli, sweet potatoes or Brussels sprouts — it’s tough to think of any veggies this sauce wouldn’t complement, so why not just make a big batch and put it on everything?

If you haven’t met awaze, it’s time you did. Wine, honey, and warm spices are blended to make this spicy, sweet and sour Ethiopian sauce, which is typically served with meat. Here, it’s used to glaze carrots, onions and chickpeas for an easy and healthy vegetarian dish.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Chopping and slicing vegetables can be the most time-consuming part of meal prep, so sometimes it’s best to get it all done in one fell swoop. And, while you’re at it, roast ‘em, too! Roasted veggies hold up well for a few days in the fridge, and you can use them throughout the work week to balance out your meals.

Berbere-Roasted Carrots with Oranges

Making a large batch of your favorite spice blends is a great way to speed up your future meal prep. Having the blends on hand saves time, so you don’t have to recreate them everytime you revisit a recipe. And they don’t have to be recipe-specific: Berbere, the Ethiopian spice used for these roasted carrots, would taste delicious rubbed on beef or lamb.