There’s nothing better than gathering around the kitchen table for a hearty home-cooked meal. Efficient food prep is key to ensuring you have time to enjoy your family’s company rather than chopping, mixing, and sautéing the evening away. But with demanding schedules and a busy social calendar, it can be hard to pull everything off. We’ve outlined several helpful hacks to ensure you get the most out of your food-prepping process.

Check your calendar.

Before you even think about your food prep plans, take a good hard look at your calendar. Do you have any date nights, dinners with friends, or evening work events planned? If so, you’ll want to account for these activities when deciding how many meals you need to prepare. When your week is hectic, throw in some extra prep work to create healthy snacks or breakfast and lunch options.

Look to your schedule to figure out the best window for actually preparing your meals. Take time to write out a detailed grocery list, shop for your supplies, and organize and execute your meals. Once you get cooking, it’s hard to stop! So, ensure your calendar is cleared for enough time to get everything done (about 4 hours should do the trick).

Plan with purpose.

As you decide which meals sound yummy, lean toward a menu with several overlapping ingredients. If you’re making three dishes with broccoli, for instance, you can use a food processor to efficiently cut up all the broccoli at once. 

Find foods that will cook evenly in one pan. If you uniformly cut chicken, zucchini, carrots, and corn, then they can likely be baked together with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Start with soups.

An orange soup sits in a bowl with white cream, herbs, and pumpkin seeds on top.

Soups are one of the most versatile items to cook—and they only get better with time—so start your week with a big batch. Soup stocks are perfect for throwing in leftover items, such as the celery remains from your tuna salad or the tomatoes that didn’t make it on your burger. They’re quick to heat back up and packed with flavor. You can eat them on their own or grab a slice of bread and get to dipping! Not only that, but they’re easy to make in a large pot, so you can keep plenty of extra for “fill-in” meals during the rest of the week.

Maximize your food prep potential.

Black beans and white rice are mixed together in a black bowl.

Whenever possible, look for ways to save time and prevent extra stress. Some top time savers include:

  • Make extra sauces to reuse. For instance, pesto can be mixed into your shrimp pasta, rubbed onto your grilled salmon, and added to mayonnaise to spread onto your chicken sandwich.  
  • Pick a versatile ingredient that tastes great in multiple meals. For example, black beans (buy them in bulk!) can be prepared in advance and then mixed into tortilla soup, pressed into quesadillas, added onto nachos, grilled into black bean burgers, stirred into rice, and sprinkled on top of salads.  
  • Find foods that don’t have to be monitored, so you can keep busy working on other things. If you make your quinoa in a rice cooker versus a pot, for instance, you won’t have to babysit it on the stove.  
  • Load up on veggies (frozen is fine). Ensure your dishes are filling and nutritious by packing in the good stuff—vegetables! Consider pre-cut to save time.  
  • Rely on Amazon Alexa™ or a similar tool (most phones have this capability) to keep multiple timers simultaneously. This will free your counter space from hand timers and your brain up to focus on the food.

Spend time with your family.

Rather than spending all day in the kitchen, use that time to connect with your family. Try teaching them a card game, playing catch at the park, or taking the dog for a walk together. You’ll be more relaxed and present knowing that the food prep work has already been done and that when you get home—dinner will be ready before you know it!

If you’re someone who is already a food prep wizard, consider looking for other ways to add structure to your life so that you can spend more time being present.