The secret to meal prep lies not in perseverance, but in efficiency. The goal isn’t to spend tons of time in the kitchen every week. In fact, it’s to do the exact opposite. You want to make as much food as you possibly can in only a few hours, so that your time spent eating far outweighs your time spent cooking. There are, of course, a few different ways to achieve this aim—but one of the easiest is to have a repertoire of go-to big-batch recipes you can whip up and dole out for days.
Now, anything can be a big-batch recipe if you’re willing to do a little math, but some dishes naturally lend themselves to the task. Casseroles, chilis, and soups are practically designed to last more than one sitting, especially if you’re only cooking for one or two. And pastas and stir-frys tend to be just as long-lasting. Even breakfast dishes—like oven-baked French toast—can fit the big-batch bill, so long as you have an oven-friendly dish big enough to hold all the bread in your kitchen.
But it’s not enough for a dish to be absolutely massive. In order to be meal prep-friendly, it needs to reheat well, too. Baked or fried eggs tend to be best the first time around, though you can likely get away with scrambling eggs and baking them into a casserole. And cream-and-flour-based pasta sauces tend to separate when reheated, leaving the average fettuccine alfredo looking more like buttered noodles adorned with chunks of wet flour.
Thankfully, there are tons of recipes that boast lots of servings and leftover-friendliness in equal measure—leaving you with tons of options in the meal prep department. Select a few dishes you wouldn’t mind eating for the foreseeable future and get cooking—the time you spend in the kitchen now is time you’ve saved later.
The Recipe: This spice-filled chicken cacciatore is a big-batch dish you can make in a single pan. Stock up on chicken thighs, red wine, and all your favorite spices, and sit back while your chicken practically cooks itself in just 35 minutes.
The Pro Tip: Instead of cooking with fresh garlic, Feed Me Phoebe uses a garlic-infused oil. “Though I would have called you a bold-faced liar if you told me I’d feel this way a year ago, the truth is: I don’t miss cooking with garlic and onion,” she says. “It saves me time, makes me feel my best, and the end result tastes just as delicious.”
The Recipe: This butternut squash ravioli is a delicious way to sneak some veggies into your diet. Walnuts, cinnamon, and cumin leave the butternut squash and roasted cauliflower tasting as delightful as the buttered pasta noodles—and that’s saying something.
The Pro Tip: Feel free to make your own pasta, but Hello Glow recommends using a store-bought option. “Three Bridges Butternut Squash Ravioli makes a great base for this platter of roasted cauliflower and brown butter sauce with walnuts and crispy sage leaves,” she says. And really, why complicate things unnecessarily?
The Recipe: Though this veggie-packed soup is filled with winter greens, it’s a fit for any time of year. (Really, is there ever a bad time for cauliflower, brussels sprouts, or broccoli?) Though some creamy soups don’t freeze well, this recipe calls for blended cashews instead of standard cream. This swap leaves the dish with a delightfully smooth texture that’s sure to be preserved each time you freeze and reheat it.
The Pro Tip: Can’t stand the thought of serving soup without a little cream? Sugar Salted recommends adding a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche while serving. “Add as much as you want according to your own taste,” she says. And if you’d prefer a dairy-free alternative, try coconut milk.
The Recipe: Lunches and dinners aren’t the only meals worth prepping. This baked pumpkin pie French toast recipe will have you set for breakfast and dessert for days on end. All you need is a little bread, some pumpkin puree, a handful of eggs, and some milk, and you’ll be well on your way to whipping up this delectable dish.
The Pro Tip: Feed Me Phoebe recommends leaving the bread to soak in its indulgent French toast sauce overnight, if possible. But if you’re ready to devour your dish as soon as possible, you can shorten the soaking period to an hour. “The beauty of the overnight French toast technique is that it’s completely fuss-free for serving a crowd,” she says. “But you can also easily bake off the whole casserole after an hour of soaking the bread in the custard and still get a delicious result.”
The Recipe: Packed with protein, nutrients, and flavor, Hello Glow’s chicken fajita meal prep bowls check off all the boxes of a good meal. The best part? The recipe calls for you to save some of its most delicious ingredients—sour cream, lime wedges, avocado, onions, and cilantro—for serving, so you’ll always feel like you’ve had a freshly cooked meal (even if all you’ve done is pop the dish in the microwave and thrown some stuff on top).
The Pro Tip: Though Hello Glow’s recipe calls for sliced, pre-cooked chicken, she still recommends sautéing it with the rest of the veggies and spices. Why? Flavor, of course. Once your veggies start turning golden on the edges, cut the heat, and toss your pre-cooked chicken in the pan. Throw in a few extra spices, and continue adding them until you’ve achieved the flavor profile you’re after.
The Recipe: These French onion lasagna roll-ups combine two of our favorite things: French onion soup and cheese-packed lasagna. This recipe calls for three different kinds of cheese and a handful of spices—plus, a little spinach and shredded chicken for good measure. Put simply, it boasts everything you could want from a meal—and it only takes 30 minutes to cook.
The Pro Tip: “While this dish does have a lot of moving parts, you can essentially make most of it in one skillet,” How Sweet Eats says. You can caramelize your onions and craft your béchamel using the same pan. After that, all you need is an oven-friendly container, and you’ll be good to go.
The Recipe: This smoky chickpea, cabbage, and lentil stew isn’t just packed with veggies—it’s also loaded with protein. Lentils and chickpeas offer filling flavor, while onions, carrots, cabbage, and kale ensure you’re getting your daily servings of veggies. Add avocado oil and liquid smoke for a little extra flavor, and you’ve got a veritable showstopper on your hands.
The Pro Tip: The First Mess crafted this recipe while participating in Veganuary (vegan January), so in addition to being veggie-packed, this recipe is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. The First Mess calls this big-batch recipe a “mega-dose of vegetables.” And of course, she recommends serving the soup hot.
The Recipe: This sausage breakfast casserole is hearty enough to eat during any meal. So if you’re not a big breakfast person, don’t worry—it still has a place in your repertoire. Calling for sausage, eggs, red peppers, cheese, and pesto sauce, this dish is all kinds of flavorful—and it’s sure to keep you full until lunchtime.
The Pro Tip: Instead of opting for a more traditional breakfast casserole recipe, Food Faith Fitness pushed this dish in a decidedly Italian direction. “The herb-y pops of basil. The tangy, vinegar-y swirls of roasted red pepper. The salty, ooey-gooey Parmesan cheese. And these bursts of crunchy, fragrant pine nuts,” she says. “All those flavor profiles mix and mingle with the spices…[making] this easy breakfast casserole one serious way to start the day.”
The Recipe: If you’ve ever remarked that buffalo chicken dip is so good you could eat it on its own, you’ll surely love this buffalo chicken spaghetti squash recipe. Simply combine chicken breast, hot sauce, green onion, and mayonnaise with several pounds of spaghetti squash, and you’ll have a dish worth snacking on for days.
The Pro Tip: According to Food Faith Fitness, you can make this recipe happen with just about any chicken in your fridge. “As for what chicken to use...it’s really up to you,” she says. “You’re free to use leftover chicken thighs, shredded chicken, boiled chicken, grilled chicken, leftover rotisserie chicken, or whatever you’ve got on hand!”
The Recipe: Given its inherent big-batch nature and its ability to be frozen and reheated, shepherd’s pie is a perfect addition to your meal prep repertoire—and this vegan shepherd’s pie is no exception. Stock up on onions, carrots, peas, and lentils, and you’ll end up with a dish that’s loaded with protein and nutrients.
The Pro Tip: Take your shepherd’s pie to the next level by cooking with truffle oil. “Stirring in a little truffle oil to taste would add a layer of magic to this dish,” say Alex and Sonja of A Couple Cooks. They specifically recommend adding it during the potato layer of the pie, as the oil is likely to blend well with the veggie.
Jalapeño Slow-Cooker Beef Tacos
The Recipe: These jalapeño slow-cooker beef tacos offer an excellent way to add some fresh flavors (and some spice) to your meal prep routine. Jalapeño-covered, beer-braised beef combines with an equally flavorful mango-citrus salsa to create a dish that’s rich, spicy, and exciting all at once. Even better: Since you braise the beef in a slow cooker, the dish practically cooks itself.
The Pro Tip: When making shredded beef tacos, Hola Jalapeño suggests going with a seriously juicy, high-quality piece of meat. “The best taco meat recipe always starts with a well-marbled cut, meaning a large piece of meat with strands of white fat swirled throughout,” she says. “When making beef tacos, especially ones that are cooked low and slow, you want to use chuck roast or blade roast, also sometimes labeled as pot roast.”
The Recipe: This chicken marsala recipe makes cooking a restaurant-worthy entree seem easy, and it’ll ply you with enough delicious chicken for at least six servings. With a single pan, some chicken, a little wine, and some carefully selected spices, you can craft the kind of dish you’d expect on a fancy night out. And yes, it’ll taste just as lovely after you’ve frozen and reheated it.
The Pro Tip: Your sauce should be a sauce—not a gravy. “Don’t mistake the sauce for gravy,” FoodieCrush says. “It should still be glossy, light, and easy to drizzle.” And don’t over-reduce it, either. You want enough sauce to pack your chicken with flavor.
The Recipe: Searching for a way to make routine meal prep feel a little fancier? This cauliflower and brie baked risotto should do the trick. Creamy, rich, and filling, this cheese-packed pasta would make a perfect side—or a seriously indulgent entree.
The Pro Tip: The best part about making this risotto is that you can toss everything in a single pot, and let your oven work its magic. “Go do something (un?)productive for a half hour or so,” How Sweet Eats says. By the time you get back, your risotto will be ready to go.