25 Tasty Dinner Meal-Prep Recipes You Can Make Ahead

For easy and healthy dinners that don't require cooking after a long day of work, try these budget-friendly meal-prep ideas.
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After you've managed to put together a nutritious breakfast and lunch, you may not have the energy to dream up and prepare a homemade dinner after a long day. Meal prepping in advance can help you avoid succumbing to a last-minute idea such as unhealthy frozen pizza or pricey takeout.


"We are often restricted by time or stress, and planning healthy meals can save time, effort and energy — making the healthy choice the easy choice," Tennessee-based registered dietitian Mary-Catherine Stockman tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Plus, planning and prepping meals can help you feel empowered about your health and more in control of your food choices."

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Dinner Meal-Prep Tips

At first, it can seem like taking the steps required for planning and prepping your meals in advance aren't worth the effort. But as you get used to the process, you'll pick up tricks and ideas that make meal prepping easier. In the long run, it'll save you loads of time (and money, too).

  • Start a meal-rotation calendar.‌ "Meal rotation involves selecting recipes you like, gathering them in one spot and scheduling them on a calendar for the week or month, depending on how many recipes you like," says Natalie Allen, registered dietitian and assistant professor at Missouri State University. For example, if there's a tempeh recipe that you love to make, create a two-week meal rotation that includes that dish every other Tuesday.

  • Put your slow cooker to work.‌ This essential kitchen gadget cuts a significant amount of hands-on cooking time. "Many adults and children participate in after-work or after-school activities, and it's easy to come home to an already-made meal," Stockholm says. That's why she deems the slow cooker the perfect weeknight warrior.

  • Use leftovers for lunch.‌ The slow cooker can also help you create big batches of dinners, which make for delicious leftovers. "My personal favorite slow cooker recipe is shredded chicken, which can be made into several dishes and used as leftovers for the next day's lunch," Stockholm says.

  • Repurpose ingredients.‌ "Buy one set of groceries, and use the items to make at least three different types of dinners for the week," Allen suggests. For example, you can use ground turkey to make a flavorful meatloaf, a bean-and-turkey chili ‌and‌ a batch of meatballs.


3 Benefits of Meal-Prepping Dinner

1. It's a timesaver.‌ Weeknight schedules can be chaotic. There's work, errands, extracurricular activities, daily household maintenance... Most of us will take any help we can get when it comes to putting dinner on the table! Meal prepping parts of or all of your meals in advance can help ease the evening load. Result? Less stress.


2. It's budget-friendly.‌ There's nothing wrong with occasionally getting takeout or dining in at restaurants, of course, but the expense can rack up quickly. Meal prepping dinner means that you've got economical, home-cooked meals ready to go, no matter what unexpected tasks come your way — and that will save you money in the long run.


3. It supports nutrition and weight-loss goals.‌ By planning ahead, you can keep meals balanced and healthy throughout the week. "Cooking at home is associated with better diet quality," notes research published in the May 2017 ‌American Journal of Preventive Medicine‌. "Meals away from home were associated with more calories, sodium and fat."

Next time you're wondering what to prepare for dinner for the week ahead, try some of the recipe ideas that follow.


Dinner Meal-Prep Recipes

1. Teriyaki Chicken Stir-Fry

Eat this stir-fry alone or add it to a bed of brown rice or whole-wheat linguine.

You can't go wrong with the chicken breast and vegetables in this tasty stir-fry recipe. To make it even healthier, decrease the sodium. "Choose low-sodium chicken broth and reduce the amount of soy sauce," suggests New York-based registered dietitian Nicole Rodriguez.


Get the Teriyaki Chicken Stir-Fry recipe‌‌ and nutrition info from Eat Yourself Skinny.

2. Instant Pot Red Beans and Rice

Add this rice-and-bean combination to your Meatless Monday list.

"To make this dish even more quickly, use canned beans," says Rodriguez. "Just be sure to choose the low-sodium variety, and rinse them before cooking to remove more of the salt." Boost flavor and nutrition further by sprinkling fresh herbs (such as cilantro) on top before serving.



Get the Instant Pot Red Beans and Rice recipe‌‌ and nutrition info from The Simple Veganista.

3. Skillet Meatballs and Marinara

Spaghetti and meatballs are a classic crowd-pleaser and family favorite.

"To reduce the saturated fat content and increase nutrient density, substitute 90 percent-lean ground beef for half of the sausage," Rodriguez suggests. "Lean beef has zinc — which is key for immune support — as well as selenium, which helps protect cells from damage."


Get the Skillet Meatballs and Marinara recipe ‌‌and nutrition info from Budget Bytes.

4. Cheeseburger Meatloaf

Instead of mashed potatoes, consider serving with a baked sweet potato or a cup of brown rice.

Enjoying meals like this is totally doable on any diet, as long as you control the portion sizes. "Stretch the meatloaf and potatoes across more servings and increase the vegetable component," Rodriguez says. "You'll still be satisfied, without feeling as though you ate a brick."

Get the Cheeseburger Meatloaf recipe ‌‌and nutrition info from Budget Bytes.

5. Turkey Chili

Instead of topping your chili with high-fat fixings, toss on some fresh herbs and sliced jalapeños.

"While chilis are a great way to get in a load of nutrition — such as plant protein-rich beans and fibrous veggies — they can be high in sodium," points out New York-based nutrition expert Mia Syn, RDN. You can cut the sodium in this recipe by using low-sodium chicken broth and adding spices and herbs for flavor instead of more salt.


Get the Turkey Chili recipe ‌‌and nutrition info from The Cookie Rookie.

6. Sheet-Pan Honey Garlic Shrimp and Broccoli

Shrimp is a low-calorie, high-protein food that is sure to keep you full for hours.

Sheet-pan meals are a great go-to on busy weeknights. "This recipe is balanced with protein from shrimp, good fats from olive oil and fiber from the veggies," Syn says. "Serve over whole-grain brown rice to build a complete meal."

Get the Sheet-Pan Honey Garlic Shrimp and Broccoli recipe and nutrition info from Nourish and Fete.

7. Garlic Lovers' Pepper Steak

Skip takeout and make this flavorful, veggie-rich dish at home.

This recipe is truly customizable since it can be made using any meat or plant-based protein as the base. (We recommend chicken, shrimp or tempeh.) To make it a balanced meal, serve it with a whole grain like quinoa, farro or brown rice.

Get the Garlic Lovers' Pepper Steak recipe and nutrition info from Little Spice Jar.

8. Sheet-Pan BBQ Tofu

This plant-based dinner will keep hunger pangs at bay thanks to its high fiber content.

There's so much to love about this flavor-rich dish: It's bursting with sweet and smoky tofu, crunchy kale and peppers and hearty quinoa. If you're feeling a bit ambitious, try your hand at making the accompanying Jalapeño Ranch Sauce to top it all off.


Get the Sheet-Pan BBQ Tofu recipe and nutrition info from Dishing Out Health.

9. Sheet-Pan Chicken Sausage with Broccoli, Peppers and Potatoes

Chopping all the veggies in this recipe evenly will ensure that the dish cooks uniformly.

Sheet-pan dinners don't have to be served as is. To create a well-balanced meal, try serving this recipe with brown rice, inside a whole-wheat wrap or even on top of a salad.

Get the Sheet-Pan Chicken Sausage with Broccoli, Peppers and Potatoes recipe and nutrition info from Nourish and Fete.

10. Sweet Potato Burrito Bowls

If you don't have time to dice your sweet potatoes and roast them, just keep them whole and fill them with the fixings.

Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, according to the USDA. And because a single tater provides 4 grams of fiber, they're sure to keep you feeling satiated.

Get the Sweet Potato Burrito Bowls recipe and nutrition info from Dishing Out Health.

11. Sheet-Pan Sesame Chicken and Veggies

Choose your vegetable mix based on what you have in your pantry and fridge.

This sheet-pan dinner is simple to make and full of fresh, wholesome ingredients. "In addition to offering vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of the veggies contribute to the fiber content of the recipe to help keep you fuller for longer," Connecticut-based registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Gorin notes.

Get the Sheet-Pan Sesame Chicken and Veggies recipe and nutrition info from Eat Yourself Skinny.

12. Chicken Satay Skewers

Meal prepping isn't solely for the kitchen — you can use your barbecue to make meals for the week, too.

"You'll get plenty of heart-healthy fat from the peanut butter, peanut oil and sesame oil in this recipe," Gorin says. Make it a complete meal by serving the skewers alongside sautéed bok choy and brown rice.

Get the Chicken Satay Skewers recipe and nutrition info from JoyFoodSunshine.

13. Butternut Squash Lasagna

Cook up this recipe during the fall and winter months when butternut squash is in season.

When you make your next meal-prepped lasagna, switch things up by skipping the wide, ruffly noodles and reaching instead for the versatile veggie known as squash. "Butternut squash provides so many vitamins and minerals," says Gorin. "And onions boast the antioxidant allicin."

Get the Butternut Squash Lasagna recipe and nutrition info from Healthy Seasonal Recipes.

14. Sweet Potato Taco Bowls

Add this Mexican-inspired bowl to your Meatless Monday menu.

"Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of dietary fiber and beta carotene, a carotenoid that your body turns into vitamin A," says Sarah Jackson, MS, RDN of Origin Nutrition. "Vitamin A has been shown to boost immune function and collagen production and is integral for our eye health."

Get the Sweet Potato Taco Bowls recipe and nutrition info from Six Sisters Stuff.

15. Sardine Salad

Replacing the mayo with mashed avocado may help reduce the saturated fat content of this dish.

Even if you're not a huge fan of sardines, this fishy salad is worth a taste. "Sardines are an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids," Jackson says. To increase the fiber and protein in the dish, serve it alongside a slice of whole-grain or sprouted bread.

Get the Sardine Salad recipe and nutrition info from Salt and Lavender.

16. Cheesy Sausage Potato Soup

Serve this hearty soup with a side salad or raw veggies and dip.

Soups are perfect for meal prepping because one batch goes a long way. "The broccoli florets in this recipe are loaded with dietary fiber, polyphenols and micronutrients," says Jackson. "To keep the sodium content down, consider using low-sodium stock or broth. Excess sodium can raise blood pressure levels."

Get the Cheesy Sausage Potato Soup recipe and nutrition info from The Seasoned Mom.

17. One-Pan Indian Chicken and Rice

This exotic take on classic chicken and rice gets extra texture and nutrition from cauliflower.

One-pot dishes come in handy when meal prepping because they're quick, easy and keep cleanup to a minimum. Turmeric and tomatoes are the star ingredients of this dish. "Turmeric contains a bioactive compound, curcumin, which has been used in Ayurveda for centuries for its medicinal properties," Jackson says. "Tomatoes naturally contain the plant polyphenol lycopene, which has been studied for its anticancer and heart-health properties."

Get the One-Pan Indian Chicken and Rice recipe and nutrition info from Lexi's Clean Kitchen.

18. Classic Beef and Tomato Stew

Pop this stew into your Instant Pot or slow cooker for super easy meal prep.

"During the winter months, it's crucial to load up on foods that contain immune-boosting nutrients," Jackson says. "For instance, peas are an excellent source of vitamins E, C and zinc, all of which promote a healthy immune system." Another big bonus of this stew? It's gluten- and dairy-free.

Get the Classic Beef and Tomato Stew recipe and nutrition info from Eat Yourself Skinny.

19. Tuscan White Bean Pasta

Double up on the spinach in this recipe to boost its non-heme fiber content.

This meatless pasta dish uses white beans as a source of protein and fiber. "Cannellini beans are creamy in texture and pack a nutritious punch," Jackson says. "They are rich in dietary fiber, which aids in digestive health, regulates healthy blood sugar levels and reduces LDL or 'bad' cholesterol."

Get the Tuscan White Bean Pasta recipe and nutrition info from Budget Bytes.

20. Creamy Vegan Tofu Cauliflower Curry

For a lower carb meal, skip the white rice and opt for riced cauliflower or riced broccoli.

"Tofu is a soybean curd consumed widely among those opting for a nutritious meat alternative," Jackson notes. "Soy is one of the few plant proteins that contain all nine essential amino acids, much like animal proteins do." Tofu is also extremely versatile and soaks up any flavors it's paired with.

Get the Creamy Vegan Tofu Cauliflower Curry recipe and nutrition info from Minimalist Baker.

21. Quinoa Black Bean Burgers

Serve these vegetarian burgers on a whole-wheat bun with extra veggies to keep you fuller longer.

Meal-prepping specific ingredients or certain parts of a recipe ahead of time is super helpful when it comes to getting a healthy and balanced meal on the table. (That's what TV chefs do, after all.) The quinoa and black beans in this meatless recipe result in a burger patty that's just as satiating as one made with an animal protein. Want to get as much nutrition as possible out of your veggie burgers? Jackson recommends soaking the beans thoroughly before cooking them.

Get the Quinoa Black Bean Burgers recipe and nutrition info from Fit Mitten Kitchen.

22. Beef Shawarma Bowls with Vermicelli Rice

Customize this bowl recipe with your favorite veggies and protein-rich dips.

Creating custom bowls like the one in this recipe is a great way to increase your vegetable intake, Jackson notes. "Vegetables like cucumbers contain the mineral potassium, which is helpful for regulating healthy blood pressure," she adds. Bonus: Recipes like this one make for tasty leftovers, too.

Get the Beef Shawarma Bowls with Vermicelli Rice recipe and nutrition info from Little Spice Jar.

23. Unstuffed Peppers

This one-pot meal is a great balance of protein, carbs, fats and veggies.

There's so much to love about this casserole-like dish. Want to amp up its nutrition even more? Increase the fiber content by replacing the rice with quinoa and putting in more vegetables. "To boost your antioxidant intake, you can also garnish this dish with fresh herbs," says Jackson.

Get the Unstuffed Peppers recipe and nutrition info from Cotter Crunch.

24. Chicken Fajitas

Serve this chicken fajita recipe on tortillas — or use lettuce wraps for a lower-carb option.

Fajitas are a great choice for meal prepping because all you need to do ahead of time is prepare the meat and veggies. This recipe uses boneless chicken breasts (which are a great lean-meat option), but you can use whatever meat you have on hand. When it's time to serve, simply warm some tortillas and put out various toppings and dips for the entire family to enjoy.

Get the Chicken Fajitas recipe and nutrition info from Spoon Fork Bacon.

25. Taco Turkey Chili

Top this chili with Greek yogurt instead of sour cream for an added protein boost.

Chili is one of those meals that keeps on giving. We love that this particular recipe uses ground turkey as its base, to keep the calorie and fat content down. Pots of chili also provide great camouflage for hiding vegetables from picky eaters, so sneak in as many vitamin-rich veggies as you can. Spinach, carrots, squash, zucchini ... the options are endless (and they'll never know).

Get the Taco Turkey Chili recipe and nutrition info from Wholefully.




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