After managing to put together a nutritious breakfast and lunch, it can seem like far too much to dream up a homemade dinner after a long day. But meal prepping can help you avoid succumbing to a convenience option like frozen pizza or 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," Mary-Catherine Stockman, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com. Plus, planning and prepping meals can help you feel empowered about your health and more in control of your food choices, she adds.
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Dinner Meal Prep Tips
At first, it can seem like the steps required for planning and prepping your meals are a few too many to be worth the effort. But as you get used to the process, you'll pick up tricks that make meal prepping easier. In the long run, it'll save you loads of time and will be well worth the effort.
- 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, RD and assistant professor at Missouri State University. For example, if there's a recipe that you or your family loves for beef kebabs, create a two-week meal rotation that includes that recipe every other Tuesday.
- Maximize the slow cooker. This essential kitchen gadget cuts a significant amount of hands-on cooking time. "Many adults and children alike 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 great 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.
- Recycle ingredients. "Buy one set of groceries, and use the items to make at least three different types of dinners for the week," Allen says. For example, if you buy ground turkey for the week, you can use it to make a flavorful meatloaf, bean-and-turkey chili and a batch of meatballs.
Try some of the recipes below next time you're wondering what meals to prepare for dinner.
Dinner Meal Prep Recipes
1. Rotisserie Chicken Lasagna
Meal-prepping this lasagna is quick: Just assemble the dish by layering whole-grain noodles, marinara sauce, balsamic vinegar and a blend of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, and then stick it in the fridge until you're ready to bake it. Then take it out of the freezer the day before you want to eat it and let it thaw in the refrigerator before popping it in the oven.
Get the Rotisserie Chicken Lasagna recipe and nutrition info here.
2. Slow Cooker Beef Stew
To make this tasty beef stew, just chop all the ingredients, toss them into a gallon-sized zip-top plastic bag on a weekend or slow afternoon and pop them into the refrigerator. Then, dump the bag into the slow cooker on the day you've planned the meal. Give it 6 to 8 hours while you're at work or taking care of other business, and dinner will be ready when you are.
Get the Slow Cooker Beef Stew recipe and nutrition info here.
3. Farmers' Market Meatloaf
This meatloaf boasts a plethora of chopped vegetables tucked into the loaf for added vitamins and fiber. Make meal prepping this protein-rich recipe easier by chopping all the vegetables at once and then storing them in clear containers in the refrigerator. Throughout the week, scoop out the portion of veggies that you need for the dish you're making.
Get the Farmer's Market Meatloaf recipe and nutrition info here.
4. Simple Turkey Salsa Chili
This six-ingredient chili doesn't take much time if you're cooking it just before dinner, but it can also be prepped in advance and refrigerated for a quick supper later in the week. The turkey's lean protein will keep you full and satisfied so you can avoid those midnight munchies.
In fact, getting enough protein (aim for at least 15 grams at each meal) is one of the best ways to manage your weight, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Get the Simple Turkey Salsa Chili recipe and nutrition info here.
5. Turkey Basil Meatballs
Turkey meatballs can be made in advance and frozen for use throughout the week. And they're versatile: You can lay them on a bed of whole-wheat pasta or on a whole-grain roll. Plus, turkey is leaner than ground beef, so you'll easily slash your intake of saturated fat by making this dish.
Get the Turkey Basil Meatballs recipe and nutrition info here.
6. Cincinnati-Style Veggie Chili Bake
This particular recipe calls for whole-wheat pasta rather than the enriched white version — a change that boosts the fiber content. Prep the chili bake by cooking the pasta and chili of your choice ahead of time and storing it in the refrigerator until you're ready to dig in.
Get the Cincinnati-Style Veggie Chili Bake recipe and nutrition info here.
7. Teriyaki Chicken Stir-Fry
You can't go wrong with chicken breast and vegetables in this tasty stir-fry recipe, dietitian Nicole Rodriguez, RD, says. But she warns that you should be mindful of sodium in this dish: "Choose low-sodium chicken broth and reduce the amount of soy sauce to avoid excessive sodium."
Get the Teriyaki Chicken Stir-Fry recipe and nutrition info from Eat Yourself Skinny.
8. Instant Pot Red Beans and Rice
To make this dish even quicker, consider using canned beans, Rodriguez says. Just be sure to choose the low-sodium variety and rinse them before cooking to remove some of the salt. To boost flavor and nutrition, sprinkle on fresh herbs such as cilantro before serving.
Get the Instant Pot Red Beans and Rice recipe and nutrition info from The Simple Veganista.
9. Skillet Meatballs and Marinara
"Substitute 90 percent lean ground beef for half of the sausage to reduce saturated fat content and increase nutrient density," Rodriguez suggests. "Lean beef has zinc, which is key for immune support and selenium, which helps protect cells from damage."
Get the Skillet Meatballs and Marinara recipe and nutrition info from Budget Bytes.
10. Cheeseburger Meatloaf
Enjoying meals like this is totally doable on any diet, as long as you consider 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.
11. Turkey Chili
"While chilis are a great way to get in a load of nutrition like plant protein-rich beans, fibrous veggies and lean proteins, they can be high in sodium," Mia Syn, RD, says. To reduce sodium, choose low-sodium chicken broth and canned beans, and rely on spices and herbs to flavor the soup instead of too much salt.
Get the Turkey Chili recipe and nutrition info from The Cookie Rookie.
12. Sheet-Pan Honey Garlic Shrimp and Broccoli
Sheet-pan meals are a 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.
13. Garlic Lovers' Pepper Steak
This recipe is truly customizable and can be made with any meat or plant-based protein as the base — choose from chicken, shrimp or tempeh. To make it a balanced meal, serve alongside a whole grain like quinoa, farro or brown rice.
Get the Garlic Lovers' Pepper Steak recipe and nutrition info from Little Spice Jar.
14. Sheet-Pan BBQ Tofu
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 a jalapeno ranch sauce to top it all off.
Get the Sheet-Pan BBQ Tofu recipe and nutrition info from Dishing Out Health.
15. Quinoa Stuffed Pepper
Stuffed peppers are versatile because they allow you to add any fillings that your family enjoys — this particular recipe features quinoa and veggies. Just be sure to steer clear of adding too much cheese and creamy sauces to keep this recipe nutritious and filling.
Get the Quinoa Stuffed Pepper recipe and nutrition info here.
16. Beet and Carrot Bowl With Savory Dressing
This vegan dinner bowl is rife with veggies including arugula, carrots and beets. Plus, it sneaks in pine nuts and pistachios for healthy fats. "Using nutritional yeast in this recipe adds cheesy flavor without dairy," Syn says. And it's a great source of B vitamins, too.
Get the Beet and Carrot Bowl With Savory Dressing recipe and nutrition info here.
17. Sheet-Pan Chicken Sausage With Broccoli, Peppers and Potatoes
Sheet-pan dinners don't have to be served as is: To make a well-balanced meal, try serving this with brown rice or even on a whole-wheat wrap or warm salad.
Get the Sheet-Pan Chicken Sausage With Broccoli, Peppers and Potatoes recipe and nutrition info from Nourish and Fete.
18. Supper Veggie Fried Rice
Consider this a dinner side dish or add a lean protein to make it the main entree. "I love that this recipe contains just 1 gram of saturated fat and 7 grams of fiber per serving," says Amy Gorin, RD, a plant-based dietitian in Stamford, Connecticut.
Get the Supper Veggie Fried Rice recipe and nutrition info here.
19. Sweet Potato Burrito Bowls
Sweet potatoes are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and one tater provides 4 grams of fiber, according to the USDA. And because they're nearly 80 percent water, they're sure to keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Get the Sweet Potato Burrito Bowls recipe and nutrition info from Dishing Out Health.
20. Sheet-Pan Sesame Chicken and Veggies
This sheet-pan dinner is simple 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," Gorin says.
Get the Sheet-Pan Sesame Chicken and Veggies recipe and nutrition info from Eat Yourself Skinny.
21. Chicken Satay Skewers
"You'll get plenty of heart-healthy fat from the peanut butter, peanut oil and sesame oil in this recipe," Gorin says. You can make it a complete meal by serving the skewers with sauteed bok choy and brown rice.
Get the Chicken Satay recipe and nutrition info from JoyFoodSunshine.
22. Butternut Squash Lasagna
Skip the noodles and reach for this versatile veggie for your next meal-prepped lasagna. "Butternut squash provides so many vitamins and minerals and onions boast the antioxidant allicin," Gorin says.
Get the Butternut Squash Lasagna recipe and nutrition info from Healthy Seasonal Recipes.
23. Avocado and Black Bean Burritos
You won't miss the meat in these burritos because they offer 13 grams of plant protein, mostly coming from the beans. "You'll also get cholesterol-lowering fiber from the whole-grain tortilla," Gorin says.
Get the Avocado and Black Bean Burritos recipe and nutrition info here.
24. Sausage, Peppers and Onions
This dish is very veggie-forward, but there's nothing wrong with adding even more. Sautéed onions are Gorin's go-to choice and you can even serve this atop a bed of cauliflower rice or zucchini spirals.
Get the Sausage, Peppers and Onions recipe and nutrition info here.
25. Protein Turkey Burger
If you're looking for a dinner that can be made in advance and is sure to keep you full for hours, look no further than the turkey burger. "Make it a complete meal by serving with a whole-grain bun and vegetables or open-faced on a salad," Gorin suggests.
Get the Protein Turkey Burger recipe and nutrition info here.