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Meal prep is supposed to make life easier by making weeknight dinners a breeze and ensuring you have lunch without buying takeout. What happens when you work the night shift and don’t have time to tend to meals at night?
How to Meal Prep When Working Nights
Whether you work nights and have less time to prep for the next day, or you are always rushing or simply not around to prepare dinners, we can assure you that meal prep is totally doable. With meal prep, there is always a way around any situation.
While I may not work night shifts personally, if there’s one thing I am completely appalled by, it is cooking and preparing food at night. Some call it laziness, yet it has taught me many tricks that keep me out of the kitchen at night, and it can help those who work nights.
Working nights can be stressful and exhausting, and the last thing you should think about is meal prepping food for breakfast, dinner, and lunch the next day. I will share my meal prep methods and ideas that help ensure you always have food available without any chaos or guilt.
Meal Prep on the Weekend
The ultimate and most important tip of all time in meal prep is to take a few hours over the weekend to meal prep for the entire week. Make a few meals to last you through the week’s dinners. Prep as much as you can for breakfast and lunch items. That way, you don’t have much to do at dinner.
You can freeze your dinners or keep them in airtight containers in the refrigerator for the week. Use leftovers for lunch if you don’t mind eating one dish more often. Preparing items for breakfast and lunch would include:
- Frying bacon or sausages
- Cooking up proteins for salads
- Making sandwiches for lunches
- Portioning kids’ snacks and fruits
I do not let a week pass without ensuring I do some sort of meal prep. Even if I still have several meals in the freezer, I focus on cutting up fruits, filling snack containers, and ensuring that anything I need during the week is ready or easy to throw together.
Meal Prep for the Month
If you have not tried meal prepping for the month, you miss the luxury of time freedom. Many choose weekly meal prep because it’s quicker, easier, and requires less storage space.
Prepping for the month can be a game-changer for someone who works nights. It takes a full day or two to ensure you have meals for every day of the month (including takeout days). You will never need to worry about not having dinner or preparing something on the spot.
Take Advantage of off Days
While using your off days to meal prep may not sound ideal, even if you spend an hour or two organizing your food, refreshing your cut-up fruit supply, washing and chopping veggies, or cooking one protein you will need the following week; it can take an immense load of pressure off your shoulder for the next workdays.
I understand that working nights makes it more difficult to keep up with the family and social life and get rest. That makes off days feel really short, yet using them to meal prep in some shape or form helps make daily life easier and slightly less exhausting.
Prepare Complete Dishes
One of the methods of meal prep people use is to prepare ingredients and components of meals instead of the entire dishes. Working nights mean you have a complicated schedule and often don’t have the time to throw a quick meal together.
Having full ready meals ready to go and only needing heating is the best way to help yourself if you work a night shift. Oven dishes are the best because you can toss them in, let them heat up, and it is done.
Examples of some easy meal preps that reheat well in the oven include the following:
- Baked spaghetti
- Roasted chicken
- Chicken wings
- Baked veggies
Ready-oven meals are my personal favorite. That means my family doesn’t have to think about what to do or flop the food when I’m not around. They can heat one of the meals and have delicious homemade food. This is great if you work nights and need your family to figure it out themselves.
Leave Instructions for Prepared Foods
If you have a family at home who may need to heat or prepare food while you’re on your shift, leave them step-by-step instructions on what to do. You can do this by:
- Writing the instruction on the package of the food.
- Using a whiteboard on the fridge.
- Writing it on a page and sticking it up.
- Texting it to the other adult at home or bigger kids.
This way, they will know exactly what to do with the meal-prepped food when you are not around. Let them know how long the food should defrost (if frozen), if they should reheat the meal prep in the oven, stove, or air fryer, whether they need to use a pot, and how long to heat it.
Make Simple Foods
One of the most efficient meal prep methods, when you work complicated hours and lack time is to make easy, quick, simple meals. This saves you from spending hours in the kitchen during meal prep, making throwing a quick lunch or dinner together easier.
My life’s mission is to find the easiest recipes that require as few ingredients as possible and take the least time to cook. I only have meal prep recipes that are simple. It takes the pressure off meal prepping, and I can get so much done quickly.
Use a Crockpot
Did you know you can leave food to warm in the crock? Always check your crockpot manual and instructions for how long you can leave it on and what settings to utilize. You even get a special crockpot lunch warmer for heating food.
Toss your precooked stews, curries, and soups in the crockpot when you get home after a night shift. Keep in on the warm setting. If you sleep the day away, your lunch or dinner will be ready when you wake up.
If you have frozen uncooked meals that can go in the crockpot, put them to cook when you get back after a night shift. That way, your food will be done after you have slept. If you have six-to-eight-hour shifts, you can add your food to cook before leaving for work. When you return, the food will be ready to refrigerate and store.
Keep a Standard Routine Meal Plan
Meal planning and having a solid routine will help you keep your head above water and never forget, mix up, or miss steps when planning and prepping meals. While working nights are challenging, routines simplify life for you and your family.
I always have a meal plan for everyone in the family to see. That way, my family knows what to do even when I’m not around. And sticking to a routine of how I go about meal prepping helps me keep track of what I need to do.
While meal prepping when working nights may seem hard, it is the best thing you can do for yourself and your family to ensure everyone eats well. Meal prepping with a night shift job makes life around food easier and relieves the pressure of daily thinking about and preparing meals.
Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.