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Making the effort to meal prep can save you tons of time cooking and preparing food daily. It makes life a little bit easier, saves money, and helps you eat healthier food. But meal prep also takes a significant amount of time. Let us find out why meal prep takes so long.
Why Does Meal Prep Take So Long?
If meal prep takes too much time from your day and you’re always exhausted from standing on your feet for hours cooking for the week, that is probably because meal prep does take a long time. Meal prep requires a lot of prepping, cooking large batches of various items, and cleaning up.
This takes time, and it is a natural outcome. I sometimes spend two to three full days just meal prepping. And while I have managed to find ways to make it easier and reduce the time, I have also accepted that it is time-consuming. I will tell you why.
4 Reasons Meal Prep Takes So Long
If you want to understand why meal prep consumes so much time, I can definitely explain it. I have spent a couple of hours to a couple of days meal prepping. And while it has been beneficial, I have also had the question, “but why does it take so long?” multiple times.
Let me share with you the four primary reasons why meal prep takes so long:
Planning and Prepping
Planning and prepping may not be part of the actual cooking. Yet it all adds up when you consider the mental space and time that goes into preparing.
From figuring out what meals you will make, checking what ingredients you have, and making grocery lists for items you don’t have, to planning out your kitchen space and what order you will cook, the minutes will pile on.
As a perfectionist and planner, this part takes up much of my time. I make lists, print out recipes, get all the shopping done, and ensure my kitchen is cleaned and set up with stations for everything I need to do. This reduces the overwhelm but surely requires extra time and effort.
Cleaning and Chopping
The part of meal prep that takes the longest and is most difficult for many people, including myself, is the actual food preparation. That includes actions such as:
- Cleaning and cutting chicken or meat
- Soaking and washing vegetables
- Cutting and chopping vegetables
- Grating cheese
- Liquidizing ingredients
These things are time-consuming, especially if you have to clean and cut multiple types of protein and veggies. It also takes more time to chop the items in different shapes and sizes. Things can take much longer if you don’t have a sharp, quality knife or are not skilled in using one.
It took me a while before I started getting faster with a knife. For years I didn’t even realize I was cutting certain veggies wrong, and there were easier, faster techniques. It would take me forever to chop one onion; by then, I would already be annoyed and want to give up. And let me not start on the cleaning and mincing of garlic!
Cooking the Food
Not all food takes a long time to cook. Most food requires more prep time than actual cooking time. Cooking must be done with patience and proper technique. You don’t want raw meat or uncooked veggies in a stew, nor do you want flavorless food because you didn’t allow the ingredients to cook long enough.
Certain foods take time, like browning onions or getting tender potatoes. Meat and chicken also require proper cooking time to cook through. This can be hard for many people who dislike standing in front of a stove waiting for something to get done.
Cooling And Packing
Meal prepping means you will spend time waiting for the food to cool. You will also need to pack it appropriately for the fridge or freezer. People with limited time may want to cook and move on. But waiting for the food to reach a specific temperature before storing it is essential for retaining the quality of the food and preventing health issues.
It can feel annoying to wait and then spend time dishing, wrapping, labeling, and storing, especially if your food is already done and you want the whole process to be over. I still feel this way in my years of cooking and meal prepping.
Cleaning up Time
It is no doubt that the most unliked part of meal prepping is the cleanup. After meal prepping, there are stacks of pots and pans, cooking cutlery, mixing bowls, knives, etc. Besides the dishes, you must scrub the stove, wipe the counters, clean all the appliances, and probably take out the garbage.
If that’s not enough, you will likely have to sweep and mop the floors. It feels like it doesn’t end. And if you don’t have help or a dishwasher, it can feel even more time-consuming. It was super frustrating that I was not actually done even after meal prepping because of all the cleaning required afterward.
How to Optimize and Save Time During Meal Prep
After years of cooking and meal prepping, I learned some helpful tips and tricks that make meal prep much easier and less time-consuming. Not sharing them would be a crime, so here they are:
- Plan ahead: Always make lists, buy ingredients, and have a plan of action for approaching your meal prep process.
- Organize the kitchen: Organize your kitchen to your convenience, making things easy to reach, access, and find. Put up stations for cutting, mixing, marinating, etc.
- Make simple meals: Make simple, easy meals that only require a few ingredients, little prep work, and not much cooking time.
- Multitask: Try to do a few things at once. While something is cooking, start chopping more veggies or wash the dishes in the sink. That way, more than one thing gets done at once, saving time.
- Meal prep over a few days: Instead of taking one day to do all your meal prep, do two to three things over a few days. That way, it won’t feel like you are spending hours on end meal prepping.
- Batch cook same items together: Cook like ingredients together and then separate them for specific meals they need to go into. An example is sauteing all your onions at once, then use as required in different meals.
- Use multiple appliances: Invest in a modest air fryer, instant pot, different sizes of crockpot, electric hot plate, etc. You can cook each dish in a different place simultaneously instead of waiting to free up space on the stove or oven. You also don’t have to wait for a clean pot if you only have a couple.
- Get a chopping gadget: A vegetable chopping gadget is super helpful for saving time, especially if you are not skilled or experienced with a knife.
- Reuse cookware: Instead of washing a pot or pan every time you want to make something new, try to reuse it. If you have sauteed some onions, use the same pit for other veggies or to brown your ground meat. Your food will be more flavorful, and you will save time washing up.
- Get someone to help: There is no harm in asking for help. Get a friend, your partner, or your kids, or even hire someone to come in and help you. Whether it’s for washing dishes and cleaning or chopping while you do the mixing, your meal prep will get done much faster.
Meal prep takes a long because it is a time-consuming process. But it helps you save time in the long run. You can use my time-saving techniques to optimize your time during your next meal prep session. Listening to a podcast or dancing to your favorite music while meal-prepping also helps!
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.