20 Smart Meal Prep Ideas for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Cooking Just Got Way Easier With These Recipes

Leah Maroney

Life can feel overwhelming and planning out three meals a day can pile on the stress. The key to a smooth work week filled with delicious, healthy food is meal prep. A little planning ahead and you and your loved ones will be eating nutritious dishes at home and at work all while saving money. Some top tips before the recipes:

  1. Make a plan. Decide before you get the grocery store what meals you'd like to make and what ingredients you'll need. Don't overdo it—count up your meals and the number of mouths to feed so that you don't end up with wasted food. And don't necessarily prep every meal. The goal is to lower stress and not make your Sunday night a nightmare.
  2. Be container smart. Get the right containers (microwave and dishwasher safe, air-tight) and use them appropriately. Big Mason jars can be good for transporting some salads and soups; clear containers are great for seeing what's inside.
  3. Build up a recipe cache. Gather recipes that are good for meal prepping and try them out. Add the ones you like to a folder on your computer or a handy recipe book. Once you have a nice collection, you can rotate through them without getting bored, adding an occasional new recipe here and there.

The recipes below are all great ideas for meal prep and include advice for servings, storage, and dietary restrictions. Best of all, they'll make your week healthier and easier. Sounds pretty good, right?

  • 01 of 20

    Copycat Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl

    Copycat Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl

     Getty Images/Westend61

    High-protein, gluten-free, and filling, burrito bowls are a tasty takeout lunch or stay-at-home dinner. The chicken thighs are marinated to give them tons of flavor and you can customize the toppings to your liking. The recipe makes six servings, so size up or down as needed. When storing for future meals, individual portions of all of the chicken, rice, and beans can be kept together. Toppings should be stored separately in the fridge, with the guacamole tightly covered to prevent browning.

  • 02 of 20

    Cold Soba Noodle Salad

    Cold Soba Noodle Salad

    Laurel Randolph

    This vegan salad is packed with crunchy fresh veggies, chewy noodles, and an irresistible sweet-sour sauce. It's ideal as a lunch on the go since it's served cold. Store in the fridge for up to three days in jars, takeout boxes, or plastic airtight containers. To keep the dish extra fresh, add a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and cilantro just before eating.

  • 03 of 20

    Cauliflower Fried Rice

    Cauliflower Fried Rice

    Anita Schecter 

    If you've heard about cauliflower rice, but haven't tried it yet, this stir-fry will win you over. Finely chopped cauliflower stands in for rice, making this dish grain-free, gluten-free (as long as you use gluten-free soy sauce), and vegetarian. If you're making dinner ahead, simply reheat over medium heat in a large skillet and serve. For lunch prep, store as individual servings and reheat in the microwave, stopping and stirring often. Add sautéed chicken or pork if you're not vegetarian.

  • 04 of 20

    PB&J Overnight Oats

    PB&J Overnight Oats

    Leah Maroney

    Take some stress out of your busy morning by pre-planning your breakfast. Overnight oats require no cooking with very little prep and offer a healthy start to your day. Flavor your oats with fruit, nuts, or both with the classic combo of peanut butter and jelly. Kids love this oatmeal, too! If you're meal prepping for multiple people or a few days at a time, simply double, triple, or quadruple this recipe. Store in individual containers (jars work well here) and top with jelly and peanuts before eating.

    Continue to 5 of 20 below.
  • 05 of 20

    Roasted Rainbow Veggie Bowl

    Roasted Rainbow Veggie Bowl

    The Spruce

    This healthy, meat-free bowl takes some prep, but it's a meal worth having multiple times a week. With roasted veggies, mushrooms, beans, greens, wild rice, and a creamy tahini dressing, it's a nutritionally complete meal with lots of flavors and textures. Chop and roast the veggies, make the dressing and the rice, and let everything cool. Store in containers with the rice on the bottom, roasted veggies and beans in the middle, and the greens on top. Top with avocado, pickled cabbage, and dressing just before serving.

  • 06 of 20

    Steak Fajita Bowls

    Steak Fajita Bowls

    The Spruce

    Marinated sliced steak with peppers and rice reheats well as a make-ahead dinner or lunch. Start marinating the steak while you're preparing dinner the night before and then cook all of the components while cleaning up after your meal. Store the steak, peppers, and rice together while keeping the toppings like salsa, guacamole, corn salsa, and sour cream separate. Replace the rice with seasoned black beans if you're grain-free.

  • 07 of 20

    Thai Grilled Chicken Salad

    Thai Grilled Chicken Salad

    D. Schmidt/The Spruce 

    This bright, fresh salad is topped with seasoned chicken and a flavorful dressing of lemongrass, fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, and garlic. When packing as lunches, place chicken in the bottom of each container topped with the cucumbers and tomatoes, followed by the greens and herbs. Store the dressing separately and give it a good shake before pouring over top. Double this recipe if you're prepping for two people or making dinner for four.

  • 08 of 20

    Super Simple Açaí Breakfast Bowl

    Super Simple Açaí Breakfast Bowl

    Elaine Lemm

    Breakfast doesn't get much healthier or colorful than an açaí bowl. The popular health food is low in sugar and vitamin-packed and tastes great blended with other fruits for a smoothie-like base. This recipe calls for açaí powder which can be found at health food stores, but frozen berries can be used, too. When planning far ahead, prep all of the fruit and freeze in individual bags. Simply blend with your choice of nut butter and nut milk before adding toppings. The purée will keep for a couple of days in the fridge.

    Continue to 9 of 20 below.
  • 09 of 20

    Easy Red Lentil and Tomato Soup

    Easy Red Lentil and Tomato Soup

    The Spruce

    Nothing reheats quite as well as soup, making it perfect for meal prep. A creamy combo of red lentils and tomato makes this soup both healthy and affordable. This recipe is grain-free, gluten-free, and vegan (use vegetable stock). Add some spices to give it a little punch and top with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream if desired. Store in containers with very tight lids to keep any soup from escaping during transport.

  • 10 of 20

    Spinach Pesto Rice Bowl

    Spinach Pesto Rice Bowl

    The Spruce

    Rice bowls are good on-the-go meals since they are usually eaten at room temperature. Brown rice is mixed with homemade spinach pesto and topped with a soft-boiled egg, radicchio, avocado, and crumbled feta. Leave off the cheese if you're vegan. Everything can be prepped ahead of time—including the eggs. Store the rice and peeled, whole egg in a container with the radicchio and feta in separate containers. Top with avocado just before eating.

  • 11 of 20

    Fat-Free Vegan Pasta Salad

    Fat-Free Vegan Pasta Salad

    The Spruce

    For a low-fat, but still satisfying take on the pasta salad, load it up with fresh veggies and top with a fat-free Italian dressing. The filling salad has enough variety to qualify as a one-dish lunch. Raw broccoli, red onion, and bell pepper add crunch, with artichoke hearts, tomato, olives, and herbs adding flavor. Combine all of the ingredients and toss with the dressing before storing in the fridge for up to three days.

  • 12 of 20

    Crockpot Chicken and Quinoa Burrito Bowl

    Crockpot Chicken and Quinoa Burrito Bowl

     Jennifer Meier

    Make a hands-off meal (or four) with the help of your crockpot. Chicken, bell pepper, and quinoa cook with diced tomatoes, spices, and chicken broth until tender and flavorful. Leftovers can easily be reheated and will keep for three to four days. Top with cheese, avocado, or sour cream before serving.

    Continue to 13 of 20 below.
  • 13 of 20

    Raw Vegan Pad Thai Salad

    Raw Vegan Pad Thai Salad

    The Spruce

    Even though it's vegan, raw, and grain-free, this pad Thai salad still feels like a treat. Zucchini stands in for traditional noodles and the salad gets lots of crunch from bean sprouts, raw peppers and onions, and nuts. Double this recipe if you're prepping lunches, adding the lime juice, olive oil, and nuts just before serving. If you're not vegetarian, add grilled chicken or shrimp, or serve alongside gluten-free sesame noodles.

  • 14 of 20

    Cinnamon and Date Chia Pudding

    Cinnamon and Date Chia Pudding

    Matilda Delves/Getty Images

    Chia seeds do an amazing thing when soaked in liquid: they swell up and form a pudding. They're also super healthy. The night before, mix up your chia seeds, nut milk, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, and dates and stash in the fridge. Stir well the next morning before topping with some fresh fruit. This recipe serves two and chia seed pudding will keep for a couple of days, so double up if you're feeding a crowd.

  • 15 of 20

    Veggie Stir Fry Zen Crunch Bowl

    Veggie Stir Fry Zen Crunch Bowl

    The Spruce 

    Packed with stir-fried veggies and chickpeas, this rice bowl is healthy and delicious. The recipe serves four, making it the perfect amount for lunchtime meal prep or a make-ahead dinner. Healthy brown rice is partnered with lots of crunchy veggies, cashews, and a magical miso sauce. Nutritious, quick, and easy, there's lots to love about these crunch bowls.

  • 16 of 20

    Mediterranean Chicken Salad

    Mediterranean Chicken Salad

    Anita Schecter

    A super simple marinade keep this salad light and healthy. Greens are combined with chicken, onion, tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese for a classic Mediterranean-style dish. When packing for individual lunches or dinners, divide up and add the dressing, followed by the onion, tomato, olives, and chicken. Top with the greens, followed by the feta. The salads will keep for a couple of days in the fridge.

    Continue to 17 of 20 below.
  • 17 of 20

    Chicken and Red Bean Chili

    Chicken and Red Bean Chili

    Diana Rattray

    Chili tastes even better the next day, so it's ideal for making ahead. Ground beef is swapped out for chicken in this lighter recipe that doesn't skimp on flavor. The recipe serves eight, so it's great for meal prep and even freezes well. For easy thawing, store individual serving in airtight freezer containers and transfer to the fridge the night before you plan to eat it. Add toppings just before serving.

  • 18 of 20

    Japanese Beef and Vegetable Rice Bowl

    Japanese Beef and Vegetable Rice Bowl

    David Solzberg/Stockfood Creative/Getty Images

    This beef and vegetable rice bowl only takes a few minutes to prepare and makes great leftovers. A simple Japanese-style sauce of mirin, soy sauce, sesame, and garlic adds lots of flavor. Feel free to use your favorite vegetables. The recipe serves two, so double it if needed.

  • 19 of 20

    Blueberry Vanilla Quinoa Bowl

    Blueberry Vanilla Quinoa Bowl

    Leah Maroney

    Oats aren't the only breakfast grain. Quinoa is high in protein, gluten-free, and cooks up in a flash. Prepare the quinoa the night before and combine it with milk, flavorings, and sugar or honey. It will keep for a few days in the fridge and can be eaten cold or warm. Top with blueberries or another fruit for a balanced breakfast.

  • 20 of 20

    BLT Pasta Salad

    BLT Pasta Salad

    Laurel Randolph

    When you combine two classic American dishes you get something great: BLT pasta salad. Use your favorite whole-wheat, gluten-free, or standard penne or rotini pasta for this recipe. Loads of fresh lettuce and tomato keep things fresh, while a sprinkle of bacon adds a salty bite. When meal prepping, dress the pasta with the homemade Ranch dressing and store the lettuce and tomato separately. Keep the cooked bacon in another container or, even better, cook the bacon in the microwave just before eating and crumble it over top.