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10 Things I Learned About Meal Prep from Watching The Pioneer Woman

For Ree Drummond, who regularly cooks for big groups on her ranch in Oklahoma, meal prep is a matter of survival. It's not surprising that I've picked up some of my own best meal prep tricks from her show.

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Frozen food in the refrigerator.Shutterstock / BravissimoS

Your freezer is your friend.

Ree loves “freezer cooking.” For her, that means putting together make-ahead casseroles, soups and other freezer meals, or stocking up on frequently used ingredients—prepped up to a certain point and frozen—so they’re ready to go in a flash.

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Line up on baking essentialsBriMor/Shutterstock

Keep the pantry stocked

Every other prep trick rises and falls based on this one. ALWAYS have basics like flour, sugar and eggs—and know what your frequently used ingredients are and keep them handy. (For the Pioneer Woman, they’re butter, cream and bacon, which is also why I love her.)

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interior of small white kitchen with red pepper on the tableShutterstock / karamysh

Start with a clean work space

When I’m tackling a big meal and feel overwhelmed, it’s tempting to skip this one. But clearing the countertop makes it much easier to set out the ingredients Ree loves most. It’s also nice to have plenty of space for mixing and chopping.

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Lady reading pizza recipe in culinary book at home with kitchenware on tableShutterstock / Motortion Films

Read through the recipe

It’s a recipe, not a mystery novel. You want to know how it ends! When I take the time to read the whole recipe, I’m never surprised. I don’t want to make this Lemony Mushroom Orzo Soup and find out too late I was supposed to save the parsley for garnish.

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Fresh ingredients for prawn edamame salmon poke bowl.Shutterstock / ILEISH ANNA

Mise en place

It’s French for “putting in place.” It sounds fancy, but mise en place couldn’t be more basic and sensible. Organizing all the ingredients that you’ll need for a recipe is another way to avoid surprises. Just measuring out things like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger for spiced cookie recipes will save time later.

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Female hands holding cup of coffee or tea and silver pen closeup.Shutterstock / megaflopp

Break it down, make a schedule

For a holiday (or any big meal), there sometimes seems to be a paralyzing number of tasks. Break them down, and count back a couple days. You can start chopping, mixing and measuring many ingredients on Monday or Tuesday before you tackle a Golden Roasted Turkey on Thursday.

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Colored peppers and onions diced on a chopping boardKrzysztof Slusarczyk/Shutterstock

Prep veggies for the week

Whether they’re for healthy snacks or meals throughout the week (or both), washing, peeling and chopping all the veggies at once is a huge time saver. Some veggies—like tomatoes and cucumbers—won’t last all week, so you may need a twice-a-week schedule for those.

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Variety of clean dieting salads in plastic package and green measuring tape on rustic background, top view.Shutterstock / VICUSCHKA

Make your own “meal kits”

Commercially prepared meal kits are time savers, but you can save time AND money by making your own. Prep and measure your ingredients and pack them in containers in the fridge. Much of the prep for a quick weeknight stir-fry, for instance, can be done ahead of time.

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White beans cucumber tomato red pepper feta spinach salad in a jar. Shutterstock / Nataliya Arzamasova

Layer salads in jars

Making a work-week’s worth of healthy, tasty layered salads in canning jars saves money and time and will cut way down on lunchtime trips to the drive-thru window. Learn how to build a salad in a jar the right way.

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Basket of freshly baked biscuits with orange juice and tableware in background.Marie C Fields/Shutterstock

Double the recipe for half the work

Making biscuits for dinner? Double the recipe and freeze half for when you have a comfort-food craving, but no time. This should also work for your famous Chicken Pot Pie or all sorts of quick breads. You can’t have salad EVERY day, after all!

Cathryn Jakicic
Cathy Jakicic has written about everything from business and bacteria to beads and baking in her career —but she greatly prefers the last two. She is a baker and a crafter and loves to try new recipes for both.
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