8 Easy Meal Prep Recipes - Muscle & Performance

8 Easy Meal Prep Recipes

You’re not doing your physique any favors by hitting the drive-thru after work. Eliminate the urge to fall back on fast food by strategically preparing meals for the week.
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Kitchen-Conquerer

Pass the menu, hold the grocery cart.

Despite the overwhelming proof that making our own grub is significantly healthier for us, Americans are spending more money than ever eating out. The culprit? Time. Or, shall we say, a lack thereof. Between carving out enough clicks on the clock for work, family commitments, pumping iron at the gym and Twitter love, it can seem impossible to also have enough time for meal prep. But ditch the brown bag for doggy bags too often and you seriously risk blowing up your physique, since restaurant fare notoriously lacks the quality calories you can create in your own kitchen.

Luckily, meal prepping doesn’t have to be a logistical nightmare nor marked by less-than-appetizing leftovers, provided you employ strategic bulk cooking. All you need is a plan for how to whip up a few easy and tasty meals in bulk that you can divvy up between containers. In the long run you’ll save time and money (you keep the tip) while assuring that you stick to your clean-eating meal plan for improved fitness gains.

And when you meal prep for days in advance — as has been advocated for decades — you free yourself from the burden of fretting about what to cook for dinner or make for the next day’s lunch. Think of the freedom.

Where to start? Use our master grocery list and dive into the speedy, easy-to-store recipes that follow for the three main meals of the day that’ll keep you well fed on high-quality nutrition all week long. Best of all, they’re so easy to pull off that even a culinary newbie won’t be calling for pizza delivery in response to his or her next #epickitchenfail.

Future Foods

Follow these tips to get the most out of your bulk cooking sessions and develop a menu that powers your progress all week long.

Plan ahead: Be sure to have a detailed list of the items you need so you don’t waste any cooking time having to drive back to the grocery store for a crucial ingredient. Keep your list in order of where you’ll find items in the grocery store — meat, dairy, produce, etc. — so your trip is quick and efficient.

Load up: Gyms aren’t the only place to seek out mass. Many supermarkets offer discount prices when buying meats such as chicken and pork in volume. Use what you need and freeze the rest for future bulk-cooking sessions.

Time management: Set aside about two hours per week to devote to a bulk cooking session. Got anything better planned for a Sunday afternoon as you wait for football season to start? We thought not.

Well contained: Make-ahead meals should be stored only in sturdy containers with lids that secure tightly. Have a few different sizes on hand. Wide-mouth Mason-style jars are a good option for layering in meals and snacks that you’ll eat straight from the fridge. Pint-sized jars work for overnight oats or snacks like Greek yogurt and toppings. You want quart- or 2-quart-sized jars for larger premade meals. If you’re preparing several items at once, it’s a good idea to label containers using tape and a marker.

Chill out: Set your refrigerator at the optimal temperature of 40 degrees. This will keep your preportioned meals safer, longer. There’s nothing worse than leftovers whose taste has “evolved” due to improper storage. And, of course, containers are best transported in a cooler to maintain food safety.

Subzero heroes: Grains such as rice and quinoa can be cooked in large amounts and then frozen in airtight containers for quick access down the road. The night before you plan to use them for bulk cooking, move them to the refrigerator. Proteins such as chicken and pork, but not fish, can also be precooked and frozen.

Nuke attack: If zapping meals in the microwave, loosen the lid to allow steam to escape and heat on high until warmed through, stirring the food once or twice during the reheating process to eliminate cold spots. Use only containers deemed microwave-safe.

Purposeful Prepper 

When you’re on the march in the supermarket, here are the muscle-friendly ingredients to toss in the cart.

  • Fruits/Vegetables
  • Avocados
  • Baby spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Canned pineapple
  • Carrots
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Fresh or frozen blueberries
  • Frozen corn
  • Limes
  • Mangoes
  • Red bell peppers
  • Scallions
  • Sweet potatoes

Proteins

  • Black beans
  • Eggs
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Protein powder
  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Salmon

Grains

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Steel-cut oats

Dairy

  • Greek yogurt
  • Milk

Other

  • Almond butter
  • Canned chipotle chili pepper in adobo sauce
  • Cilantro
  • Cinnamon
  • Coconut milk
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Rice vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Sriracha hot sauce

The Recipes

Nutty Protein Oats

Need to know: Who says you have to cook your oats? Soaking hearty steel-cut oats softens their texture so they’re chewy and ready to go for a lightning-fast breakfast.

Nutrition bonus: Oats are jam-packed with soluble fiber to help regulate your blood sugar levels (read: better morning energy and less fat storage), while blueberries are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants.

  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1 cup plain or vanilla protein powder
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 cups low-fat milk
  • 4 tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 cups blueberries

Directions

1. Place an equal amount of oats, protein powder, flaxseed and cinnamon in four wide-mouth glass jars or other containers. Pour an equal amount of milk into each jar and stir to combine. Top each with an equal amount of almond butter and blueberries.

2. Seal shut and chill overnight or up to four days.

Nutrition Data (per serving): 532 calories, 36 grams protein, 55 grams carbohydrate, 20 grams fat.

Berry Oat Cakes

Berry-Oat-Cakes

Need to know: These transportable baked treats are the perfect way to take your oatmeal with you. As a bonus, they reheat in the microwave in about 40 seconds.

Nutrition bonus: Protein powder helps kick-start a day of making muscle while suppressing appetite, and almond butter supplies heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.

  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1/2 cup plain or vanilla protein powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk
  • 1/4 cup almond butter
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Salt to taste

Directions

1. Place oats in a large bowl, cover with water and soak for at least two hours.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain oats, return to bowl and stir in protein powder, cinnamon and a couple of pinches of salt. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk and almond butter. Stir egg mixture into oat mixture and fold in blueberries.

3. Divide among 12 greased, standard-size muffin cups and bake for 25 minutes or until set. Chill for up to five days.

Nutrition Data (per serving): 381 calories, 23 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrate, 15 grams fat.

Salmon and Quinoa with Mango Salsa

Salmon-and-Quinoa-with-Mango-Salsa

Need to know: To cut down on the time you spend with knife in hand, look for bags of frozen mango cubes. To add flavor to the quinoa, try simmering it in broth instead of water.

Nutrition bonus: Salmon is rich in omega-3 fats that have been shown to make it easier to burn fat and stockpile more muscle.

  • 1 1/2 lbs. salmon fillet
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 mango, peeled, pitted and cubed
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced
  • 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place salmon on a greased or parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Bake until just barely cooked through in the center, about 11 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then gently break flesh apart.

2. Place quinoa, 2 cups water and a couple of pinches of salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer covered until quinoa is tender and water has absorbed, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

3. In a separate bowl, stir together mango, cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper, cilantro and scallions. Divide quinoa and salmon among four containers and top each with an equal amount of mango salsa. Squirt lime juice over the top, seal shut and chill for up to five days.

Nutrition Data (per serving): 506 calories, 44 grams protein, 43 grams carbohydrate, 18 grams fat

Chicken Rice with Spicy Almond Sauce

Chicken

Need to know: You could minimize prep time by using bags of frozen broccoli and carrots and even boil-in-a-bag rice options. The rice can be replaced with quinoa for additional protein.

Nutrition bonus: Supermarket rotisserie chicken is a no-fuss way to load up on easy, quality protein, and broccoli adds lots of antioxidants for optimal health.

  • 1 cup long-grain brown rice
  • 1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large crown broccoli, cut into florets
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced diagonally, 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/3 cup almond butter
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha hot sauce
  • 2 cups sliced rotisserie chicken

Directions

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the rice, broth or water and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat, cover and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand (still covered) for about 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

2. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add broccoli and carrots. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons water over the vegetables, cover the skillet and heat for five minutes. Remove the lid and sauté the vegetables until tender, about three more minutes.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together almond butter, 1 tablespoon water, rice vinegar, soy sauce and Sriracha until smooth. Divide rice, chicken and vegetables among four containers. Top each with almond sauce and seal shut. Chill for up to five days. Reheat in the microwave for one to two minutes, stirring occasionally.

Nutrition Data (per serving): 525 calories, 35 grams protein, 58 grams carbohydrate, 19 grams fat

Pork Sweet Potato with Asian Dressing

Sweet-potato

Need to know: Beyond spinach, look for other baby greens such as kale and Swiss chard. This saves you the hassle of chopping bunches of full-sized greens.

Nutrition bonus: The sweeter spud provides quality carbs to fuel your workouts, and walnuts are a good source of heart-friendly omega-3 fats.

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 1 lb. pork tenderloin, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 3/4 cup light coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha hot sauce
  • 1 can pineapple chunks, drained
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon oil, spread out on a greased baking sheet and roast until tender, about 25 minutes.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook pork pieces until no longer pink. In a separate bowl, whisk together coconut milk, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger and Sriracha.

3. Divide coconut dressing, pork, sweet potato, pineapple, red bell pepper, spinach and walnuts among four containers in that order. Seal shut and chill for up to five days.

Nutrition Data (per serving): 436 calories, 29 grams protein, 49 grams carbohydrate, 18 grams fat

Tex Mex Chicken Quinoa Salad

Tex-Mex-Chicken-Quinoa-Salad

Need to know: An easy salad packed with flavor that provides a quality, guilt-free dinner. Keeping the greens high above the dressing during storage prevents them from turning into soggy compost.

Nutrition bonus: Quinoa contains more protein than most grains to show your muscles extra love, while black beans add fat-torching dietary fiber.

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 avocado, peeled and pitted
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 canned chipotle chili pepper in adobo sauce
  • 2 cups sliced rotisserie chicken
  • 1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced
  • 4 cups baby spinach

Directions

1. Place quinoa, 2 cups water and a couple of pinches of salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer covered until quinoa is tender and water has absorbed, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

2. Prepare corn according to package directions. Blend together yogurt, avocado, lime juice, chipotle chili and a couple of pinches of salt until smooth.

3. Divide avocado dressing among four containers and top with equal amounts of chicken, black beans, quinoa, corn, tomatoes, scallions and spinach in that order. Chill for up to five days.

Nutrition Data (per serving): 503 calories, 38 grams protein, 62 grams carbohydrate, 14 grams fat

Salmon Sweet Potato with Pineapple Dressing

Need to know: For a more sustainable and better-flavored catch of the day, choose wild salmon like sockeye from the fish counter.

Nutrition bonus: Spinach contains nitrates that may improve muscle functioning, while tomatoes provide healthy amounts of the potent antioxidant lycopene.

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 1 1/2 lbs. salmon fillet
  • 1 cup canned cubed pineapple, drained
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Grated zest of 1 lime
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

1. Prepare sweet potatoes and salmon according to directions in previous recipes. Blend together pineapple, coconut milk, rice vinegar, lime zest and a couple of pinches of salt until smooth. Divide pineapple dressing, sweet potatoes, salmon, carrots, tomatoes, spinach and walnuts among four containers and seal shut. Chill for up to five days.

Nutrition Data (per serving): 527 calories, 42 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrate, 23 grams fat

Chipotle Pork Burrito Bowls

Chipotle-Pork-Burrito-Bowls

Need to know: You can boost the fiber and protein numbers by adding canned black beans. If desired, pork can be swapped out for rotisserie chicken.

Nutrition bonus: Inexpensive pork tenderloin has a stellar protein-to-fat ratio to help spur muscle growth, and brown rice adds hunger-fighting fiber.

  • 1 cup long-grain brown rice
  • 1 lb. pork tenderloin, sliced into ½-inch rounds
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1 mango, peeled, pitted and cubed
  • 2 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 canned chipotle chili pepper in adobo sauce, minced

Directions

1. Prepare rice according to directions in the Chicken Rice lunch recipe. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook pork pieces until no longer pink.

2. Divide rice and pork among four containers and top with red bell pepper, carrots, mango and scallions. In a separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, lime juice, cilantro, garlic and chipotle chili. Divide sauce among containers and seal shut. Chill for up to five days.

Nutrition Data (per serving): 409 calories, 33 grams protein, 50 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams fat