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Meal-Prep Mistakes to Avoid for Faster, Healthier, and Better Food

The idea of meal prepping might seem pretty straightforward. But there are actually some common mistakes anyone can easily make if they aren't careful or don't have a lot of #MealPrepSundays under their belt. Luckily, Alyssa Gagarin, meal-prep pro and creator of the 30-Day Meal-Prep Challenge, has saved you from too-long days in the kitchen, frustrating results, and wasted food with her expert tips to make the most of your meal-prep experience.

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Photo: Michael Marquand 

Mistake #1: Choosing recipes that require the same pot, pan, or cooking surface

Consider this your pre-prepping enemy. When it comes time to create a meal plan and shopping list, make sure you aren't choosing recipes that all require the same wok or cast-iron skillet. The same goes for roasting ingredients that need various cooking temperatures. Instead, have grains simmering on the stove, sweet potatoes roasting in the oven, and vegetables being chopping on the counter. This kind of multitasking will save you so much time.

Mistake #2: Dressing your salad ahead of time

Soggy salads are the epitome of #saddesksalads. There's no reason you have to suffer through such a tragedy. Simply prep all the dry salad ingredients and pack them up together, then pour the desired amount of dressing into a tiny individual container. You can pour it over your salad when you're ready to nosh. Or you can use a mason jar: Pour dressing into the bottom, the stack salad ingredients from densest to lightest (broccoli at the bottom, mesclun at the top). Wait until lunchtime to give it a shake and tip it out onto your plate. (Discover more meal-prep hacks for better brown-bag lunches.)

Mistake #3: Trying to track cooking times in your head

Cooking multiple things, multiple ways, and for multiple times without a timer of some sort is a recipe for disaster, and you don't want to waste time and money on burning up a chicken. Solution: Download a multi-timer app—there are lots for both iOS and Android. You can set, say, 40 minutes for acorn squash in the oven, 20 minutes for barley on the stove, and another 20 for that sauce in the fridge to set up.

Mistake #4: Leaving the recipe that takes the longest for last

Get a big pot of chili on the stove, a whole chicken roasting in the oven, or a pulled pork dish in the crockpot ASAP. These items can cook slowly on low while you're busy prepping and cooking other faster meals. Starting on these longer recipes last is almost guaranteed to double your time in the kitchen when you could be Netflix-ing by then. (Have you tried using an instant pot? It's basically a slow cooker, rice cooker, pressure cooker, and steamer all in one, and it makes some pretty delicious instant pot recipes.)

Mistake #5: Not properly planning when you'll eat which meals

Some foods will taste just fine after several days in the fridge, But let's face it, some meals should be eaten the next day for optimal taste. Seafood should be eaten first if you're reheating it, but better yet, save your officemates from the smell of microwaved fish and prep a dish that can be served room temperature or chilled. Delicate items like salads, zucchini noodles, and lettuce wraps will go bad sooner, so they should also be eaten first. Heartier things like potatoes, chili, oats, and rice can last longer, so plan to eat those later in the week.

For more meal-prep tips, tricks, hacks, recipes, and more, join the 30-Day Meal-Prep Challenge. It's perfect for beginners or anyone who wants to recharge their healthy eating habits. 

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