Containers, vegetables, and fruits sitting in a refrigerator

Chef Ashley’s Meal Preparedness Formula

Last Updated on October 5, 2023

You don’t have to meal prep to eat well during the week. I said it, and I mean it! Simply stocking your kitchen with the right mix of ingredients can make weeknight dinners breezy. My formula for meal preparedness—as I like to call it—is fresh + frozen + pantry + big flavor. Purchase a couple of ingredients in each category, and you should be able to quickly pull together great meals throughout the week.  

Before you start shopping, think about your favorite flavors. Sometimes, the biggest hurdle is figuring out what to cook. What do you typically order for takeout? Ask friends and family for their favorite weeknight recipes and peruse our JustCook recipe database. Once you have a few ideas, it’s time to shop.

Meal Preparedness = Fresh + Frozen + Pantry + Big Flavor

Fresh: Most Saturday mornings, I walk to the farmers’ market—lucky me!—and pick up a few vegetables, fruits, and eggs. If you aren’t close to a farmers’ market, these are all things easily accessible at your local grocery store too. I don’t go overboard because nothing can be more discouraging than shriveled vegetables in my crisper. I usually grab hearty leafy greens and whatever is in season, like tomatoes in the summer and Delicata squash in the winter.

Frozen: I think of my freezer as an extension of my pantry. I keep quick-defrosting ButcherBox salmon, shrimp, steak, and larger cuts for when I can commit to a longer cooking period. I love making braised short ribs on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I store extra sauces for big flavor in a pinch, cut vegetables, and leftover soups, one of the most straightforward dinner solutions. Corn and flour tortillas keep really well in the freezer, too.

Pantry: Grains! Beans! Nuts! Seeds! I frequently open my pantry to look for dinner inspiration. Some nights, the answer is easy pasta; other nights, it is masa harina to make arepas. Stock ingredients that you can build a meal around, as well as ones that round out dishes. Your big dinner salad will be grateful for the addition of walnuts, dates, and olives.  

Tip: Check the expiration dates on your spices and replace any expired ones. Fresh spices are essential! 

Big flavor: When I think of big flavor, I think of sharp, tangy, spicy, sour, and sweet. Big flavor can be delivered through a homemade sauce, a premade sauce, a sprinkle of salty feta or puckering sherry vinegar, jarred harissa, pickled onions, dollops of chile crisp, the list goes on! Return to your hub of inspiration for ideas. Are you partial to Middle Eastern flavors? Grab za’atar and high-quality tahini. Is Italian food more your wheelhouse? Look for jarred sauces, tinned anchovies, Calabrian chiles, and aged Parmesan.

Some ideas for your flavor formula: 

Steamed Green Beans + ButcherBox New York Strip Steak + Farro +  Chimichurri 

Roasted Eggplant + ButcherBox Meatballs + Chickpeas + Harissa 

Sautéed Broccoli + ButcherBox Wild Shrimp + Steamed Rice + Miso Butter 

Shredded Cabbage Slaw + ButcherBox Chicken Thighs + Corn Tortillas + Chipotle Peppers 

Ashley Lonsdale is the chef at ButcherBox. Her big hope is for a world where everyone can access the joy of food. That hope is precisely why she spends her free time as an associate board member for the Food Education Fund and writing recipes for her newsletter FOODSTAR. Previously, she was the culinary director for Daily Harvest, a private chef, and a line cook in various New York City kitchens. She is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute.