Nothing looks less appealing than 30 Tupperware containers, all filled with chicken, broccoli, and sweet potatoes—especially when the only seasoning you've used on them is salt and pepper. Of course, prepping the exact same meal over and over again takes little thought, and it can be a whole lot faster to make a dozen copies of the same thing when you're short on time.

You may be surprised to learn that it doesn't take that much effort to vary the way you cook or the seasonings you use to make each meal different. And you'll be delighted to learn that one of the best ways to stay on your meal plan is to make each meal unique, interesting, and tasty.

Here are some suggestions to help you improve the variety of the meals you prepare ahead of time.

1. Stock Up on Ingredients

If you don't have a variety of ingredients on hand come meal-prep time, you're going to have a hard time whipping up a slew of tasty meals. The trick, of course, is to avoid buying ingredients that you just let go to waste. That's why the founder of , Casey Moulton, swears by shopping with a numbering system, rather than with recipes.

Essentially, Moulton figures out how many total servings of proteins, produce, and grains he needs for the number of meals he'll be prepping. From there he shops until he meets his number requirements, rather than shopping for specific food items. This frees him up to mix and match a wide variety of produce, proteins, and grains, as long as he's purchasing the correct total number of servings.

Stock Up On Ingredients

"With meats," Moulton says, "I make sure to get land, sea, and air. With vegetables and fruits, I make sure to get every color of the rainbow."

Once you've got a nice mix of ingredients on hand, it's much easier to vary your meals.

"There are only so many fresh ingredients available to you in the grocery store," Moulton says. "If you want to have different meals all the time, you need to get creative with your cooking."

2. Mix Up Your Seasonings

Even when ingredients are similar, you can make different meals just by adjusting the seasonings to give each meal a different flavor profile. Beef sliced fajita-style and flavored with cayenne, cilantro, cumin, jalapeno, and lime has a different zing than a steak prepared with jerk seasoning and topped with tropical fruits. If you're cooking up a batch of chicken breasts, don't season them all the same way. Pull out your spices and get clever with your flavorings.

Moulton says "the starting five" seasonings are salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil, and onions, but then you can mix and match based on the type of cuisine you want to eat. He offers the following top 10 seasonings of the 10 most popular world cuisines to help get your creativity flowing:

Caribbean

  • Coconut milk/flakes
  • Coriander
  • Curry
  • Hot sauce
  • Jerk
  • Lime
  • Oregano
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Rum
  • Tropical fruits

Italian

  • Balsamic
  • Basil
  • Fennel seeds
  • Oregano
  • Cheese (hard, grated)
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Red wine
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Tomato
Mix Up Your Seasonings

Mexican

  • Avocado
  • Cayenne
  • Cheese (soft, shredded)
  • Chipotle
  • Cilantro
  • Cumin
  • Jalapeno
  • Lime
  • Oregano
  • Tomato

Chinese

  • Chinese five spice
  • Chinese chili sauce
  • Cilantro
  • Ginger
  • Oyster sauce
  • Rice vinegar
  • Sesame oil
  • Sesame seed
  • Soy sauce
  • White pepper

French

  • Butter
  • Capers
  • Dijon mustard
  • Herbes de Provence
  • Marjoram
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Tarragon
  • Truffle oil
  • White wine

Thai

  • Basil
  • Chili powder
  • Cilantro
  • Coconut milk
  • Curry
  • Fish sauce
  • Lemongrass
  • Mint
  • Peanuts/oil
  • Sriracha sauce

Indian

  • Cardamom
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Curry
  • Garam masala
  • Ginger
  • Mint
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Turmeric
  • Yogurt

German

  • Allspice
  • Beer
  • Caraway seed
  • Cinnamon
  • Dill
  • Horseradish
  • Mustard powder
  • Sauerkraut
  • Sour cream
  • White pepper

Middle Eastern

  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Lemon
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Tomato
  • Yogurt

Moroccan

  • Cilantro
  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Ginger
  • Lemon
  • Olive
  • Paprika
  • Pistachio
  • Raisin
  • Turmeric

3. Cook Your Ingredients In Different Ways

Baked chicken tastes different than grilled chicken, which tastes different than roasted chicken, which tastes different than pan-fried chicken. If you're setting an afternoon aside to do all your cooking, go ahead and fire up a couple different cooking stations so you can prep your food in several ways. Fire up the grill and the oven, and maybe even prepare a pan for sautéing.

Cook Your Ingredients In Different Ways

Moulton says the same approach works for vegetables. "Tomatoes are a great example," he says. "Raw tomato tastes and feels different than stewed tomatoes, which taste different than stewed and blended tomatoes."

Go ahead and steam some broccoli, but try roasting it, too. You can accomplish both tasks at the same time, but the results will taste substantially different. If you're baking some chicken, put a tray of broccoli florets with olive oil and seasoning in there too. All you need to get started are recipes designed to make prepping easy!

4. Piece Together Your Meals a La Carte

If you approach meal prep with an "a la carte" mindset, rather than a recipe mindset, all you have to do is prep individual ingredients, then piece them together in different ways.

Piece Together Your Meals a La Carte

Say you've cooked two servings of chicken, two servings of beef, and two servings of salmon. You've also prepared two servings of steamed asparagus, a serving of roasted Brussels sprouts, a baked sweet potato, and two servings of sautéed peppers and onions. You also have a variety of fresh, washed carrots, celery, berries, and citrus fruits on hand.

With this wide variety of separate ingredients, you can easily mix-and-match your prepared foods to create slightly different meals. It's a surprisingly simple and effective way to keep your prepped meals interesting and your taste buds happy!

About the Author

Laura Williams, MS

Laura Williams, MS

Nothing looks less appealing than 30 Tupperware containers, all...

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