Meal prep is a year-round game. No matter what else you may be attending to, you’re always eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner and you never have as much time as you’d like to get it all together. During back to school season, that may be even more true.
Enter the Instant Pot, which helps make meal prep much quicker and more streamlined. And meal prepping in turn helps you eat healthier, save money, and spend less time figuring out what to eat during the busy work week.
So get yourself some meal prep containers to hold all of your not-that-hard work, organize your fridge so you can actually find everything in there, and consider some handy Instant Pot accessories—and at least one part of your life can actually get less complicated.
Instant Pot Duo 6-Quart 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, $79 from Walmart
The miracle machine.
Here are seven ways to use your Instant Pot to meal prep breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week—with recipes and ideas on what to do with your various components so you don’t get bored of any of them.
1. Make a Big Batch of Hard-Boiled Eggs
One of a meal prepper’s best friends, hard-boiled eggs (technically steamed, in this case) are perfect for so much: Eat them on their own with a quick sprinkle of everything bagel seasoning for breakfast, slice and add to lunchtime salads or sandwiches, devil them for a snack, or use them to jazz up a bowl of ramen at dinnertime. With the Instant Pot, it’s incredibly easy to cook a big batch of eggs at once and have them come out perfectly every time—plus, they peel like a dream. I still marvel at the way the shells slip right off every time I make them.
According to Damn Delicious, you should cook them for about four minutes if you like them slightly jammy or six minutes for totally firm (but still bright yellow) yolks. In either case, be sure to shock them in ice water to stop them from cooking any further.
As for exactly how to use them, here are some recipes that call on hard-cooked eggs to help inspire you:
- Egg salad gribiche
- Slow cooker pork ramen with boiled eggs
- Roasted beet tzatziki salad
- Brussels sprouts Caesar salad (especially good with soft-boiled eggs)
- Sriracha deviled eggs
2. Poach Chicken Breasts—and Save the Broth
The Instant Pot makes foolproof poached chicken breasts too, and like the eggs, this protein can be turned into countless dishes from chicken salad to enchiladas.
My go-to Instant Pot poached chicken recipe is from Amy + Jacky, but I usually change up the recommended seasonings. I leave out the oregano, rosemary, and thyme and instead add some whole peppercorns and a couple of peeled, smashed cloves of garlic. This ensures that the chicken will work in virtually any dish you can dream up (e.g., you can use the same batch of chicken in numerous meals for the week; our rotisserie chicken recipe ideas are all worthy contenders).
That said, you can also add other ingredients to the pot if you know you want to use the chicken in specific dishes. Add some cumin and oregano and maybe a dried chile if you’ll be turning your chicken into burritos and tacos, for instance.
The beautiful bonus here is that the cooking liquid turns into a deeply delicious broth that’s way better than the boxed or canned stuff in your pantry. You’ll have about four cups in total. Save it to make soup later in the week or simply use it in place of water to cook more flavorful rice or couscous than usual.
Just be sure to cut way back on the salt in whatever recipe you use, because the broth is already very well-seasoned. If you don’t need it the same week you use the chicken, it freezes perfectly in an air-tight plastic or silicone bag (lay flat to freeze so it takes up less room)—or if you tend to use smaller amounts of stock or broth at one time, consider these “Souper Cubes” silicone freezing trays instead.
Stasher Silicone Storage Bags, $9.99-$19.99 from The Container Store
These leak-proof silicone bags are perfect for storing broth until you need it.
You can use bone-in chicken if you like (theoretically, it should make an even richer and more flavorful broth) but I usually don’t bother.
Related Reading: 9 Instant Pot Chicken Recipes to Rely On
3. Cook a Week’s Worth of Oatmeal for Breakfast
If you like oatmeal for breakfast but never have time to tend a pot on a weekday morning, make a big batch on Sunday in the Instant Pot. This Instant Pot oatmeal recipe works for both steel cut and rolled oats and uses almond milk because cow’s milk is more likely to scorch—so it’s also vegan. The base recipe is simply flavored with cinnamon and a pinch of salt, but once it’s cooked, you can add brown sugar or maple syrup and a splash of vanilla if you’d like before topping it however you please.
You can simply keep portioning it out of one big bowl all week, but a better option is to let it cool, then freeze it in muffin tins before popping the frozen oatmeal rounds out and sealing them in an air-tight plastic bag. (Silicone muffin pans make unmolding much easier.)
12-Cup Silicone Muffin Pan, $9.98 from Amazon
Not just for baking.
This way you can store the cooked oatmeal for far longer (in case you don’t feel like oats every day). All you need to do at breakfast time is microwave one or two portions of the oatmeal with a splash of milk. If you top each portion with fresh berries or other fruit (like ripe banana slices and berries, or roasted pears and apples) before freezing, it’s an even quicker option on a busy morning.
4. Make Homemade Yogurt for the Week
Not all Instant Pots have the yogurt-making function, but if yours does, take advantage of it. Not only is it far cheaper, healthier (since there’s less added sugar—or none at all), and more environmentally friendly than buying yogurt at the store, it’ll give you a real sense of satisfaction. If you keep it plain, you can use it in savory recipes throughout the week (think meat marinades, creamy sauces, and even healthier mashed potatoes) as well as eating it with honey, granola, and/or fruit for breakfast.
This guide to Instant Pot yogurt recipes includes directions for making nonfat, full fat, and Greek yogurt.
Related Reading: How to Eat Yogurt for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
5. Make Pulled Pork, Beef, or Chicken
One of the best uses of the Instant Pot is to make a huge hunk of meat into a pile of tender shredded protein you can portion into various dishes throughout the week. Chicken, beef, and pork are right at home in tacos, sandwiches, rice bowls, nachos, and even soup.
Exactly how versatile your protein is depends on how you season it, but if you keep your base flavors on the more neutral side you can always dress your meat up with sauce for individual dishes later. This Instant Pot pulled pork recipe with garlic, onion, salt, and pepper, for instance, can turn into BBQ sliders one night with the addition of your favorite barbecue sauce but also meld seamlessly into fried rice (or cauliflower fried rice) another evening with a splash of soy sauce, sesame oil, and grated ginger.
If you have a stand mixer, heads-up—it’s also great for shredding cooked meat in a jiffy! (But then you do have more to wash up.)
6. Cook a Big Batch of Grains for Sides and Salads
You can cook rice and other grains in the Instant Pot too, either on their own or via the PIP (pot in pot) method. There’s even an official Instant Pot rice and grains chart with cooking times and water ratios for several types of grains. Jot it down or print it out and keep it near the pressure cooker.
As with meats, the more mildly you season your grains, the more versatile they are. You can use them plain as the base of a saucy grain bowl or under a main dish like butter chicken, mix in other ingredients and seasonings for a hearty but healthy grain salad or pilaf, stir them into soups and stews, or even blend them with veggies and beans for meatless burger patties.
7. Make a Big Pot of Beans From Scratch
Canned beans are great in a pinch, but they cost more per pound, can be a pain to store in bulk if you don’t have a pantry, and they’re never quite as good as beans cooked from dried (plus, some people have concerns about the linings in commercial canned goods). Luckily, the Instant Pot makes it possible to cook dried beans in a fraction of the time compared to conventional methods—and you don’t have to soak them first. Make a batch of your desired variety on Sunday and use them in various meals throughout the week.
Here are some ideas for using Instant Pot Black Beans, a personal favorite—note that one can of beans (commonly called for in recipes) is equivalent to about 1.5 cups: