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At-Home Cooking for the Night Shift

Here’s how to use meal prep, batch cooking, and meal kits to level up your workweek meals. 

Do you order Doordash every night? Is Uber Eats your most used app? If you answered yes, you’re not alone—it’s a struggle for many night shift workers to fit cooking into their packed schedule. This article will give you lots of helpful ideas and inspiration for ways to take the stress out of cooking at home. With these helpful suggestions, you’ll be less tempted to order in, which saves money, and you’ll have more time during your busy week—win-win!

Meal prep

A few hours spent prepping your work meals all at once (instead of packing each one before every shift) makes a huge difference. Prepping food beforehand saves time throughout the workweek and makes it less tempting to order out. As a bonus, your meal-prep routine can be completely personalized—prep key elements of a dish or the entire recipe itself, whatever works for you. Use this method for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks—whichever meals you want to have on deck during the week. 

The internet is full of meal-prep suggestions and inspo, but don’t let all of the blog articles and how-to posts overwhelm you—it doesn’t have to be complicated. Read on to find our guide to stress-free meal prep for the night shift.

Plan it out

Before you start cooking, you’ll want to plan what you’re going to make. It’s generally best to start small—instead of trying to prepare five days’ worth of food at once, start with choosing just one meal, like breakfast or lunch, to prep for the week. Start with recipes that you’re already familiar with to avoid unnecessary stress. 

Once you know what you’ll make, you need to figure out when you’ll make it. Pick a specific time to prepare your recipes and add it to your schedule. This will help you avoid leaving everything until the last minute and not having enough time to cook. Bonus points if you can find a time that will work every week for meal prep—you know we love a good routine!

To make meal prep even easier, keep a running list of your favourite meals. Keep them organized in a Google doc or spreadsheet, or Pinterest board, and list each meal with links to the webpage containing the recipe. You can also type out the recipe if it’s from a book or a family tradition. This way, you’ll have all of your favourite meals together in one place—which can come in very handy when you’re in need of some inspiration or just want a quick and easy meal that you already know is a winner.

Gather the ingredients

Once you know what you want to cook, it’s time to round up the supplies. Start by checking your pantry, freezer, and fridge to see what ingredients you already have on hand. Then make a list of what you need and head to the grocery store. To make this step even easier, you can opt for online grocery services that let you click and collect, or even have your groceries delivered right to your door.

Of note, frozen produce can change the game when it comes to cooking for night shift. You can buy large amounts of veggies without worrying about them going bad before you have time to use them. Frozen fruits can be thrown into smoothies for a quick on-the-go meal or snack. Frozen produce also comes already prepped and ready to go, so you don’t have to spend time washing, cutting, or peeling it. Yes, please!

Prepare and store your prepped ingredients or meals

Now it’s time to hit the kitchen and make your meal-prep masterpiece! After you’ve prepared your food, it’s important to store it correctly so that it will last through the week. You might decide to invest in some airtight storage containers—these also streamline the meal-prep process, making it easy to divide the food into equal portions and allowing you to see what’s inside. With a fridge stocked full of delicious meals, you’ll have no problem eating well while managing your shift schedule throughout the week.

 

Grocery staples for meal prep

  • Canned/cooked beans
  • Cans of tomato sauce, whole tomatoes, and tomato puree
  • Cans of coconut milk
  • Canned meats like tuna or chicken
  • Canned vegetables like corn, beans, mushrooms, artichokes, etc.
  • Jars of curry sauce, like butter chicken or tikka masala
  • Bottles of your favourite oils and vinegars
  • Cooked pasta, grains, and legumes—think quinoa, whole grain penne noodles, brown rice, red lentils, etc.
  • Whole fruit—apples, bananas, oranges, berries, lemons, peaches, or whatever’s in season
  • Hearty vegetables—like carrots, peppers, and celery
  • Starchy vegetables—root vegetables like potatoes, turnips, and carrots will survive longer in your fridge than more delicate vegetables
  • Dips and sauces—like healthy salad dressings, salsa, soy sauce, chili crisp, and hummus.
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Nut butters, like peanut or almond butter
  • Frozen fruits and veggies

 

Batch cooking

Batching tasks together saves time, and this applies to cooking too. Batch cooking involves prepping and cooking several portions of a single dish at one time and freezing them or simply storing them in the fridge for future use. There’s nothing better than pulling a delicious meal out of the freezer that simply needs to be thawed and heated up.

Batch cooking is perfect for busy night shifters because you prepare enough food for several nights in one session rather than making individual meals every day. It’s a huge money and time saver—you can buy your groceries in bulk, eliminate waste, avoid unnecessary take-out orders (we’ve all been there), and cut down on preparation time.

Follow the process

The batch-cooking process is similar to the one for meal prepping:

  • Take a look at your schedule to see which meals you want to have during the week/month. You can also figure out what time is best for you to prepare the food.
  • Pick a few recipes you’d like to prepare for the weeks or months ahead.
  • Check which ingredients you already have on hand.
  • Make a shopping list and give yourself enough time to gather the needed ingredients.
  • Don’t forget to make sure you have enough space in your freezer to store the food once it’s cooked!
  • Grab your groceries, and get cooking. To simplify the process, try to clean as you go, and remember to cool the food before you freeze it.
  • Divide your food into equal portions and store them in freezer-safe containers to be enjoyed at any time. You can even get containers specifically made for freezing one or two-cup portions, like these.

 

Set yourself up for success

There are lots of helpful tools you can use to further simplify your batch cooking process. Cooking with these tools requires little stirring or monitoring while the food is cooking, giving you even more time for other things. Here’s a list of our favourite batch cooking tools: 

  • One of our go-to’s is a good old-fashioned slow cooker—throw your ingredients in before you leave for your shift, and the food will be ready by the time you get home.
  • Instant pots are also amazing time savers, producing meals that taste like they’ve been simmering all day, but take a fraction of the time.
  • A large, heavy-bottomed stock pot is another great tool for making large quantities of soups and stews that taste like home.
  • Food processors come in many sizes, and they can make quick work of chopping, dicing, and even grating.
  • Immersion blenders are super convenient, allowing you to make purees without lugging out and cleaning a large blender. 
  • Extra-large baking trays (like these) can hold more than standard sizes, allowing you to whip up a feast (just make sure they’ll fit in your oven!).
  • We also love a good air fryer for quick cooking (the batches will be smaller but they will be done fast!).

 

Leveraging these kitchen appliances makes for a simplified culinary experience that saves tons of time without sacrificing flavour or nutrition. Also, don’t feel like you need to rush out for everything all at once. Look at your favourite meals, think of how you could make them in bulk, and start with just the tools you need.

Store your meals

After your food is cooked, you can keep portions in the fridge for the week and freeze the rest to use later in the month. Don’t forget to label everything before freezing—you might think you’ll remember what’s in that container, but a month or two down the road it can be tricky to tell the difference between stew and spaghetti sauce. Keep a roll of masking tape and a permanent marker handy in your kitchen drawer for easy labeling—your future self will thank you!

Just remember to pull your meal out of the freezer before you head into your shift, and it’ll be thawed and ready to eat by the time you get home. Keep a note of the recipes you’ve chosen and if they’re winners, keep them to make your plan even easier next time. Easy peasy!

 

Finding and choosing recipes

As you get more comfortable with the concept of meal prep and batch cooking, you can experiment with different types of foods you like to figure out what works best for you. Between Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok, and the millions of helpful blogs out there, there are endless amazing recipes and ideas for meal prepping. Spend some time browsing to find recipes that you want to try, or take a look through your tried-and-true recipes and see if you can put a meal-prep spin on them. To help get you started, we’ve included some of our favourite at-home go-tos below.

Meal-prep ideas

  • Oatmeal
  • Chia seed pudding
  • Stir fry veggie and rice bowls
  • Mason jar salads
  • Taco bowls
  • Chicken wraps

 

Batch-cooking ideas

  • Soup
  • Chili
  • Curry
  • Red Lentil Dahl
  • Casseroles
  • Pasta bake

 

Meal kits

Meal kits are great for those nights when you want a quick, easy meal without needing to spend time shopping and/or prepping ingredients. Typically, meal kits come in boxes sent right to your front door that include premeasured ingredients for creating full recipes. The recipes come along with instructions and cooking tips, taking all of the stress out of the cooking process. Once your kit arrives, all you have to do is read the included cooking instructions or watch an instructional video and follow the steps. Voilà! Your meal is ready to be enjoyed.

Know what to expect

All meal kit services are slightly different, but they all typically include the following:

  • Boxes or bags of pre-packaged raw ingredients 
  • Easy-to-follow recipe cards, usually with step-by-step photos
  • Delivery to your door, concierge, or office
  • Ice packs to keep perishable ingredients (e.g., meat) fresh
  • Enough food for two to four people

 

Select your meal kit service

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a total beginner, there’s a meal delivery company out there for you. With the number of options out there, you can find a meal kit service that fits your needs—depending on the one you choose, options often include vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, keto, and others. Many meal kit companies offer customizable options, so you can have them come as often as you want and can choose recipes that will feed one, two, or up to six people. You can also choose whether you want your recipes to take an hour, 20 minutes, or even select meals that come completely pre-made—whatever works for you!

Some popular meal-kit options available in Canada include:

 

Some popular meal kit options in the US are:

 

Meal kits allow you to make fresh, delicious meals without ever having to head to the grocery store—which is a huge advantage for night shifters with an already jam-packed schedule. You’ll need fewer items on hand, such as spices, sauces, and fresh produce which can reduce grocery shopping trips throughout busy weeks or months on the job. Meal kits make cooking simple, while still giving you the satisfaction of making home-cooked meals while learning new cooking techniques. As a bonus, they’ll likely have you eating more variety (and likely more vegetables!) than you might otherwise.

 

Feeding yourself healthy and delicious meals on the night shift may require a little extra planning and creativity, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. By keeping strategies up your sleeve like the ones mentioned above, you can make tasty, nourishing meals that will take the hassle out of your night shift meal routine.

Last updated: 2024-03-10

Sierra Jensen

Sierra Jensen

I'm a freelance writer who's passionate about matcha lattes and meaningful content. You'll find my work in regional magazines, healthcare websites, and lifestyle blogs.

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