Now that we're back to the busy life—full school days, extracurriculars, semi-retiring the home office—it's a perfect time to rethink your routines, including mealtime prep. First trick: A one-stop shop like BJ’s Wholesale Club (where you can load up on pantry staples) will save some major time. BJ’s, for the uninitiated, is a members-only warehouse-style store that offers bulk foods, everyday essentials, and more at discount prices. Memberships start at $55 a year, but you can more than make up for that in savings. Prices are about 25% lower than conventional grocery stores, plus you can earn exclusive coupons and deals from major brands like AT&T and Whirlpool as perks of becoming a BJ's member.
Okay, so that covers where you need to go, but let’s talk what to buy once you get there. Jenna Braddock, RD, nutrition expert and founder of Make Healthy Easy, recommends strolling the aisles for items that lighten the meal-and-snack prepping workload, and are easy to stock up on in bulk. “Over the summer one of my goals was to find new foods that our family likes that can be turned into easy, balanced meals once the school year starts,” she says. Frozen fruits and veggies, shelf-stable proteins and sauces, and quick-cooking grains are some of the big winners because they cut prep time.
Here are seven smart time-saving tricks and what to buy to make them work.
Speed Up Smoothie Making
A big bag of frozen fruit like BJ’s own blend of unsweetened strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries is your backbone for easy, healthy make-ahead breakfasts. “I almost always have a bag like this in my freezer for smoothies,” says Braddock.
She suggests making individual smoothie packs ahead of time by filling quart-sized plastic baggies with frozen berries and your other favorite smoothie ingredients (like banana chunks, baby spinach, and nuts or nut butter) and keeping the bags stored in the freezer. When it’s time for breakfast, let the packs thaw on the counter for a few minutes, then blend with your choice of milk.
Punch Up Pasta
You know that whole meal-prep tip about making sauces and dressings ahead of time, so they’re ready for fast meals? Having a jar of basil pesto on hand means that job is already done. Packed with aged Parmesan cheese and toasty pine nuts, “it’s a go-to flavor powerhouse that can make a gourmet meal happen in minutes,” Braddock says. “I like tossing it with cooked high-protein pasta and leftover cooked meat.”
And if you still have some pesto left in the jar after pasta night, lucky you – you’re already halfway there for even more easy meals. Try tucking the basil sauce in cheesy quesadillas, swirling in scrambled eggs, mixing with mayo or hummus for sandwiches, or using it to jazz up grain and veggie bowls.
Create Instant Leftovers
Sure, you could spend Sunday afternoon cooking a batch of chicken breasts for a week’s worth of salads, sandwiches, and casserole fillings. Or you could just buy a few packs of pre-cooked, all-white-meat chicken breast, keep them in the pantry, and open up a can whenever you need it.
“Cooking a protein can often be the most time-consuming part of making a meal, and by using this ready to eat chicken, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy,” Braddock says. Try using it in a filling for enchiladas (prep it ahead of time and pop it in the oven for dinner!), layered onto flatbreads with cheese and veggies, or even shredded and tossed into soups.
Have Sides on Standby
Any quinoa makes a fast, protein- and fiber-packed side dish, grain bowl or veggie burger base, or plant-based filling for tacos or stuffed veggies. But the fact that BJ’s exclusive Wellsley Farms quinoa comes in a 3-pound bag makes it extra great. “I like buying quinoa in larger sizes like this one because the price is a lot better,” Braddock says. And since it’s shelf-stable, it’ll be happy in your pantry for weeks or even months (if it lasts that long).
Make a batch of quinoa and refrigerate it in an airtight container to use throughout the week. Or if you really like to think ahead, pack a big already-cooked batch in quart-sized plastic baggies and freeze them, Braddock recommends. You can thaw the baggies overnight in the fridge or do a quick thaw by putting the baggies in a bowl of cold water.
Outsource Slicing And Dicing
Pre-sliced veggies from the produce section score big for convenience, but you’ll pay a premium price and you only have a few days before they start to go south. Pre-sliced veggies from the frozen section, like BJ’s sliced peppers and onions, still put you on Planet Crazy-Easy, but they cost less and will stay good basically forever (aka, up to two years). In other words, they’re exactly what you want to have around for quick meals with minimal planning.
“This particular mix makes it super easy to throw together fajitas, stir-fries, or a simple side of veggies with almost zero work,” Braddock says. In fact, they can go straight from the freezer to the skillet! And since this bag has almost four pounds of veggies, you won’t have to worry about restocking for a while.
Tap into a Bountiful Fruit Source
Low on fresh fruit and haven’t had time to stop at the store? You could beat yourself up over it, or just reach for this simple, no-sugar added applesauce. It makes for a wholesome snack or lunchbox side—and is good for so much more. Use it to add natural sweetness and moisture to baked goods, like a batch of whole grain muffins or pancakes that can be frozen and toasted up throughout the week. Or swirl it into plain yogurt or oatmeal and add a sprinkle of cinnamon for an apple pie-inspired flavor.
And FYI, the fact that BJ’s Wellsley Farms applesauce comes in individual cups is everything. For one, they’ll stay fresher longer than a big jar (which can take forever to get through!). And they tend to be more affordable than applesauce pouches, Braddock notes.
Sneak in Healthy Snacks
Store-bought granola bars and energy bites keep kids going after school (yay!), but they’re usually packed with added sugar (whomp whomp). With a big jar of all-natural almond butter, you can make your own dried fruit-and-nut energy balls to help your family stay fueled without loading up on the sweet stuff, says Braddock. (Try her recipe for Blueberry Coconut Energy Balls! It’s amazing!)
And like with all things BJ’s, the club's exclusive Wellsley Farm nut butters come in a generously sized jar (less restocking for you!) with a price that’s easy to swallow, says Braddock. So if you wanna sneak a spoonful (or two) while you’re packing up lunches after everyone’s in bed, there’s no qualms about it.
Save even more time and money shopping at BJ’s, by using one of their convenient shopping options, including same-day delivery, curbside pickup or in-club pickup, to help prep you for any of these easy and delicious meal hacks for you and your family.