Meal prep means different things for different people: For me, it means spending a small amount of time preparing to feed myself in the moments where I absolutely must eat something right now or I’m going to lose it. And while I’m a fan of meal prep, I am not an advocate for identical containers of food that are mediocre to begin with and grow less appealing over the course of the week. I also hate giving up precious weekend leisure time to prepare for the work week ahead—all it does is make the week seem longer.
No, instead, I am a big fan of ordering too much Chinese takeout on Sunday nights. It feels like a treat, a good way to end the weekend in a leisurely style, without having to do too many dishes. I like an order of crispy chicken and maybe some dumplings to eat immediately. The rest, I pack into my fridge to reheat and re-combine throughout the week.
The most important pillar of Chinese takeout as meal prep is extra rice. If you, like me, struggle to cook rice without burning the pot or turning the grains into a sticky mess, takeout is an excellent time to let a professional do the work for you. A couple of extra containers of rice are affordable and can be turned into fried rice or just a simple rice salad later in the week. If you end up with too much, rice freezes well and can be returned to fluffy, steamy glory with just a sprinkle of water a minute in the microwave.
WATCH: 4 Uses for Leftover Rice
I also tend to over-order on some of my favorite vegetable sides—Szechuan eggplant, green beans, bok choy and pea leaves are all delicious reheated and are an easy way to add extra vegetables to any meal. With those items stocked in my fridges, roasted chicken thighs or tofu can easily become a full meal—just add rice and vegetables.
One of my favorite dishes, a Sichuan dish usually translated to English as dry-fried chicken with chiles, consists of nuggets of crispy chicken with Sichuan peppercorns and pieces of dried chile. Often, there are also jalapeños and celery tossed in for texture and freshness. At my local spot, they often include more chiles and peppercorns than I can eat with the chicken, so I’ll toss them into fried rice to elevate the flavor and avoid waste. The result is a flavorful, freshly cooked dish that comes together in just a few minutes.
Many of my favorite Chinese dishes rely on special techniques and equipment to prepare — I often refer to the food blog The Woks of Life to learn how to make my own versions of these dishes at home. But sometimes, I think, it’s better to let the pros take over. Letting takeout (or even leftovers from a meal out) serve as a stand-in for meal prep is a great way to alleviate stress when you just don’t have the time to cook for yourself. It’s an especially good treat when you’re coming home from vacation or recovering from a big holiday weekend. Just give yourself a break, and let the pros handle supper.
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