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Do you ever get frustrated because you want to make a recipe, but don’t have one of the key ingredients on hand? Are you looking for a speed up the dinner prep process and find a simpler way to get the food on the table? Do you always feel like you have to follow recipes because you don’t really know how all the ingredients work together otherwise?

Me too! So you might be interested in learning about my favorite way to simplify meal prep…

Recipe templates simplify meal prep

I used to be baffled by recipes. If I didn’t follow a recipe to a T, my results were not quite edible.

Food science lab was one of the classes I had to take to become a dietitian. That is where things started to change for me. By the end of the semester, I began to understand how to treat ingredients. I could play around with substitutions without a complete screw-up for a result.

When I looked at a recipe, I started to be aware of the critical ingredients, the ingredients that could be left out and the ingredients that could be varied for a different taste or finished product.

Then I started noticing different books that worked with this concept. One of them is Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. Michael decodes baking, among other things. Ingredients are simplified to the ratio ingredient types: flour, liquid, egg, sugar, and fat. The method is mostly the same, but it leaves you with endless combinations to create the perfect cake or cookie (or bread, or soup, etc).

There may be some other technical term for this whole idea, but I like to call it a recipe template. A recipe template is essentially a simple outline to follow to make particular dish. When you have a few of these worked into your routine, you really can see how they simplify your time in the kitchen.

The Simplest Recipe Template

The simplest example that comes to mind is salad dressing. The ingredient types and amounts are:

  • 1 tablespoon acid
  • 1/2 teaspoon emulsifier
  • 2-3 tablespoons fat
  • salt & pepper to taste

Here are some options for each ingredient:

  • Acid: vinegar (red, white, white wine, balsamic, apple cider), lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice
  • Emulsifier: mustard powder, prepared mustard (Dijon, yellow, whole grain), paprika, egg yolk
  • Fat: oil (extra virgin olive, canola, sunflower, safflower, avocado), bacon fat (so delicious!)

And the method:

  1. Stir together acid, emulsifier, salt, and pepper in a small bowl or bottom of your salad bowl.
  2. While whisking the ingredients, drizzle in the fat.

You can see the salad dressing template in action with this 5 Ingredient Balsamic Vinaigrette recipe.

If you want to simplify meal prep, here are all the reasons you should start thinking of recipes as templates instead of strict instructions.


Recipe templates give you the framework for a recipe. With the template, you get the types of ingredients and the method for putting them together. Make it a few times, and without knowing it, you’ve memorized the template. You know the proportions of the ingredients. You know how to put them together.


When you work a template into your weekly plans, you gain efficiency. It is quicker to get the dish completed. You’ve done the steps before. You know what comes next. No looking back at the recipe every few minutes (or less!) to figure out what’s next. This is a huge time saver. Note: It takes time to get to this point! You need to make the dish several times before you get to this point and that is completely okay. Be patient.


Recipe templates give you options for each type of ingredient. There’s not one way to make the recipe. Each type of ingredient gives you several variations. If you like math, having even 3 options for each ingredient type is going to give you 20+ combinations. So even if you’re making it every week, you don’t have to have the same thing twice.


Recipe templates give you a guide for improvisation. Don’t like kale? No problem! For a recipe calling for greens, you can easily make a swap with one you do like (spinach anyone?). Have some scallions on hand, but not fancy shallots? You don’t need to make a trip to the grocery store or scrap the whole recipe. As you learn to work with the different ingredients, you’ll become more comfortable making these swaps in more and more recipes.


Templates encourage creativity. By having different options for each ingredient step, you’ll find yourself coming up with new and different combos. Some may not work great, but others may be over the moon delicious. Having template in your back pocket helps keep you from getting bored with a weekly dish… each week it’s a little bit different.


The next time you make a recipe, take a minute to think about and notice how all the ingredients work together. Think about some swaps that could be made and consider if this could become a template recipe for you. Get a few of those under your belt and you’re on your way to allowing your recipe templates to simplify meal prep.

Happy eating!