My Air Fryer Meal Prep guide shares ten ways you can use your air fryer for faster, tastier meal prep this week. Healthy and FAST!
I admit I'm sometimes skeptical of new kitchen tools and gadgets. I suppose I'm a bit of a minimalist at heart. I love having clear countertops and I don't always want to add yet another appliance to my kitchen. But…it seems like the air fryer is here to stay and I get it!
Not only does it replicate fried foods in a much healthier way, it's also great for cooking up small batches of proteins and veggies. Bonus? It doesn't heat up the house like turning on your oven will. And that is a BIG bonus here in Texas in the middle of July.
So whether you're just gathering information, wondering if an air fryer is worth it or you're a total air fryer-enthusiast looking for new ways to use this impressive appliance, I hope my ten simple air fryer recipes for meal prep help you out!
Before we get to the recipes though, let's talk a few basics.
Is an air fryer the same as a convection oven?
Yes and no.
An air fryer is indeed a type of convection oven. This means it uses a fan to circulate hot air to cook the food. Convection ovens not only cook food more quickly, they also cook more evenly and are great for browning. Cooking with a convection oven can result in crispier food because the air blowing around lowers the humidity in the oven. Some ovens have a convection setting you can use.
So how is the air fryer different?
It's smaller. An air fryer is basically a small, countertop convection oven. It also cooks food a little bit more quickly than a traditional convection oven because it preheats quickly, the fan is on top which speeds cooking time and the perforated fryer basket allows more air to circulate.
It's a great choice if your oven doesn't have a convection setting, if you want to make smaller batches of food or if you want to avoid heating up the house.
What is an air fryer used for?
The air fryer is most famous for recreating fried favorites like french fries, doughnuts and fried chicken, in a much healthier way, using a fraction of the oil.
Don't turn away if you're not a fan of those deep-fried classics though! Air fryers can be used to cook almost any protein or vegetables. They're great for small batches, like cooking up a few meatballs for your kid for lunch.
Air fryers also offer an alternative way to reheat leftovers, maintaining the texture of the food much better than a microwave and reheating more quickly than an oven.
Is an air fryer worth it?
Whether or not an air fryer is worth it really depends on you and your cooking preferences. Here are a few instances in which it's totally worth it:
- You live somewhere hot and want a good cooking option that won't turn your whole house into an oven
- You frequently cook small batches of food for lunch, for your kiddo or for a 1-2 person household
- You don't like to use the microwave and want a stellar option for reheating food
- You love gadgets and appliances and want to experiment with something new in the kitchen
- You love fried food and want a healthier option for crispy favorites
Still not sure if it's worth it? Read through my simple air fryer recipes below and think about whether it's something you'd actually use.
If you are considering purchasing an air fryer, this article has some great recommendations on which models are the best.
What are the benefits of Air Fryer meal prep?
There are three main ways you can use an air fryer for meal prep:
One way to use the air fryer for meal prep is to totally prep and cook something ahead of time. This works well if you want to cook some chicken, salmon or shrimp to eat atop salads for lunch throughout the week. It also works well for quickly cooking a variety of veggies to have on-hand for lunches or dinners.
Using the air fryer to totally cook ahead doesn't work as well if you're prepping family dinners, due to its small size.
For our Prep Dish menus, our prep day instructions usually include chopping, making sauces and marinades, etc., not actually fully cooking dishes. This is because many items are simply better made fresh.
If you like to do this sort of meal prep, prepping ahead but cooking on the day you serve the meal, the air fryer can be a great tool, simply because it cooks faster. Between the much faster preheat time to the quicker cook time, if you have everything prepped ahead, dinner can be ready very quickly after you arrive home.
Perhaps one of the best ways to use the air fryer for meal prep is reheating. Even if you agree that freshly cooked food tastes better, we all have nights when we basically need dinner DONE when we walk in the door.
If you fully cook a dish ahead of time but don't want it to taste like leftovers, the air fryer can quickly reheat foods while maintaining their texture. No soggy leftovers here! This is particularly great for crispy items that don't otherwise reheat well.
Is there anything else I should know?
There's one other important consideration when choosing an air fryer, and that's what it's made of.
When I started researching air fryers for my own family, one thing I noticed right away is that most use non-stick / Teflon coatings. This is something I personally try to avoid for any pans or appliances I use regularly. (You can read more about potential concerns with Teflon here.)
It was surprisingly hard to find information on which air fryers do not use teflon so I wanted to share what I found. After much research, I went with this model which uses a glass bowl. I'll update you on how well it works after I try it out for a bit longer!
10 Super Simple Ideas for Air Fryer Meal Prep
I've included ten great applications for air fryer meal prep below, but the appliance really is pretty versatile. You can use it for most proteins and veggies.
This guide to converting recipes from a conventional oven to a convection oven or air fryer is super useful. Basically, you need to lower the temperature by about 25 degrees or shorten the cook time by about 25%. Make sure to check a few minutes before you think the food will be done, especially if you're new to the air fryer.
You'll also likely need to either halve a recipe or cook in a couple of batches if you're converting a recipe. The air fryer is pretty small and you won't achieve the same great texture if you crowd the food.
Without further ado, here are the recipes!
1. Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
My Pecan Crusted Chicken Fingers were one of the first things I thought of when considering the best applications of the air fryer for meal prep.
The air fryer makes this already pretty irresistible chicken even crispier. Also though, it makes the leftovers so good!
Simply follow the recipe, but instead of cooking in the oven, preheat the air fryer to 400 F and cook for about 7 minutes on each side. You may have to work in batches.
You'll notice this isn't actually faster if you have to cook more than one batch in the air fryer. It is a great method if you really want to maximize crispiness though, or if you want to cook these up in July and it's simply too hot for the oven.
Even if you decide to cook the chicken in your oven, the air fryer is a great way to reheat it to keep that crispiness. To reheat, simply cook in your air fryer for 3-5 minutes at 320 F, until the chicken is warm.
2. Air Fryer Shrimp
If you love crispy shrimp, the air fryer is a great way to get that crunch without deep frying. Simply cook shrimp for 6-8 minutes in an air fryer preheated to 400 F, shaking the basket in the middle. This would work great with my coconut lime shrimp (dredge the shrimp in coconut before putting it in the air fryer) or my cajun shrimp!
If you want more of that “fried shrimp” texture, dip the shrimp in a beaten egg and dredge in some almond flour before cooking in the air fryer.
3. Air Fryer Salmon
Salmon might not be what first comes to mind when you think of the air fryer, but it's a great way to quickly cook fish without turning on your oven.
Try my Honey Ginger Salmon. Prep the marinade ahead of time. Marinate salmon for 20-30 minutes when you get home and then pop it in the air fryer for 7-10 minutes at 350 F. Again, you may have to work in batches depending on the size of your air fryer and how many people you're cooking for.
4. Air Fryer Burgers
Don't feel like grilling but don't want to heat up the house cooking burgers on your stove? The air fryer is the perfect solution. Simply cook in your air fryer for 4 minutes per side at 375 F. (Try 5-7 minutes per side for frozen burgers, depending on the size of the burgers.
This would work great with my BLTA burgers!
5. Air Fryer Meatballs
My kids usually eat basically the same thing we do for dinner. Still, there are some nights when I know something will be too spicy or my husband and I are having a date night and I need something quick and healthy for the kiddos.
In these cases, I love raiding my freezer and one of my favorite things to pull out is meatballs! Meatballs are so kid-friendly and, with the air fryer, you can cook directly from the freezer!
For non-frozen meatballs, preheat your air fryer to 400 F and cook for 10-11 minutes. For pre-cooked frozen meatballs, cook at 400 F for 15 minutes.
6. Air Fryer Sweet Potato Fries
As the name suggests, the air fryer excels at cooking traditionally fried foods, like sweet potato fries! Of course, it can make normal fries too, but we love sweet potatoes in our house so I'm going with that.
To make sweet potato fries, cut a sweet potato into “fry” shapes and toss in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook at 375 F for 10-15 minutes, flipping once in the middle.
If you prefer your sweet potatoes in chip form, these look delicious!
7. Air Fryer Baked Potatoes
There are two reasons baked potatoes are great in the air fryer. First of all, you don't have to heat up the whole house! Second of all, the skins come out super crisp.
Cook in a preheated air fryer for 40 minutes at 375 F. If you want a full recipe, you can find one here!
8. Air Fryer Brussels Sprouts
We love Brussels sprouts in my house and the air fryer is such an easy way to get them nice and crispy. I love using leftover Brussels sprouts on salads and “bowls” throughout the week so they're great to include in your meal prep.
Cook halved Brussels sprouts with a little olive oil, salt and pepper in a preheated 375 F air fryer for about 15 minutes, tossing halfway through.
Some stores have pre-halved Brussels, which makes this recipe so easy. You can replace the butter with olive oil if you prefer.
9. Air Fryer Cauliflower
I feel like cauliflower is something people either love or hate. So much of it is how it's prepared though!
I personally think roasted cauliflower is delicious and it turns out air fryer cauliflower is too! All you do is toss the cauliflower in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, then cook in a preheated 390 F air fryer for 5-6 minutes, tossing once in the middle.
10. Air Fryer Apple Chips
I'm a big proponent of including healthy snacks in your weekly meal prep, and air fryer meal prep is no exception! These apple chips are a great kid-friendly, healthy snack. The best part? They cook in less than 10 minutes in the air fryer!
If you're new to meal prep and it seems overwhelming, remember you can start small! Choose 1-2 proteins and a couple of veggies from this list and you'll have some great lunch or easy dinner options to choose from throughout the week. If you need inspiration on how to mix and match to put together meals, check out my Mix & Match Easy Lunches post – they work great for simple dinners too!