I wanted to do a post today to talk a little about meal prep. This is one of those weekly activities that just makes things flow so much smoother every week in our household when I take a little time during the weekend to plan and prepare.
I started meal prepping a few months ago because I found that I was just not making great choices with food. I wouldn’t plan anything for lunch and wind up heating up a microwave burrito or grabbing a handful of crackers. I was eating at the point that I was already absolutely starving and as we all know hangry is not a great place to be.
So I wanted to meal prep for two big reasons- one to save time and one to make better food choices.
If I am diligent about setting aside the time to do this, I feel better, I eat better quality foods and I save myself a lot of time for the rest of the week.
I do want to clarify that in our house, freezer meals have never really worked well for us. The flavors, the variety, the process just hasn’t really worked out. So my weekly meal prep is not freezer batch cooking. It is prepping mostly fresh foods that typically stay in the fridge all week. You can meal prep all three main meals and snacks for the day- for this post I want to focus just on breakfast, lunch and snack ideas.
I think this also helps a ton with enabling my children to always have healthy options available. Our kitchen was stocked last week with all sorts of things and the first thing they grabbed was the chopped watermelon. Not the crackers and cookies in the pantry.
A few things to get started with meal prep. The first is to choose a consistent time each week. I set aside a little time on Saturday to plan our meals and make a shopping list. I usually shop on Saturday if I can.
On Sunday I do the meal prep. I try to spend 2 hours in the kitchen getting everything ready for the week. Yes that is a lot of time but I try to think positively about it. If I add up the amount of time I spend each day prepping snacks and lunches- it does save a lot of time in the long run. Last week for example, I prepped iced coffee for Lattes during the week and saved myself probably 2 or maybe 3 Starbucks trips. There is 30 minutes or more in time saved (plus $12 back in my pocket).
Choose a time that works for you, that you can hopefully follow each week so you set a habit.
Next you want to invest in some good storage containers. If you have a mess of plastic storage containers all over the place, you might want to take a few minutes and organize and see what needs you might have.
I like glass storage containers myself. You can find tons of options here. Just a few good containers are so much better than a bunch of old, junky ones.
And the last step in getting started is to have a clean canvas. When I was first interested in meal prep, instead of investing the two hours in prepping food, I invested two hours in completely and thoroughly cleaning the fridge, freezer and pantry. That was lovely because it is very motivating to meal prep when you have a fresh, clean, open space to work in.
Now I do take 20 minutes or so before each session to clean the kitchen, load the dishwasher and I get all my recipes written out and the ingredients on the counter. As I start prepping food, I continue to load the dishwasher until it is full and I can run it. I usually have 2 loads of dishes after a prep session so I try and get one load going as quickly as possible.
Now you might be wondering how to tackle the process of what to make. Ultimately I say make the things that will mean something to your life. In my house I am crazy busy during the day trying to jam in a full day of work while the kids are at school.
I prefer to prep breakfast and lunch and snacks so I don’t feel chained to the kitchen all day long. The morning is smoother and I can grab a healthy snack and be out the door in 10 seconds.
If you find dinner to be the biggest struggle, you might prep dinner instead.
For the most part I try to make one or two things and the majority of my time is spent cutting and washing fruits and veggies and portioning out snacks.
Here is a sample week of what I might want to prep:
You might be surprised at how much you can get done. You might also get a jump on dinner by putting some chicken into the crock pot and shredding it up for salads or wraps or sandwiches.
That is actually an ambitious list and I couldn’t do all that myself in just 2 hours. My husband chopped the pineapple and washed the grapes and pulled them off the stems. I was also hoping to make almond butter for the celery but didn’t get to that until later in the week.
For your first meal prep session, I suggest starting slow with maybe 5 things to make. Give yourself an hour. You might want to chop veggies for dinner, prep some fruit for snacks, get a batch of breakfast items ready or assemble a few freezer or crock pot meals.
Second, put your head down and get focused. I try to be very focused and not multitasking so I can really make excellent use of my time. I do tend to put an audiobook on and that helps a lot to keep my brain busy while I work.
Oh and since it is on the list I will mention I only prep a small amount of berries as they are so perishable once washed. My kids LOVE them so one pound of strawberries is perfect for two days of lunchboxes and maybe one small snack for me 🙂
And a few other little tips and tricks I have learned.
~Try to multitask when possible. If you are planning to prep for snacks and lunch for example, you still want to think ahead to dinner this week. If I am chopping celery for snacks and we have chicken noodle soup on the menu that week, I might as well chop some extra into smaller pieces and set it aside for dinner. I prepped watermelon for the kids this week but set aside a little chopped tub of watermelon to top with feta cheese for my own snack. Just like with papers, experts always say you should only handle a paper once to be organized. Try to only handle your food once and have it ready for all uses that week.
~Think ahead and plan. I knew I wanted to make almond butter for celery this week but now I can think ahead to next week and I plan to make an almond butter and yogurt dip for apple slices. So now my prep work for next week is halfway done. I try to think ahead in planning next week again to save myself some time and effort.
~Stay on top of cleaning. When you are done with your meal prep, you will sadly have a sink of dirty dishes. I start with a clean kitchen and make sure to keep loading the dishwasher as I go which makes the end a little less painful.
~Prioritize your list. I tend to have a longer list than I can actually get done in two hours (story of my life) so I tend to prioritize things and I also start with anything that needs to be cooked. This week I made Spinach Balls for my snacks and those take awhile to cook so they were the first thing I made. The second thing I make is whatever items are most perishable. Berries and grapes are first to prep and watermelon and pineapple would have been after that.
~Take shortcuts when you can. And not everything has to be homemade every single time. I try to make jar salads for lunch at least twice a month and alternate the type of salad. This week I took a shortcut and picked up an Asian salad from Costco for only $3.99 and just portioned it out into jars. I put the dressing in a little container since I eat at home and it makes lunch a 5 second process for me. Sometimes I make my own salads too but if it is only slightly more to get the prechopped onion and skip chopping it yourself, why not?
And here are a few recipes to try for your weekly prep day:
- Homemade Applesauce
- Overnight Oats (for breakfast)
- Almond Butter
- My favorite green smoothie (So good y’all!)
- Peanut Butter Fruit Dip
- Energy Balls (goodness these are good! This week I made them with raisins for an oatmeal cookie flavor)
- Parmesan Spinach Balls (I cook half and put the other half in the freezer for another time.)
- Mason Jar Southwest Salad
- Spinach Power Salad
- Creamy Cauliflower Soup (my goodness this is good. I put it in mason jars for lunch or quick dinners.)
- Blender Salsa
- Creamy Crock Pot Chicken Tacos
- Nutella Banana Bread Muffins
- Homemade Chocolate Pudding
- Homemade English Muffins
- Cheesy Garlic Bread Spread (for veggies, steaks or french bread)
- Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs (you can also bake eggs in the oven to hard boil them but I prefer this method.)
- How to Bake bacon in the oven. (for salads, breakfast or we occasionally have BLTs on sports nights.)
- Easy iced coffee
Are you a meal prepper as well? I’d love to hear some of your tips or your favorite recipes!
Here are a few things that might come in handy for your prep time: