If your following me, you already know my love for cooking. You also know that I’m a busy gal. I’m not willing to give up one because of the other and I don’t have to when I meal prep. You might think that meal prepping is a chore you must do when your following a strict diet but I meal prep to save time; bonus yes we eat much better because of it. Plus, if you’re intimidated by cooking, I’ll share a ton of sneaky tricks that can help make assembling delicious meals a cinch.
I work 5 days a week so my meal plan is for 5-week night dinners. I like to leave the rest of the week to be spontaneous but I do keep dinner in the back of my mind when I’m shopping. I know the family will be coming over for our “Saturday Night” together and Sunday’s usually include a big lunch so I’ll want to have something on hand. We consider it a splurge to eat out and rarely do. We also travel quite a bit so If I know we won’t be around for the weekend I’ll limit buying perishables so they don’t go to waste.
- Preparation is the key to success. About mid-week I’ll start thinking about next week’s meals. I will take a quick inventory of what I already have on hand which includes rummaging to the back of the freezer, checking expiration dates and pulling out what looks good. Next I’ll start reading recipes and asking the family what they’ve been craving. I’ll jot down the week’s menu and make a grocery list.
- While it might not sound like the most exciting Friday night activity, I do a quick 10-minute fridge clean up. I’ll toss leftovers that have passed their prime. Check the expiration date on the milk and take stock of the staples on hand because it might look like we have catchup but the reality is someone put an empty bottle back in the fridge. I’ll pull out fruits and veggies that aren’t going to make it through another week and run them through the juicer then prep them for the freezer. Bonus… Saturday is trash day so I won’t have stinky trash piled up if I wait to do this after the garbage truck drives by.
- I have this handy dry erase board on the side of the fridge; I’ve used this every week for years. This is where I write down my meal plan. I consider our week’s activities, what nights I’ll be home later than usual, what nights I’ll have a full house ect… This way I know what days I’ll want to choose the crockpot meal and what nights I’ll have time to pre-heat the oven.
- I like to do my grocery shopping on Saturday. I love grocery shopping so this doesn’t feel like a punishment for me but if you hate the idea of spending your Saturday this way, pick another day. The key is being prepared before you walk through the door. A list is a must, as much as I love being in the grocery store I don’t want to have to come back. This is a once a week event. I live in rural Nevada, it’s a 15-minute drive to the store so it take up a lot of time if I must run back and get something that I’ve forgot.
- Once I’m home I’ll clean and put away most of my goods. I do this because my kitchen is small and if I leave everything out for the meal prep then I have no room to prep.
Are you exhausted yet? I know this seems like a lot of work already but trust me once you’re done you’ll appreciate all the free time you will have during the week and no guilt because you stopped at a fast food chain on your way home from work.
- An important part of meal prep is breaking down a recipe. I’ll read through my choices for the week a couple of times paying attention to what I can do ahead of time. Then I will grab 5 large freezer zip top bags and label them with the name of the meal, the date I plan on making it and some basic instructions. (This is perfect if something comes up and you need someone at home to get dinner started for you)
Meats- I like to prep all my meat at once then I can wash up and swap out all my cutting boards, knives and anything else I’ve use to avoid cross contamination. Slice, dice or trim then season or marinade and wrap individually then put it in your previously marked freezer bag.
Veggies- same theory goes here, I like to do it all at once then portion it out, wrap it up and put it in the bag.
You’d be surprised at the little things that take up time. I will literally portion out pasta and put it in the bag. I will do the same with seasonings, dressings and anything that could derail your meal plan. I can’t count the number of times I’ve reached for the mayo only to find out someone has used the last of it on a midnight sandwich. Portion out everything you need and put it in the bag.
I reserve an entire shelf in the fridge for my meal prep for two reasons. Everything I need is in one place and everyone else knows not to touch it. I will arrange the bags in the order I plan on using them with the last meal going in first at the back of the fridge.
If my meal plan includes a casserole and it usually does; then I’ll make the entire recipe and put it in the casserole dish, cover it and put it in the fridge.
At the end of my work day I stop and pick up my granddaughter at the sitters haul her and her gear into the house where our puppies are very enthusiastically waiting for attention. They need dinner (yeah I prepped their meal also) the baby needs a bottle (her momma made this before she left the house and it’s waiting in fridge) and I need to get dinner going. Meal prep makes this a breeze.
I put the bottle in the warmer, set out the dog bowls and grab the meal kit from the fridge. I can usually have everything in motion before the bottle is ready and then I can enjoy a little snuggle time with her while she eats. Once she’s content with a full belly I can put the finishing touches on dinner. It makes me feel like a super star when I successfully juggle all these tasks within the first hour of coming home and I’m left with plenty of evening to enjoy.