Want to know my favorite food prep secret? You don’t have to prep all your meals for the week. You definitely don’t have to prep 20 ready-to-go meals in one sitting. Start off simple and you will be amazed at how much impact even a little bit of meal prep can have! This will save you the "drive-thru/take-out worry” at lunch or dinner (and that added expense) and will set you up for having a proper breakfast (it’s the most skipped meal) How to meal prep: The first thing? Just start. Just do it. It doesn’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to get fancy. Make it quick at first, you can get in the groove and see how much it helps you. Just pick one meal, the one that stresses you out the most. Just focus on that meal. Even prepping just one meal ahead will give you the benefits of food prep. I promise!
For me, that was dinners. I don’t always do food planning now, but when I first started I prepped my dinners for the week at first, then I started adding in some lunches, and finally snacks. Keep it simple - simply picking one meal that pains you and focusing on that will prevent you from getting overwhelmed, and you will still feel the benefits of meal prepping! Schedule it - write it on your calendar. Block off time. Make it as difficult as possible for yourself to make excuses to not do it. Watching Netflix? Scrolling Facebook? Food prep time is time well spent. You can listen to music, movies or podcasts while you prep, it doesn’t have to be either or. Use dependable recipes - food making food prep the easiest, it might not be the right time to try a crazy new recipe. That’s more for special occasions. Using recipes you already know are easy, work for you and that you love is a great base to start off of. Have fun and reward yourself - I like to crank up the music and have fun when I’m prepping. And it doesn’t hurt to bribe yourself with a sweetened tea or coffee ….. or a bit of dark chocolate, right? Depending on the type or recipe you are prepping, you will need storage containers! You do not need to get fancy. Try to make do with what you already have on hand. I use pint size jars from Ball (great for storing veggies, overnight oats, parfaits, smoothies etc) and glass storage containers with sealed lids. I don’t use much plastic but folks who choose to get a lot of benefit out of using the gallon size freezer bags from Ziploc which work well for freezer meals. How to meal prep for the week - I’m going to walk you through my process. The one that I do when I can. And when IU can’t? I don’t worry about it. Is this the right process for you? Maybe. Maybe not. But it always helps to see how others do things. Try some and take what works for you.
STEP ONE: Make a food plan I started by writing out what I wanted for dinners and adding in breakfast and lunches. I very often eat the same thing 3-4 days in a row for breakfast and lunch, which are typically leftovers or planned lunches out so they are easier to fill in. I’ll be checking my calendar as I do this in case I have days with lunch meetings or dinners with friends, in which case I don’t have to think about it. And last but not least, I pick some easy, healthy snacks. Here’s how I decide what to put on my meal plan - Take stock- The first thing I do is check my fridge and take stock of what is left over. I plan a few meals early on in the week around those items. You can also check out the freezer in case you have any frozen protein or meals that need to be used up. Freezers packed full are likely a week or mores’ worth of food. You can save time and money by ‘eating down’ what’s in your freezer, especially before it gets freezer burnt. Check what’s on sale– I don’t do this personally but I know most people check out proteins and stock up on chicken thighs or chicken breasts, pork tenderloin or salmon based on what the flyer says. Costly produce like berries are also great to buy on sale (and frozen ones) so it can be easiest to use these as the starting point for deciding on meals. (Another option is to write out theme days- Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Stir Fry Wednesday, Casserole Thursday, Pizza Friday, Slow Cooker Saturday, Pasta Sunday. Just as a starting point, this might be a great way to get the ball rolling if you can’t think of anything, or have the family help you create theme days.)
STEP TWO: make a shopping list and get your groceries First, I go through my (usually loose) plan and write in needed ingredients beside the menu item. Then I write up a shopping list. I’m quite flexible about when and how I do food prep, and sometimes I don’t do it at all. Those are times when I allow myself flexibility and balance. Get shopping- I have a lot of friends who order groceries online for easy and fast pick them up. This works well for people with kids and seniors! Ordering groceries online means you get time to check out sales, and are less likely to impulse buy things you don’t need!
STEP THREE: start meal prepping! You have your meal plan, you have your groceries, you’ve got this! Remember to pick one meal and focus on that to start. Pick a time (Sunday afternoon works well for lots) and get the family involved in helping.
There are SO many different ways you can meal prep. Keep it simple. Guess what? You DO NOT need to prep full meals. Small steps like cooking a batch of quinoa or rice, chopping some veggies, or tossing some (happy) beef or chicken in the slow cooker are going to help you out BIG TIME during the work week, I promise. 1. Buffet style meal prep- a lot of people enjoy prepping their veggies and proteins ahead and then using them for easy meals. This is great for salads, tacos or wraps. You can also prep a big portion of protein (slow cook or roast it up) and use that as a base for several meals through the week. Some ideas include chopping up your veggies, roasting up vegetables or potatoes in some seasoning, shaking together easy dressings or sauces, or cooking up grains like brown rice, pasta or quinoa. 2. Big batch cooking- cook up a big batch of something (this is best with soups, stews, a whole chicken) and enjoy it through the week. 3. Portion things out- whether it is an entire meal or just a part of it, portioning out is one of the most important steps of meal prep because it means you can just grab and go. Some ideas include trail mix, hummus or dip with veggies or crackers, overnight oats 4. Assemble ingredients but don’t cook ‘em - this is a great idea and is best done with freezer meals, but you can store in the fridge as well. By assembling your meals ahead of time, then when it comes time to cook, you simply need to dump the ingredients in the slow cooker (or Instant Pot if you have one) and press the button! 5. Pre-cooked meals- this is my approach for breakfasts and lunches, and is perfect for meals that you don’t have time to prep on the days you will eat. All you need to do is grab them from the fridge, re-heat if necessary, and enjoy! Stir fries, mason jar meals, soups, stews, stir fries, and curries are all great pre-cooked meals.
The fastest way to food prep is just to do it. Make it simple as possible. When you see the results, you’ll start to prioritize making time for it because of the time and money you’ll save. There you are! The benefits of food planning and doing some are so worth the effort. You will feel better about moving in the right direction with cleaning eating, you’ll save yourself time, worry and money. You will feel less stress. You will eat healthier. Just remember this if you start to feel the resistance (the one that tells you you’d rather watch Netflix) that simplicity and planning is key. You can do it. You’re amazing! (Want to chat? I distill complicated nutrition stuff to give you exactly what you need to know, and nothing more. Book your free 15 minute nutrition chat with me here!)
-Health Coach K