There are two types of people in the world. Those who have meals prepped and ready and those who throw dinner together on the fly. I for one am Team Meal Prep all the way. I can’t begin to imagine coming home after a long day of work, making a thousand decisions to then having to answer the age old question of “What’s for Dinner?” Having at least some plan saves me not only time and my sanity but definitely increases the likeliness that dinner will be on the healthier side. If you are proud member of my team, read on and maybe you’ll take away a few more tricks to add to your toolkit. If you are a fly by the seat of your pants type of person, well I am here to convince you this is one change you may want to consider.
There are lots of different approaches you can take to meal prepping. Some folks like to plan meals around a theme; Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc. etc. and then have a few tried and true recipes for each category to rotate through. I have also seen others who make large batches of items to have on hand that easily morph into different meals. Regardless, the key to any approach you take is planning and preparation.
1) Start with planning your meals.
I typically plan for 4-5 meals a week leaving one day for left overs and one night to support our local restaurants. I think through all components of the meal-will we have a salad along side (yes), what veggies and sides will I make to go with?
2) Build your grocery list.
Do not try to go to the grocery store without a list. I don’t care how good you are at Jeopardy, you will not remember everything you need. Make a list of all the ingredients you need to make your meals then double check your pantry/freezer for items you already have. There is nothing worse then coming home to put away groceries only to realize you already had 5 of the same item. (Capers anyone? I always do this with capers. "Oh look! I have 4 jars of unopened capers already.")
Pick a window of time over the weekend to prep your meals. Admittedly, this is not always my favorite way to spend precious weekend hours but I tell myself that future Leah who comes home on Monday afternoon will be so grateful to have the time to go for a run rather than spend it in the kitchen. Future Leah hasn't been disappointed yet. Make the time more enjoyable by listening to some favorite tunes, a podcast or audio book. (A glass of wine doesn’t hurt either.) When prepping, I look to see what parts of the meal can be made ahead of time- sauces for a pasta, roasted veggies for a sides, taco fillings, dough and toppings for pizza, soups, veggies to have on hand for a quick salad, granola for yogurt, anything that reheats or saves well- and focus on preparing and packing it all up in the fridge.
It’s really as simple as that. A few hours on the weekend and my weeknights are free to get in a run or yoga session, hang with my kids or run a few errands. No frantically grabbing frozen chicken nuggets out of the fridge to pair with a bowl of cereal. I know my family will be sitting down to a home cooked dinner that’s thoughtfully prepared.
A couple of extra tips:
Think about making meals that make great left overs or have a great second act. I like to make a big pot of soup on Monday and eat it for lunch throughout the week.
Consider doubling a recipe and freezing half. You are already making a mess in the kitchen so why not? Don't forget to label and date the item before freezing.
Speaking of messes, clean as you go.
Cut once, use twice. Look your recipes over. If several call for onions, chop all that you will need at once.
One pot meals are great to make ahead- soups, stews, rice dishes, sheet pan meals.
Partner with a friend or neighbor- My sister and I used to get together to do meal prep. We’d pick several recipes and divide and conquer doubling each so that there was enough for each family. I’d make two different recipes and she’d make two. Then we’d divide them up and go.
Get your kids to help. This is a bit of a struggle with two teenagers who want little to do with me at the moment, but usually once I get them going, it works out great. I am getting a little help and they are learning a pretty important life skill.
That’s it- You won't regret having a homemade meal ready to go in the middle of a busy week! I’d love to hear your tricks to getting healthy meals on the table!