1. Sticking your Toe in the Water of Meal Prep
Meal prep is great in theory; get a jump start on the week by having 3-5 dinner recipes ready to go. The reality is that the time and discipline it takes to shop, organize and prepare can be overwhelming at first. It is highly recommended that you start slowly with two or three dinner recipes and then add more prepped meals (possibly, including breakfast/lunches depending on your family needs), for an Entire week of meals (up to 14+ meals).
For people who are constantly on the run and want healthy food to refuel this can save a lot of time and money. Especially if you find yourself frequently exhausted from work, activities, and family; having meals prepped will also help you avoid unhealthy options like takeout or cheap carb-filled microwave dinners
Healthy, fresh and delicious meal prep will often require you to go on a weekly shopping expedition to buy food for each of the various recipes (possibly breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks) and spend the bulk of your Meal prep day (usually Sunday) streamlining your method of operation. While some people enjoy the idea of spending their Sunday mastering the juggling and assembly line of 5-14+ recipes on their own; those who don’t can take this beginners’ winding path approach versus the cliff jumping (I can handle anything) approach.
Just remember, too much too soon can lead you flustered in a Kitchen sea of half prepped groceries and dirty dishes that will make the temptation for “insert fast food option” to slap you suddenly in the face and still make you come running (hehe, a fast food “owning you” analogy).
Despite what many people are told, there are a variety of options for meal prep and you can choose methods that work best for you that don’t necessarily take half of your weekend to complete.
2. Reviewing your Meal Prep Options
Here are some of the more commonly-used options for you to review in order to find the Best one for your family’s routine:
- Mix and Match meal prep: The idea is simple; a lot of people benefit from having basic ready-made ingredients on hand throughout the week. Typically, they prepare 2-3 portions sizes of many of their favorite vegetables, proteins, dressings, sides, grains, sauces, pasta and other carbs ahead of time so they can insert them into easy meals. Having a “base supply” of several of these portions can allow you to Mix and Match your meals daily so you can don’t feel like your Limited on what to eat when you’re perusing your Mix and Match menu options (The idea kind of reminds of me a good pair of jeans where you can mix-up the top choices).
- Full Ready-to-go meal prep: Full meals that are completely ready in advance which can be refrigerated and then reheated at mealtimes.
- Batch cooking meal prep: Making large batches of a favorite recipe, then subdividing the batch into smaller portions to be frozen and eaten over the next few months. The typically longer-lasting recipes are usually Chicken pot pies, Burritos, Curry, Stuffed peppers, Casseroles, Mini Lasagna, Marinated chicken, Shrimp Scampi (raw ready-to-cook kit), and Stir Fry (raw ready-to-cook kit).
Different strokes for different folks; Ready-made healthy breakfasts (ex: egg filled with bacon/scallion/cheese in muffin shapes) can save time and can help people who are looking to get out the door quickly, while Ready-made lunches can provide more economical help for larger families who are at school/work, though the most commonly used option is to have Ready-made dinners stored in your fridge/freezer is particularly handy for those who have limited time in the evenings or will likely be tired from a very long day (been there).
3. Beginner warm-up
Start, by choosing Recipes for 3-5 dinner meals (I’ve included 10 options to try out). I find for most beginners that a slow cooker/crockpot recipe is a great way to jump into the world of meals prep without too much work. Slow cookers/crockpots are wonderful devices for providing a variety of warm, savory and nourishing meals that leave plenty for your evening dinner with a hearty portion of leftovers that you can use later in the week!!
Here are my smart planner tips for being efficient and economical:
- Genuflect inside your cupboards, pantries, freezers, and refrigerators: The first thing I do is review what I have versus what I need. While some recipe might seem amazing; I would try to avoid recipes that take over 15 steps or require several ingredients you’ve never heard of.
- Comparison review: I try to find the grocery store with the best overall prices and stock up on meats, chicken, pork tenderloin or fish. Also, I review the ads to see what produce is seasonal and are on special. You can use this as the starting point for deciding on meals.
- Make a Meal Plan: A few ideas are Meat (or-less) Monday, Taco Tuesday, Stir Fry Wednesday, Pasta Thursday, Burger Friday, Slow Cooker Saturday, Leftovers Sunday. Usually there a few choices that everyone enjoys and are staples to the Meal plan (unless you have that one picky eater who might need to have cereal instead). I do like to infuse One new recipe into the meal plan because it expands the repertoire and keeps things interesting (hopefully more yummy interesting than otherwise).
- Check Recipe Boards: Pinterest seems to have the best selection of Recipes. We have several boards as well for Families who have auto-immune diet limitations or just like healthy choice options.
- Check Your Shelf Life: Spoilage tends to make me feel like I slapped a small child who is going hungry; I really try to avoid that feeling. Always plan for using non-frozen seafood earlier in the week. And since our family inevitably has leftovers, I build that into our Meal plan either as re-vamped lunches or as part of a leftovers day.
- Apples (uncut): Shelf life of approximately 2-4 Weeks
- Avocados (uncut): Shelf life of approximately 3-7 Days
- Bananas (uncut): Shelf life of approximately 2-7 Days
- Blueberries (fridge): Shelf life of approximately 5-10 Days
- Grapes (fridge): Shelf life of approximately 5-10 Days
- Oranges (uncut): Shelf life of approximately 2-4 Weeks
- Strawberries (fridge) Shelf life of approximately 5-7 Days
- Tomatoes (uncut): Shelf life of approximately 5-7 Days
- Broccoli (fridge): Shelf life of approximately 7-14 Days
- Carrots (fridge): Shelf life of approximately 4-5 Weeks
- Celery (fridge): Shelf life of approximately 3-4 Weeks
- Corn on Cob (fridge): Shelf life of approximately 5-7 Days
- Lettuce (fridge): Shelf life of approximately 7-10 Days
- Mushrooms (fridge): Shelf life of approximately 7-10 Days
- Packaged Bread: Shelf life of approximately 5-7 Days
- Cooked Chicken (fridge): Shelf life of approximately 7-10 Days
While few people look forward to spending hours in the kitchen, just remember the key incentive for meal prepping is reduced cooking time throughout the week by doing the majority of it ahead of time.
- Maintain a Consistent Schedule: Meal prepping works best when you stick to a regular schedule. Knowing exactly when you’ll shop for groceries and prep your meals will help you form a good routine.
- Use Recipes that can be spread over Multiple appliances: To save time, select recipes requiring different cooking methods. Having too many recipes requiring the oven (for example) will limit the number of dishes you can prepare simultaneously. I would suggest 1-2 oven meals, 1-2 stovetop meals, and a slow cooker meal; the important part is not to “bite off more than you can handle”.
- Start the Recipe with Longest Cook Time: To best organize your prep and cook times, start with the recipe requiring the longest cook time. This is often the soup or oven meal. Once that meal is underway, focus on the rest.
- Save prep time: For extra time savings, double-check the ingredients for all recipes before starting. This way, if two recipes require diced onions or mushrooms, you’ll be able to chop the total quantity at once.
- Other Time Savers: Using automated gadgets such as a rice cooker or slow cooker can further streamline your workflow.
While I would love to hop into your kitchen and get the recipes sorted into preparation time, cook time, the number of ingredients, and the likelihood of total consumption; unfortunately I can’t. What I can do is assure you that the sense of accomplishment from having your meal prep done ahead will make you feel good about coming home after a long day and having a pre-prepared meal ready to go.
For the family with different likes and dislikes; I suggest trying out recipes and keep a binder of the recipes that provide the best satisfaction (even to miss/mr finicky). To avoid monotony, I like to have 10-20 recipes to carousel-through, so it can take a while to build up a good recipe list. Some people will enjoy the process and breeze through meal prep while others will find they aren’t so willing to take the journey. Just remember; “better late, than never”.
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