So let me be completely transparent. I’ve only been meal prepping for about a year. I mean, I made a couple casseroles when I was big and pregnant with both babies that I could throw into the oven come newborn invasion but before this past year I was cooking full on meals from start to finish after work every night.
I remember the meals I made in the honeymoon phase when Stanley and I first got married and now seeing the progression (cough.. regression) of our meals since having kids. I would make red beans and rice from scratch with homemade corn bread, cook eggs in the morning with all the fixings, and waffles covered in fresh fruit and maple syrup on the weekends. Insert children: You’re lucky to get blue runners out the can and a granola bar for breakfast during the work week. The thing is, fueling our bodies with food that feels good has always been a priority for us but I knew that I couldn’t prepare things how I use to and I got lost in the in between.
Now, I don’t know what visual imagery you have in your mind of what meal prep is but mine was not good. I use to do what I thought was meal prepping in college (AKA an alternate term for torture)- I would eat brown rice, baked chicken, and broccoli for lunch and dinner and was miserable in the food I was eating and had zero energy. I would see “fitness gurus” prepping their meals on instagram with frozen tilapia from who knows where, the ever looming broccoli, egg white cups (with no cheese might I add), and then making sandwiches with these funky alternatives for bread like cucumbers or peppers. What in the world! However, the negative mindset I had wasn’t about my ill informed super restrictive college self or weird things I’ve seen on instagram, it was solely because of my limiting beliefs and not getting creative.
Now, I can confidently say meal prepping is pretty much my #1 tool in seeking balance and keeping a loose grip on sanity. The thing is to.. we really don’t have that much time with our family’s. We spend 8 hours a day at work and we’re lucky to get a few good hours in the evening. My babies are young and I’ve gotten to a point where I’m not willing to spend any more evenings stressing about getting dinner on the table while missing out on precious time with them. My hope with this post is to give you some incredibly tangible resources so you can implement them and get back to enjoying your family on a weeknight while the casserole is taking care of itself in the oven.
First up: Planing ahead
Take a few minutes to think of meals your family enjoys. For our family we eat a lot of chicken because of the babies so we love making chicken (insert whatever variation) bowls. In planning, make enough so you only have to hands-on cook 3 meals per week. Yeah, you heard me. I only plan three meals per week and the other nights I’m warming up what we had the night before. In addition to finding these meals, plan ahead what days you will cook. Our daughter has after school activities on Wednesday and we get home pretty late because of it so this is where planning for that or other things that come up really save you during the week. A typical week for us usually looks like this:
Sunday-meal prep/eat first meal
Tuesday-prepare second meal
Wednesday– Stanley warms leftovers while we bounce from dance to gym
Thursday-prepare third meal
Saturday-simple meal of what we have around the house (like panin’s, quick salad) or we eat out.
I plug our meals into my calendar as well as put them on a weekly calendar on the fridge just to keep us on track! Take a look at your family’s calendar and then get to penciling it in so it’s one less decision during the week.
Next: Select meals that compliment each other and overlap slightly in ingredients.
Okay, hear me out. This is where the negative connotation of meal prepping monotony and creativity go to battle. If we are having chicken, I can make anything from chicken burrito bowls, to greek chicken, to chicken parmesan and no meal tastes the same and yet my ingredients overlap. I can use chicken, rice, bell peppers, and onion and then a few add-ons that cater to each meal like pasta and pasta sauce for the chicken parm and avocado for the burrito bowls. This means less prep, less thought, more time. Don’t like chicken? Cool. Try spaghetti, beef burrito bowls, and swedish meatballs or stroganoff. Are you starting to catch on? If you find that you get bored with the same meat you can always alternate one meal with a different type of meet (Ex. Burrito bowls can be ground turkey or beef and still prepare this ahead). This is so key in meal prepping. Yes you want to prep what’s easy but you have to build anticipation into the food you’re eating. What I mean by that is you have to want to eat it! Get creative, sit down with your spouse and talk about your favorite meals that you enjoy as a family and start there!
Okay, you have your meals selected. You have your cook days scheduled. Now what the heck do you do? Does this mean 6 hours sweating in the kitchen on a Sunday? No way, friends! This is meant to give you more time.. not less. So here’s the biggies when it comes to prepping:
1) Prep the time consumers/heavy hitters. This means bake your chicken in the oven and separate once cooled for easy reheating during the week.
2) Chop all of your veggies and sautè or roast in the oven ahead of time and again separate so you don’t have to think about it during the week.
3) Prep your starches. Put the rice or quinoa on to boil and then all you have to do on the weeknight is compile.
That’s it. Are you eye rolling yet? Or closing out of my page because this is so not helpful ha! It’s that simple though folks. In total an hour of hands-on prep on Saturday or Sunday means weeknight meals only take 15-20 minutes preparing on any given night.
*Note for prepping starches-I don’t love prepping pasta before, especially if it’s a wheat alternative pasta like chickpea or lentil pasta. I’ve found that if it’s prepped in advance it can change in consistency. You can absolutely prep rice though, and just toss with a table spoon of chicken broth or veggie broth when reheating.
Lastly: prep one other meal component for the week
Meal Prep resources that I’ve seen focus almost solely on dinner. Which is great but I also feel like the other meals can suffer because of it. The goal here is to have as much prepped ahead of time so during the week you don’t even have to think about it. Another thing that I have found helpful in keeping us eating nourishing food is to prep at least one other meal component. For example, I’ll slip my chewy almond butter bars in the oven after baking the chicken for grab-and-go breakfasts or quick snacks throughout the week. Want to make it even simpler? Boil several eggs for added protein with breakfast or as salad toppers for lunch. Also, while you’re cutting up those veggies to roast, slice a cucumber or sweet peppers to dip in guacamole or hummus, or cut up an apple for almond butter for lunch as well. Grab tons of healthy options from the store so when time gets scarce throughout the week at least you can grab what you have on hand. We love to stock up on fruit to put on top of cereal or yogurt, granola or trail mix to add to any lunch, guacamole packs, seeded crackers, etc.
In the middle of me figuring out meal prepping and what it looked like for our family I found Cook Once Eat All Week. This book y’all.. Cassy Joy Garcia from Fed and Fit AKA the most precious human soul on the planet created this book as a paleo meal prepping guide. Trying out some of the recipes has continued to help me get creative with meals and keep it interesting around our house! I love how she breaks each week down, includes a shopping list, and alternate meals as well. Her sauce recipes (especially the avocado mayo and chipotle lime dressing) are SO good. She also provides alternatives for certain dietary restrictions. If you’re open to trying new things, have no idea where to start when it comes to meal prepping, and do well with step by step guides and recipes then I highly suggest this book!
Meal time is such a sacred time for your family to come together. If we’re stressed, tired, and eating food that doesn’t nourish our bodies then it can be hard to see the opportunity for fellowship, love, and for taking a moment to pause and thank the good Lord for the blessing of your family and the delicious food on the table.
I really hope this information has been useful for you! I’ve gotten so many questions about meal prep and how we manage meals with two very small kiddos and both my husband and I working full time. The truth? Not every week looks perfect for us. I don’t always get my own system right all the time, but it all goes back to striving for balance not perfection, and giving yourself grace in process.
“So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this!Ecclesiastes 9:7
I’ve included links to some of our favorite Amazon tools and resources for meal prepping below. Most of them are safer, more sustainable, but all are items we use and trust. Leave your feedback and let me know what other questions you have!