I began Meal Planning and Prepping about 15 years ago when my son was born so that our work week and evenings would be less stressful and we could maintain a healthy diet and not need to grab fast food and take-out all the time. It was a game changer for me! Even though my work schedule has changed over the years, I still find that this practice is essential for alleviating evening stress!
I was recently the guest on The Simplified Island and hosted a mini Masterclass on meal planning and prepping. Check out the recap on her blog HERE! It was so much fun and we had a lot of laughs about "where veggies go to die in the refrigerator."
Meal planning and prepping are not one in the same but in order to meal prep you have to meal plan first. If you are home a good bit and don't feel the need to prep, meal planning is still a great tool to save time and money.
When you first begin meal planning, it may seem time intensive but after a few times you will find a groove and knock it out in no time. I typically do my meal plan on Saturday mornings but it doesn't have to be a weekend thing. Pick a day and time that works for you! When I sit down to meal plan, I get a nice cup of coffee, maybe a recent cooking magazine for ideas, and my menu and list templates. You can download my templates HERE. I start with the dinner menu and as I list out a meal, I add the ingredients to my grocery list. For example, if I plan Taco Tuesday then I would add ground beef, shredded cheese, a taco kit, and avocado. I go through this process for all meals including breakfast and lunches. Once I have my list prepared, I check both the refrigerator and pantry for things on the list that we already have on hand and I add any items that were put on the running grocery list during the week. Once I have the grocery list complete, I make the online grocery order. If you are going to the grocery store in person, I definitely recommend using the grocery list where items are categorized; it will make your trip more timely.
My tips for planning:
Keep the pantry and refrigerator organized, preferably with labeled bins, so you can easily visualize items needed and items you have. This helps eliminate duplicates!
Keep fruits and veggies in clear bins on the refrigerator shelves rather than in the drawers (where they go to die). I have found that we do a much better job eating them when they are "in our face" every time we open the fridge. Plus, it's pretty.
Create category bins in the fridge such as "lunch box" that contains the sandwich fixings, yogurts, etc. Lunch box packing goes much quicker when you don't need constant trips to the fridge. I also have a smoothie bin and breakfast bin.
When you bring the groceries in, unpack everything on the counter. Categorize items before you put them away such as lunch box bin items and smoothie items. If you are planning to prep at the same time, categorize items by meal.
Schedule your grocery pick-up/ delivery when you have time to unpack properly and prep. I like Sunday on the way home from church but maybe Wednesday afternoon while the kids have dance classes is better for you. Whatever time works!
When planning meals, look at your calendar! If you have a meeting on Thursday night and you won't all sit down together, maybe plan a slow cooker meal that day.
If you are following a diet different from your family (maybe low carb) plan a variation not a whole other meal. Taco Tuesday? Use romaine lettuce for your shells.
Create a collection of go-to recipes that you can have on repeat. A binder is an easy way to categorize recipes you print online or tear out of magazines.
Meal planning is the key to not only buying food you have a plan for consuming (which saves money) but also keeps a healthy diet on track! Plus, it saves time from not having to make multiple grocery trips for a few items. Even if you stop here and prep when you make each meal, you're plan is still helping you alleviate meal time stress (and eating out too much).
Meal prep can be basic or fully preparing meals. If you have time to cook in the evenings, your prep may be doing basic things like chopping vegetables, washing salad, and putting lunch box snacks into individual containers. (I always recommend buying chips and things like that in bulk or the large bags and dividing them up into containers because the individual portion bags are significantly more expensive.) In my Meal Prep Masterclass, I unpack and categorize the groceries, fully prepare 6 dinner meals, and prep lunch salads. All in one hour! You can get the class HERE if you are interested in the full process!
My tips for prepping:
Organize ingredients by meal on the counter.
Start with items that need to be cooked before you can prep such as baking chicken or cooking ground beef for recipes.
Consider your lunches when prepping. Cook extra chicken or salmon for salads. If you like leftover lunch heat ups then prepare additional servings for dinner. TIP: When putting leftovers away, go ahead and put them into individual serving containers so they are ready to grab and go.
If you are preparing a slow cooker recipe such as Mexican Turkey Chili, combine the ingredients and store in a container. All you have to do on it's day, is pour it in and set it!
Be sure to check expiration dates, especially on meats. I typically put short life items like salmon at the beginning of the week.
Fully make casseroles ahead of time, such as Chicken and Broccoli casserole, cover with foil, then simply put into the oven to bake when you get home.
Label all prepared food and if you need your spouse or a child to start it, be sure to add the instructions such as preheat oven to 350 then bake 30 minutes.
Some general rules of thumb to follow while meal planning and prepping:
Stock up on items in bulk every month or two if you have access to a Costco or similar store (we do not have one in our county but I would if we did)
Saving time is one of the purposes of meal planning and prepping so don't waste time shopping at multiple stores. Your time spent shopping has a value!
When I first login to make my order, I always check the "My Specials" which are items on special that I purchase regularly. I stock up on what I can, especially non-perishable items.
Take advantage of the rewards your grocery store offers! I always qualify for $1 off per gallon of gas each month, saving us at least $100 a month at the pump!
Looking to get started? Here is a round-up of my favorite meal prep containers along with kitchen must haves to get the job done! And don't forget, you can take my Masterclass! Watch me prep a lunch salad HERE!
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