I'll be the first to admit that I am not great about planning our meals or prepping for the week. Then what happens? I run short on time or short on ideas...and then we end up getting take-out! No more! It's all about the planning...
I wanted to share a very simple, very easy way to start off meal planning and prepping your meals for the week. I choose Sundays as my planning and prepping day. My husband is around to help with the kids while I'm in the kitchen and it makes it so much easier! Or he and my 4-year old help some when they can. It's a family affair!
This was a Rosemary Olive Oil bread that I made on Sunday - well just the dough. I let it sit overnight then baked it the next day. And I had just run out of my homemade red sauce so I made a huge batch - 8 of these 32 ounce deli containers. Seven went into the freezer, 1 into the fridge.
I also LOVE freezer meals. Prepare a couple at a time, then you'll have a meal in a pinch when you know you'll have a super busy day ahead. (Please forgive the Instagram pictures...my husband took my camera for a product shoot and I still didn't have it back when I took these!)
Meal planning will save you time, energy, money and STRESS! You'll be able to control the nutrition in your family's meals. It's an all around win-win!! And without further ado, here are my simple, but effective meal planning and prepping tips. I've included a few of our favorite weekly recipes as well.
1. Grab your calendar. What does your week look like?
Slow Cooker meals obviously work great on days that you are running all over creation. Dinner is ready by the time you sit down with literally no effort on your part! Plan a larger meal when you know you'll have more time, like a Saturday or Sunday.
2. Keep a list of your favorite weekly meals and ALWAYS keep those ingredients on hand.
We are creatures of habit and tend to have the same things from week to week. And there is nothing wrong with that! Obviously as a blogger, I like to try new things, but that takes planning as well. And if I know my kids absolutely love something (like my Stir Fry!) then why wouldn't I make it every week?
3. Plan your breakfast, lunches and dinners for the week.
Use a Weekly Meal Planner or a chalkboard and write it all down!
Take a look in your pantry, fridge and freezer and make your grocery list for any ingredients you are missing based on your plan. Avoid buying items you already have, unless they are on sale and you are stocking up.
* Our favorite breakfasts are overnight oats and Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes (make a huge batch and freeze them!).
* Snacks - hard boiled eggs or Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins are a favorite.
* Lunches for the kids are easy - usually PB&J and fruit. For me and my husband, I like to make a salad that will keep in the fridge for the week, like this Southwestern Quinoa Salad. Or turkey sandwiches in a wrap or on whole wheat bread.
4. Make the most of your grocery shopping.
Buy in bulk or buy extras when your pantry staples are on sale. I always laugh at my husband when he tells me we are out of something - especially when it's peanut butter or coffee, or something we use EVERY day. Doesn't he know by now that I have an entire shelf in one of our cabinets dedicated to "overstock" of those items? Publix does BOGO every week - and you can bet that if peanut butter is on sale, I'm walking out of there with at least 4 jars!
We shop at Sam's Club where we get our meats and eggs - and it's all good stuff! Cage-free, and never any hormones or antibiotics added.
As a disclaimer, I am not the type of meal prepper that makes all of my dinners for the week on Sunday and stores them in individual portions for easy reheating later. That does not appeal to me at all. Just KNOWING what I will be making each night - or having a freezer meal or two on standby - is more than enough planning for me. So here's what I do on Sunday to prep!
1. Start with a clean kitchen!
Empty dishwasher, all utensils, pots, pans and measuring cups clean and ready to use. As you use something, rinse it quick or if you know you won't need again, put it straight in the dishwasher. This is how I do NOT end up with a complete disaster of a kitchen at the end!
2. When you return from the grocery store, organize everything on the counter in piles according to your recipes.
Of course put the freezer stuff away, but generally leave out everything you are going to use (your meats can go in the fridge too if it's not going to be the first thing you use).
3. Pull out your list of meals for the week and get cooking!
I start with things that either need to sit for awhile before cooking (like yeast breads) and easy stuff, like cooking hard-boiled eggs for snacks. Overnight oats are usually one of the first things I knock out too (so easy!!). Other than that, there is really no rhyme or reason to what I get done next. I just keep checking things off my list and moving along.
Even though I don't actually cook my dinners in advance, I will do the prep work for them. Chop and prepare the veggies and portion out the meat I'll need for each night. Those steps alone save me so much time each night!
Remember to chop once, use twice. If you have diced onion in two different recipes, dice it all at once and separate what you need for both. Work smarter, not harder!
Bonus Tip: if you have the budget and ingredients, consider doubling your meals as you are prepping. A ton of Slow Cooker meals can be made ahead as a freezer meal. Last Friday night, I was making Oven-Baked Fajitas. I already had the chicken, the peppers and onion out, so I just kept slicing - and ended up with 3 meals total! One for that night and two that I tossed all the ingredients into freezer bags and will save for another week.
I do this with lasagna too. I'll always make two at once, and one goes into a foil baking pan and right into the freezer.
4. Put all the food away - fridge or freezer.
Tupperware containers, gallon freezer bags, deli containers and mason jars are all necessities for meal prepping. Here are some of my favorite items for storage (with clickable links for easy purchase!):
Overnight Oats: mason jars, Weck canning jars, or even save nicer jelly jars (like Bonne Maman) and reuse them!
Freezer Slow Cooker Meals: Glad gallon size freezer bags. Fill the bags, then flatten out as you seal it. Store laying flat and you can keep stacking them and stacking them (see picture)!
Salads, prepared veggies and meats, soups and sauces: deli containers in various sizes (16 and 32 oz) or Glad food storage containers.
The whole process beginning to end will probably take you 3-4 hours. This is why I do mine on Sunday when my husband is around. Most of all, I just need him to keep the kids busy, but it's not always that easy. I like to have my daughter (who is 4) help me when she can. She is great at making muffins! My son, who is almost 3 likes to "help" also but you know how that goes. So, really, who am I kidding - my meal prep probably takes closer to 6 hours, haha! But with the kids involved, I don't feel so removed from being part of the family that day.
We have found that meal planning and prepping is the easiest and best way to have healthy and nutritious meals all week long. It takes the guess work out of dinners, it saves you time and money - no food goes to waste! You shop for what you need and WILL use.
I hope these tips will help you get started! Please post your questions in the comments if I missed anything!
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