Last night, I finished work at 7 pm and had very little interest in cooking dinner. Luckily, I had some white bean and kale soup I’d prepped and frozen a few weeks ago. I heated it up, threw on some PJs, and cozied up in my living room.
I was so relieved that I didn’t have to spend any of my precious downtimes to cook up a feast. The feast was already prepared!
If I didn’t have that soup ready to go, I would have stopped on my way home to pick up some takeout food. I’m sure it would have been delicious too.
But my hearty soup was significantly cheaper and more healthful. This is the perfect example of a situation in which meal planning can come in handy.
I started meal prepping during my junior year of college. I made chicken, rice, and vegetables for the week and then I stored it in ready-to-heat containers. I also portioned some snacks like homemade trail mix.
At that point, I lived in a dormitory with a community kitchen. I spent hours in that kitchen, listening to music and sometimes chatting with a friend.
So, my introduction to meal prepping was joyful and pleasant. I know that’s not the case for everyone. In fact, preparing meals for the week can be tedious, time-consuming, and tiresome.
Do you avoid meal prepping because it was challenging in the past? Perhaps with some new tactics, it will be more manageable if you try it again.
If you have never tried meal prepping before, give it a shot. It might make your life a lot easier and help you try some new, healthy recipes.
Set Yourself Up For Meal Planning Success
If you’ve never set yourself up to prepare meals ahead of time, you might need a few supplies. Chances are you actually already own them. Keep it simple–you need basic cooking supplies and some containers (any kind). Here are some of my go-to meal prepping supplies:
- Slow cooker
- One good spatula
- One good cooking spoon
- One large frying pan
- One large pot
- 10 wide mouth mason jars
- 10 microwavable food storage containers (varying sizes)
Make a Plan
For your first-time meal prepping, you might need to sit down to map out your plan. You can use this simple worksheet or create your own plan. You have to ask yourself some basic questions:
- When are you planning for? I suggest one week at a time.
- What is your food and drink budget for that period of time?
- Who are you planning for?
- What does everyone like to eat?
- What do you already have at home (dry ingredients, fresh ingredients, frozen food, etc.)
- What would you like to prepare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner this week?
- What ingredients do you need to buy?
- How much of each ingredient do you need for the recipes?
- When can you go to the grocery store?
- When can you prepare the food?
You may need to do an internet search for some good recipes. This process is not always easy. Your family members may have vastly different taste in food. You may not have a lot of time. You may not have a lot of funds left in your food budget.
There are a lot of resources that might help with the latter. Some grocery stores offer a food delivery system that allows you to place your order.
Then, you can either pick up the groceries directly from the store or have them delivered to your home. There might also be a third party application or website that provides the same service.
Meal prepping can take about two hours if you plan properly. I go about meal prepping in a similar way each week. First, I unpack all my ingredients and set them up in groups based on the recipes. I line up all my mason jars for my raw ingredients.
Then I wash and chop all my fruit and vegetables and put them right into the jars to make my snacks for the week. The rest of the chopped food is typical for a recipe. I turn on my slow cooker and throw in my ingredients for whatever soup or stew I’m creating that week.
Then I turn my attention to a pan for the recipe that requires sauteing. On other weeks, I’ll use my oven to roast something instead of pan frying. Either way, I’m out of that kitchen and doing other things within about two hours or less. I normally have fun with music or a TV show playing to make the experience more enjoyable.
Learning What Works For You
Over time, you will find different recipes or cooking techniques that work for you. You’ll discover versatile, delicious ingredients and meals that become family favorites. It took me a while to figure out my favorite recipes.
I went through a lot of trial and error. It took me a long time to figure out how long ingredients stayed fresh. I have likely thrown away about 20 zucchinis because I didn’t use them quickly enough. That’s why I’ve learned to meal prep on the same day that I go grocery shopping. I have to set aside a lot more time, but it’s a very streamlined process.
The benefits of meal planning are endless and they start with our bodies. According to a 2015 Centers for Disease Control study, only 12% of adults ate the proper daily serving of fruit and 9% ate enough vegetables.
Meal planning is not the one solution to this problem, however, it can help. With so many distractions and so little time, it’s important to set yourself and your family up for success with healthy meals that are ready to eat, no matter how busy the week can get.
Be gentle on yourself. It’s not essential to meal plan every single week–if you miss a week it’s perfectly fine. Maybe that week you can reach into the back of the freezer to find some chili that you set aside a few weeks ago. Or you can pop into the grocery store for some ready-made salads and a rotisserie chicken.
Meal planning is not meant to become a strict routine that you can never fail at. Meal planning can be flexible and enjoyable. So, get organized, get excited, and get to meal planning!