When it comes to the constant stress and movement of life, there is always something that goes to the wayside. For me, it tends to be meals and laundry; that’s where meal prepping come in. But I’m not here to tackle the laundry (at least, not yet anyway). As far as meals are concerned though, there’s a remarkably simple way to keep ahead of the game and stay on top of your family’s busy week.
Meal prepping has become more of a phenomenon over the last few years. Entire blogs, YouTube channels, and magazines have been dedicated to the cause of making your life abundantly easier. Despite all of these fantastic sources, it’s difficult to find a place that will show you where to begin. Before we get started on the nitty-gritty, however, it’s best to ask yourself a few things to determine if meal prepping is even something that you want to do.
Why do you want to meal prep?
Meal prepping isn’t as difficult as it seems. The first thing you should tackle is the why. Why do you want to start on this crazy journey? Financial reasons? Time? More control over nutrition? A combination of all three? Some weeks, prepping can seem like a daunting task, so coming back to why you start in the first place can keep you going.
Remember, you aren’t beholden to this in any way. You can meal prep some weeks and ignore it others. This is about making your life substantially more manageable, not to inflict guilt on you.
How much time can you realistically dedicate to meal prep?
This seems like a no brainer, but can often be overlooked. This can dictate the type of meal prep that you can work on in a sitting.
If you schedule 2 hours, but can really only prep for 1 hour, then you’ve managed to take a wrong turn fairly quickly on. Instead of making full meals, focus on chopping your veggies and portioning out your protein and freezing them in quart-sized freezer bags. You might even be able to make a batch or two of spaghetti sauce, complete with cooked meat. (I used to use them as bases for chili, too!)
Do you need breakfasts made and not much else? You can make a quick batch of overnight oats on Sunday night, and they’ll last you until Friday. No more stopping at the McDonald’s at the corner and spending money you don’t need to be.
Another excellent option for those of us who can’t seem to spare a few hours on the weekend, you could batch cook during the week. If you foresee a few days of the month when there is just no way on earth that you’ll be able to cook or just want something as a backup if your days run a little behind (protip: they will), have a few nights of the week when you make larger portions than necessary. Make 3 lbs. of taco meat and set aside 2 of those 3 to cool. Store in freezer bags and you’re ready for another taco night or sheet pan nachos in a jiffy. Soups work amazingly well for batch cooking. Just try to steer away from noodle soups, as the noodles tend to get mushy upon thawing. (Heat everything up and once it reaches a boil, throw in the dried noodles.)
There are many different kinds of meal prepping, and they can be as involved and labor intensive or relaxed and moderate as you need.
What do you usually cook?
There are so many different recipes for meal prepping, you could drown in them. Most of them are great and give you insight on how to store different dishes, either in the freezer or in the fridge. But how is it really supposed to help you when you don’t really like that type of cuisine?
By making a list of your go-to meals — spaghetti, chicken tacos, and fake out Chinese take out are my favorites — you can see where to build your menu from the bottom up.
On Sundays, I prepare a roasted chicken and veggies. For my small family, a single bird will last between 2 to 3 days of meals. I plan for soups or some easy chicken enchiladas the following days.
Do I need to do research to do it right?
Yes and no. If your goal is to be frugal, definitely keep up with your local stores’ sales and deals. Keeping track of your local stores’ circulars for BOGOs and other deals, you can save more money and get twice the food. For those of us who have specific dietary needs, you’ll want to look up recipes and specific storing instructions for those items. You don’t need to do all the extra work, but it’s beneficial if you do.
This is just the beginning of the process. It can feel daunting, but we can take on this challenge together. Later, I’ll help you tackle the more difficult part of the process — making a menu and going grocery shopping!