Fall has always signified a time for change for me. School is back in session, vacations are over and everyone seems to be trying to establish a new routine. Which means it is the perfect time to look at adding or revamping your weekly meal prep and planning.
I started meal prepping when I did my first Whole30 many, many years ago and I quickly noticed how much easier it made my life during the week. Food in your fridge that is cooked and ready to eat? What a concept! But seriously, it has made such a difference in my life and has played a major role in improving my relationship with food.
Because I love meal prepping, I tend to talk about it a lot. It's kind of like Crossfit. If you do it and don't tell anyone, did it really happen? I kid but seriously. I've learned so much from my own mistakes that I love sharing what I've learned with others.
Over the weekend, I hosted a virtual meal prep tips and tricks sessions with some friends and followers. What came out of it was too good not to share with all of you. Life feels extra tough right now and if we can take some stress out of everyday activities, why not give it a try?
Here are the rules I follow:
The One Meal Rule
Pick one meal and eat the same thing for that meal for the entire week. I find it is easiest to implement that rule and stick to it when it comes to breakfast but do whatever is easiest for you. Perhaps it will be chicken and roasted veggies for lunch -- a combination that gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to beating food boredom. Taking that one decision out of the equation before you even get started on meal prep takes away a ton of stress.
Fridge & freezer organization
Label, label, label! Especially if it is going in the freezer. And keep a list on hand of what you have meal prepped in your fridge and freezer. Even if it is just a note on your phone. Having a list will help you when hit the ‘we don’t have anything to eat’ moment. Instead of ordering in or running to the store, you can pull up that list and find all your options.
Also, I encourage all of you to add a thaw plate to your fridge. It is a great way to remind yourself to pull items out of the freezer to ensure they are thawed in time for your meal. We’ve all had those moments where we walk into the kitchen after a crazy busy day and find we have nothing defrosted. A thaw plate will help you break that habit and will keep you using the items you have in your freezer so you aren’t wasting food. Don’t have the space in your fridge? Set a reminder on your phone or add a good old-fashioned Post-It to the fridge door.
Imagine this. You open your fridge, see what you have on hand and make dinner with it. Mind blowing, right? This was the practice for so many generations before us and we’ve somehow lost our way. You’ve got veggies that are about to go bad? Use them. You’ve got leftovers that need to be eaten? Use them. Not only will this cut down on food waste but embracing fridge foraging will also help make you more creative in the kitchen. Recipes are great. But concepts are just as beneficial when it comes to developing meals.
Set a flexible schedule
Every Sunday, I examine our week. What nights will I be home for dinner? Do we have any plans to eat out or order in? I like to have a rough idea of what our week is going to be like and then pick our meals. This still gives us the flexibility to move things around. Maybe you want Taco Tuesday on Monday? No big deal. But having an idea of what you are going to make during the week before it actually starts will help end the “What are we having for dinner?” conversations.
Start viewing meal prep as a chore
You set aside time to mow your lawn, clean your bathrooms and do your laundry, why not set aside time to get your meals ready for the week? But just because you view it as something you have to do, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. Add a little fun to your meal prep by watching your favorite show or listening to a fun podcast. I use the time to catch up on my trashy reality TV shows, the ones my boyfriend refuses to watch. It helps me get excited on those days when I just don't want to act the adult – a little motivation to get things going.
Establish a routine
I get asked all of the time how long it takes me to meal prep. Honestly, it depends. It depends on how much I’m meal prepping. But in the beginning, it took me a whole lot longer than it does now. Because it was a new concept for me and frankly, I was doing too much. I was meal prepping for a family of 10, when all I needed to be doing was setting myself up for a successful week. I initially bit off way more than I could chew -- partly because I was excited but mostly because I had no idea what I was doing. With everything that’s new, it can only get better with time and practice.
Start small. If meal prepping overwhelms you, start by prepping one protein for the week. Grilled chicken or shredded pork are great options to start with. Roast some veggies or whip up a batch of chili. When I meal prep right now, I make my breakfast (gluten-free banana pancakes), a protein, some veggies and one meal). That’s where I’m comfortable after years of meal prepping. Do what works for you. This is meant to reduce stress from your life, not add to it.
When you plan out your meal prepping session, always figure out what takes the most amount of time before you get started. Then get that going before you turn to the more tedious tasks. For example, get the chicken going in the slow cooker before you start cleaning and cutting up your vegetables. And always set a timer when you are moving around the kitchen to avoid any mistakes.
Working meal prep into meals
So you meal prep on Sundays. Now what? Learning how to transition those items into your daily routine can take some work. Here are some examples. Let’s pretend that on Sunday you whipped up a batch of shredded chicken and a ton of roasted veggies. Those items will transition perfectly to a pasta dish. Reheat everything in a skillet, add your sauce and pour everything over a batch of freshly made pasta. That meal – that if you did on the fly could take you an hour – now only takes you 10 to 15 minutes. Because your major components are already cooked and just need to be dazzled up for dinner.
Batch cooking at dinner
Do some batch cooking at dinner. Whether you are making grilled chicken or your favorite chili recipe, make extra and use it for other meals. You are already making a mess in your kitchen, why not make it worth it? We do this when we have taco night. We make a bunch of extras and even before we sit down to eat, we make up our lunches for the next day. That way, the leftovers are already put away and cleaned up and we won’t be enticed to go back for seconds.