How To Simplify Meal Prep

  Jul 17, 2017  |  #Healthy Living

Hey friends! I hope you had a magnificent weekend! Mine was so low key and I loved every second of it.

I’m giving a presentation tonight at Whole Foods about meal planning and meal prepping, so I figured I’d share my process with you guys. This summer has been crazy hectic with traveling and commitments, and I haven’t meal planned on those weeks. It would add more stress to my life and probably waste food – two things we don’t want.

Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to meal plan. I actually have clients write out their schedule for the week (what nights do you have events/commitments?) when we’re figuring out what meal planning looks like for them.

How to simplify meal prep for a busy week || Easy tips for meal planning

Why Meal Plan?

Well, it can definitely be helpful for a busy week ahead. If you spend a little time on the forefront, you’ll reap wayyyy more time on the backend.

Other benefits of meal planning

  • Saves money
  • Decreases food waste
  • Improves the quality of your diet
  • Decreases prep time, cooking time and clean up
  • Eliminates stress

So, here are my favorite tips for what works for me.

Be realistic

First and foremost, when I say meal planning, people conjure up this idea of spending 5 hours on a Sunday in the kitchen – neglecting their family and obligations and turning down Sunday Funday. That’s not the case. I mean, if you like it that way and it works for you, then bravo. But, that doesn’t work for everyone.

So, find what works for you. Meal prep could be as easy as pre washing, chopping and sauteeing veggies for the week. Or, dividing your spinach into tupperware for salads. Or, even just baking 5 sweet potatoes or grilling 5 chicken breasts at once. It doesn’t have to run the gamut of carbs, fats, proteins, veggies, snacks. I feel like when people think they have to go all out, it’s easy to overwhelm yourself.

[Tweet “Meal prep can be as easy as you want it to be! Even washing and chopping veggies is preparation #mealprep #mealplanning”]

Personally, I don’t meal prep on the same day because it always depends on my week. Some people swear by Sunday afternoon or Monday night, or the day they go grocery shopping. This week, I did some stuff on Saturday afternoon, because that worked for me. But, it really doesn’t matter. Or, maybe you plan two mini meal prep sessions (in the beginning and one towards the middle/end of the week) to decrease the amount of time spent in the kitchen at once.

How to start Meal Planning || Easy tips for meal planning

Make a list

This is number one on everyone’s tips for meal planning, but it’s so true. Meal planning does involve a little preparation – so, take stock of what you already have in your kitchen cabinet. And make note of what you want to make, so you know what else you need to buy. For inspiration on what you want to make, think about your local farmer’s market and what’s in season, a recipe you saw in a magazine/cook book/cooking show/Pinterest, or even what’s on sale at your grocery store this week. More often than not, I’ll take notes of the deals and plan my weekly menu off of that.

Also, if you’re following recipes, try picking some that use the same ingredients to decrease your grocery costs.

How to start Meal Planning || Easy tips for meal planning

I usually go to the grocery store twice a week, so my list each time is a little shorter.  Some people find grocery lists like this and this easier for organization and planning your actual meals.

How to start Meal Planning || Easy tips for meal planning

When you’re making your list, don’t forget about snack foods! String cheese, nuts, fruit, raw veggies, crackers, edamame, hummus, yogurt, cottage cheese, oats, peanut butter, peanut butter powder – those are important for meal prep too!

Other ingredients I recommend always keeping stocked: Hemp seeds and chia seeds, oats. They’re so easy to add to things like yogurt, oatmeal  and even salads, and pack a protein and fatty acid punch.

Batch prepare foods and ingredients

So, I really like to multi task when I’m doing some meal prep so I’m not there all day. While one thing is cooking, do something else.

So, for example, this week I cut and roasted some sweet potatoes, made a fritatta, lentil and cous cous salad, carmelized some onions, cooked some broccoli and made a loaf of zucchini bread. The way I did this all in under two hours takes a little bit of strategic planning.

First, I cooked my grains – lentils and cous cous for the salad. While the grains were cooking, I washed and poked sweet potatoes and threw them in the oven (350 for 40 minutes). I microwaved my bag of steamables broccoli, and sauteed the onions. Once the grains were done, I added the other ingredients for the salad and boom, that’s done. PS – Moroccan lentil cous cous salad recipe comes from Run Fast Eat Slow. My favorite recipe in the book!

I separated the broccoli in a separate tupperware, and once the onions were done, put them in a small glass container too (I really love onions on everything). Next, I mixed the eggs and veggies for my fritatta (tomatoes, onions, spinach), and got that started on the stove, then put it in the oven for a couple minutes. I love fritattas because they’re nice and quick. Don’t forget – they cook quick, and there’s always some carry over cooking from the eggs (aka, take it out of the oven sooner than you think).

How to start Meal Planning || Easy tips for meal planning

Pro tip: While you’re doing this, keep a bag close by for all of your scraps so you don’t have to keep walking over to the trash.

Lastly, I wanted to make some bread. I usually make bread or muffins for the week for some easy grab and go snacks. I made Sally’s zucchini greek yogurt bread.  By the time I had all the ingredients mixed and ready to throw in the oven, the sweet potatoes were done. So, while the bread was baking, I cleaned up everything and boom, that was my meal prep for this week. It’s not extravagant, and it’s not a ton, but the frittata will be easy for breakfasts or lunches, the lentil salad can be lunches or dinners, and the broccoli/sweet potatoes can complement anything or just be a great snack.

How to start Meal Planning || Easy tips for meal planning

How to start Meal Planning || Easy tips for meal planning, meal prep

If we run out of food, I’ll probably cook 3-4 chicken sausages at once later this week that should last me through the end of the week.

Some other quick prep ideas

You don’t always have to follow recipes either. Sometimes, just cooking a bunch of macronutrients (grains, potatoes, proteins) and separating them out is fine. Nice and simple too! If you’re looking for some easy recipe ideas, here are some of my favorites.

  • Cook a large batch of oatmeal for overnight oats for the week or baked oatmeal
  • Roast oats for granola 
  • Granola bars or sunflower bars
  • Energy bites – great for pre/post workout or snacking at your desk
  • Boil a dozen eggs for HB eggs to top salads, grab and go snacks or for breakfast
  • Cook beans or lentils (love this lentil dip)
  • Bake a loaf of bread or muffins 
  • Mason jar salads
  • Prepare salad dressings or marinades
  • Cook a big batch of rice or quinoa, and a bunch of chicken breasts
  • Stirfry with frozen shrimp and veggies
  • Make hummus 

Utilize your freezer

Don’t forget about your freezer friends! It can be your best friend for convenience. Fill it with leftovers if you cook too much, so when you need it, you can thaw them out. I love frozen fruit, frozen steamable veggie bags, chicken sausage, frozen fish/shrimp, grains and more.

How to start Meal Planning || Easy tips for meal planning, meal prep

Meal planning can be 20 minutes, it can be an hour, or it can be a couple hours. There’s no right or wrong way to do it – it’s whatever works best for you and your schedule. I hope you find this helpful!

This post on how to save money at the grocery store and how to stock your pantry may also be helpful.

Do you meal plan? What works for you?

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14 responses to “How To Simplify Meal Prep

  1. My husband and I both work 50-60 hours a week and we have a toddler. Meal planning is essentially to my well-being and sanity. I keep a list on my phone of around 25 meals I know my husband and I both like. On the weekend or during a quiet minute at work, I’ll make a quick list of five meals I will make that week, accounting for one take out night and one leftovers night to make seven days of the week. If I can’t think of any ideas, I just consult my list of tried and true favourites. I’ll make my grocery list according to my meal list. I usually order my groceries for pick up (in Canada, it’s only 3 bucks at wal mart for this service) to make that part a breeze. Then on the day I shop, I”ll wash/prep/cut all my fruit and veggies, and potentially pre-cook a few things for meals that week. My dinners are more assemble and heat than actual cooking, but it works for this busy stage in my life. I’m proud I continue to make home cooked meals even with my busy work schedule and young child. You included some great tips here – way to make meal planning seem accessible to all!

    1. Hi Andrea – thanks for sharing! That is super impressive and very inspiring how you manage to balance it all! I love your tip for just keeping a tried and true favorites list in your phone – so simple yet sometimes we can forget about the easy ones!

  2. I don’t usually meal plan, but I love the idea of batch preparing ingredients or even just doing one thing in bulk. One of the best things is to chop lettuce and veggies, as we often have salads, but it’s nice to have a pre-prepared salad so you can just throw it into a bowl. We also really love having cooked meat in our freezer that we can take out for a dinner!

    1. The batch prep is my favorite – if I have pre chopped veggies, I’ll snack on them. If I don’t, I’ll snack on something else (like cookies 😉

  3. For my family, meal plan usually doesn’t work. Random things pop up in our schedule or sometimes we get to the day and that’s just not what we’re craving. That’s why I like to only pick out a couple meals at a time for the week or just have things on hand I know I can do a variety of things with. I’m actually about to go prep some veggies right now! I love having veggies+protein ready to go for throwing into my lunch whether it be pasta, a rice bowl, or anything else like that.

    xxMeah

    1. I love that – totally catering it to what works for you guys! Sometimes, 2 nights a week is perfect for us too, knowing we will be eating out, or at events, etc. Sometimes, it’s nice to be spontaneous 🙂

  4. I feel like I have meal planning down to a science now. We only go to the grocery store every 2 weeks (yes you read that right). We use Clicklist, so I don’t even go in the grocery store. I plan out meals/snacks/lunch ideas, etc. for a 2 week period, which for us, means planning out 8-10 dinner meals. I utilize the cook once-eat twice approach a lot of times. We also usually dine out at least once weekly. We rely on frozen veggies a lot for the 2nd week, and focus on eating most of the fresh produce during the first week. I rotate our scheduled on a weekly basis. I have them planned out like a school or facility would: Monday is Meatloaf, Tuesday is Tacos, etc. Once I had an entire 4 weeks mapped out, I no longer have to think about what we’re having for dinner, I just look at the calendar and plan from there. Of course, if I find we’re getting tired of something, we switch it up. But most people tend to go back to the same things over and over for the most part anyway. We also use the freezer. I package up leftovers in flat Tupperware and it’s like we have our own frozen entrée meals (that are way better for us). Great post!

  5. Whenever we don’t meal plan, we end up eating cereal or cheese and crackers for dinner, lol. It is so KEY to making our lives easier – and also for saving money on groceries. We rarely go out to eat so it’s important for me to have all my food for the week and know what I’m going to make.

  6. Ive been finding having a couple chicken breasts cooked up, a couple sweet potatoes roasted, and some sort of loaf or muffins for breakfasts to be my staples right now. If I have those in my fridge I at least feel like I can add them to whatever I pick up or make.

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