Meal Prep for Real Moms
Finding the Time and Energy to Meal Prep
I’m not going to lie here, I used to hear ‘meal prep’ and immediately think it meant putting the exact same chicken and broccoli meal into seven Tupperware containers and eating the same thing every day. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I would also buy super healthy food, but then the day would get away from me, and by dinnertime I had no idea what to make or what I had bought, so we’d turn to an easy (and probably less optimal) meal.
I finally realized meal prep was not only really easy, but it actually saved me time and energy, and didn’t involve eating the same thing for an entire week. It also didn’t involve me going on a cooking spree all Sunday to prepare for the upcoming week (that doesn’t sound like my idea of a Sunday Funday). In fact, prepping your meals can significantly help your family eat healthier, save money, save time and potentially save your sanity. Let’s explore the different ways you can ‘meal prep’ to make your life easier—combine as many of these as possible, and you’ll be sailing through mealtime.
Menu Planning for Your Family
I will be honest and say I’m not an organized person. I would like to be, but I’m not. However, if there’s one area of my life that I have tried to reign in, it’s planning the meals for the week. This has helped my family so much. I’ve realized how much easier everything is now once I just know what I’m supposed to make for dinner—no running out to the store last minute for something for dinner or trying to root through the cabinets for something to slop together. That pretty much never ends well.
I make notecards with all of the healthy meals I know how to make quickly and that everyone (mostly) likes. Then, over the weekend, my husband and I pick the meals for the week out of the deck. I know what to go shopping for, and there’s no fretting when 5:00pm rolls around, nor is it too late to start a crock pot meal. Admittedly, it takes some practice and work to have this list grow past just a handful of meals (I recommend trying new recipes on weekends when you have more time to prep and figure out the recipe, as well as more help from partner, etc.). Usually I do this only for our dinners to keep it simple, and for breakfast and lunches, I usually just rotate through a few trusty standbys. However, if you have school-aged children, planning lunches can be just as beneficial!
Yes, simply having a different mindset while grocery shopping can help tremendously. If you’re like me, you typically endure the grocery store with kids in tow, which feels like an athletic event. I personally try to cut down on the number of times I need to do said shopping nightmares trips, so I try to maximize my time and buy at least a week’s worth at once. The best way I’ve found to do this is to bring a menu plan (see above) and get only what I need, but enough for the week. I also have been loving ordering groceries online. My jam lately has been buying non-perishables at ThriveMarket.com and stocking up on typical pantry items that we use on a consistent basis (e.g., quinoa, spices, etc.). That way, I can stick to the outside of the grocery store and only get my perishable items, cutting down on time and energy, and avoiding my toddler crying for crap like cookies and chips.
Let’s Get Bulky
Again, cooking in bulk does not have to mean cooking 7 portions of the exact same meal. What I mean here is just cooking extra portions of certain foods that will last all week. For example, if my meal calls for something like quinoa, rice, lentils, beans, sweet potatoes or baked veggies, I’ll make several extra portions—it doesn’t take me any additional time since I’m cooking it anyway and now I have them for subsequent dinners or lunches. The more versatile the food item is, the better!
Chop Those Veggies
I found that a bulk of the time cooking healthy meals usually involves prep time. So, washing and chopping, slicing and dicing your veggies such as peppers, onions, zucchini or carrots ahead of time (for me this means when toddler is sleeping or gone) can make mealtime a lot quicker. (Tip: some veggies can stay fresh after chopping longer than others!) In addition, I love doing some work the night before for breakfast and lunch so daytime goes much smoother, too.
If I ever have the gumption to go on a cooking spree, I really like preparing a few freezer meals to have on hand. These are typically gallon-sized Ziploc freezer bags full of foods that I can throw in the crock pot; nothing fancy. Having a few of these in the freezer can really help in a pinch and save ya from eating frozen pizza again.
Grab and Go
In addition to freezer meals, some grab-and-go type foods are awesome to have on hand. Things like simple Mason jar salads, muffin tin eggs, and paleo pumpkin muffins are my family’s go-tos (recipes to follow) when we will be out and about. And then of course there are whole foods that are naturally grab-and-go friendly, like apples, bananas, or carrots. I even will chomp whole cucumbers or zucchinis—there are really no rules here, people.
I hope these ideas help your family integrate more healthy meals with less energy, money, and time. What are some of your favorite ways to meal prep?
Molly PowellBIRTHFIT Milwaukee @birthfitmke