Clean Eating Meal Prep
Meal prep can be two of the most polarizing words out there, followed only by “man bun”. For the people who hate to meal plan, prepping for the week seems like torture. Here is a big secret: for people who swear by meal planning…prepping for the week is still awful. My friend Angela and I will spend time during our weekly meal prep texting each other about how much it sucks, how we’d rather be doing anything else. And oh the dishes!
I can tell you really think I am selling the importance of prepping your food for the week, huh? 🙂
No matter how often I roll my eyes while doing my weekly prep, I cannot underscore the importance of it. Having things prepped, chopped, and ready to go means I can serve my family healthy. clean food faster during the week. It keeps us from ordering takeout, going through the drive-thru, or eating cereal. Again. That time spent getting ready for the week gives me peace of mind, improves our eating, and saves me a boatload of cash.
Make a Meal Plan
Yep, sorry. You have to decide what to eat in advance before you know what to prepare. Everyone has different ideas on the best way to create a meal plan. I say that the best way is what works best for your family.
I go old school and take a piece of scratch paper, and write the days of the week down. I then circle the days that Troy is working, knowing that I will want easier meals that night, and grilling won’t be an option. Sure, I could learn to grill, but I refuse. Where does that leave me then? Doing all the cooking! Plus I mess with food too much while I cook and I know that is a big no-no when standing over a grill.
Then I make note if any events are taking place during the week. Does Jack have sports, does someone have a meeting, etc. I also check the weather for the week. Is there a day coming up that just screams “soup”? Which day might be too warm to use the oven? I don’t want to serve a casserole with a side of boob sweat.
Make a List and Use the Pantry
Think through each menu item/recipe and check your well-stocked pantry to see what you already have on hand. Then make a comprehensive shopping list with the missing items. Check with the Ibotta app to see if anything is worth cash back. Since you are shopping smart and only getting what you need, maybe you could take advantage of your grocery store’s shopping services. Usually, for a small fee, someone else shops for you and either delivers it to your house or brings it out to your car in the parking lot. Perhaps for your life, letting someone else do the shopping will give you more time for meal prep.
Prep Once, Eat Twice…or Thrice!
I like to think about what I want to serve that week. Is there a dish that uses diced veggies or needs meat defrosted? Can you double up on that and make two dinners that need similar ingredients? Maybe you want to make Beef Stew in the Instant Pot one night. Well, you’re going to need to chop up carrots, onions, and potatoes. Perhaps you also cut up some extra carrots for Zesty Quinoa to use as a side dish for another night. And while you’re at it, chop up a few more potatoes and onions and make yourself some Home Fries with scrambled eggs one night and Baked Potato Soup later in the week.
With your protein source, think about how you can use it in multiple ways. Perhaps you really want chicken tacos one night. Could you roast a chicken (or buy a rotisserie chicken) on Sunday to eat Monday, and then save the rest of the meat for Tuesday night tacos? And perhaps once you’ve eaten all the meat from that whole chicken, it could be added to the crockpot or Instant Pot with some veggies, water, and a bay leaf. Let it cook on low all day and you’ll come home to free chicken stock to be used in Chicken Gnocchi Soup. Identifying trends and ingredients can help you streamline your process and prep.
My family discovered about two years ago that we all prefer a thinner crust pizza to traditional crust. When I make a batch of Whole Wheat Pizza Dough in the Kitchen Aid, it makes enough for one regular crust or two thin crusts. We have thin pizza pans from the dollar store and I lay parchment paper over the top of each one to make it non-stick. On the parchment, I spread out the dough, add the sauce, and toppings. The whole unbaked pizza goes in my extra freezer uncovered. Once frozen solid, I cover it with foil and label the pizza. Boom, now you have homemade frozen pizza that can be ready in less time than waiting for the delivery person to get to your house.
Spending an afternoon once every few months doing large batch freezer cooking can set you up with at least one ready to heat meal per week. I won’t rehash the merits or details of freezer cooking here because Pinterest has so many ideas if you are interested in trying it out. I will say that your first freezer cooking event will be easier with comfy tennis shoes and a friend experienced in the process.
Having easy to use storage for all your prepared food makes a huge difference. I recommend something that is glass or at least clear so that ingredients are easily identifiable. Find something that can lock tight for storing any meat. Secure storage can help reduce cross-contamination from raw meat touching veggies and other items in the fridge. We use the GlassLock sets that Costco sells. For freezer meals, I use aluminum pans with lids from a restaurant supply store.
For smaller items, sauces, and certain foods, I love using mason jars. Once you have cooked the meal, mason jars make amazing containers for leftovers. Pints of leftover soup make the best easy grab and go lunch. Plus, if you’re using wide mouth jars, you can also use them in the freezer. Leave one inch between the top of the food and the top of the jar and you’ll be fine to freeze in the jars. Do your best to allow the jars to thaw before reheating food, as this can prevent cracking.
Designate the Time
Sadly, that food isn’t going to prep itself. The first few weeks you meal prep, it is likely going to take longer than you anticipate. The more you do it, the easier it gets. You learn to streamline the processes, figure out time-saving tricks, and generally just get smarter as you gain experience.
If possible, do most of your prep the same day and time every week. That may be a Sunday afternoon, Tuesday evening, or whatever. Setting aside that time gives you consistency in your schedule and lets you know what to expect each week.
Make it Fun. Really.
While meal prep may seem about as fun as a root canal, there are things you can do to make it more enjoyable. Less torturous? I find my prepping is
less awful more tolerable when I am blasting great music or chopping along to a good podcast.
Some weeks I make it a game. I’ll set a timer and see if I can get everything prepped and ready before it goes off. If you were the type of kid whose parents could get them to do things by saying “I’ll time you”, you’re my people.
One mistake I see many people new to meal prep and planning make is over-complicating what constitutes “dinner”. Many families have the idea in their heads that dinner has to have a protein, a veg, and a starch. Making three separate dishes can be a time suck both in prep and cooking. This post will give you some fun ideas on how to rethink what dinner can look like when you let go of conventional ideas.
Get Some Toys
One of the things that make meal prep easier are kitchen appliances that speed things up for you. Chopping, blending, and cooking can be made faster with the right gear. Are any of these things necessary? Nope! You only really need a knife, a cutting board, and some storage containers and you’ll be good to go. But having some fun kitchen tech can cut your time in the process.
My favorite kitchen gadgets:
- Food processor. It slices, it dices, and grates! But wait…there’s more! The disc insert for the food processor means that I can prep veggies for stir-fry, soups/stews, and side dishes in a matter of minutes. I have had mine for almost eight years, and it still works like brand new, despite multiple uses each week.
- Instant Pot. This machine is the fifth member of our family. It cuts the cooking time dramatically for some of our favorite dishes, and yet acts like a slow cooker in its ease of use. It also has a slow cooker setting and can be used like a crockpot with an add-on lid. The Instant Pot can cook unsoaked dried beans in under 45 minutes, and heat up frozen chicken in 20. It is a cook’s dream.
- Good knives. Sharp, solid knifes that feel great in your hand are invaluable. Hit up a kitchen store to get a “hands-on” tryout to see what knives work best for you. Keep them sharp and safe to use. Our local grocery store sharpens knives for free once a week, and I love to take advantage of this service.
- Multiple cutting boards. Even though I clean as I go, having a few extra cutting boards that aren’t dirty or drying in the dishrack helps so much.
- Stand mixer. I have a Kitchen Aid, and I use it multiple times per week. It mixes up pizza dough, homemade bread, desserts, and so much more.
Eat Simply on Meal Prep Night
Whichever day you decide to do your meal prep, make sure the dinner that evening is something simple and easy. The last thing anyone wants to do after spending time chopping, measuring, and prepping, is to cook a whole other meal. So go easy on yourself and serve breakfast for dinner, pasta, eggs, or even clean out the fridge to make space for all your new prepped food.
Meal prep is not the best moment of my week, but it is so vital to making sure we have clean, healthy, and affordable meals day in and day out. And that is undeniably great.
Unlike man buns.
What is your favorite meal prep tip?