The single most time consuming activity in my house is meal prep. Generally, I’m a huge fan of freezer meals because I can make them in a single block of about four hours, and have dinners for about 30 days. My family loves to eat, and eat well we do. When I choose to make dinner the day we’ll eat it, I start around 3 and don’t finish until 5:30 or 6. That precious time could be spent playing with the kids, cleaning the house, blogging, doing homework, planning ahead for the next day, or a whole host of other activities. Fortunately, some brilliant soul decided to put an entire meal in the freezer, and the world of meal prep was forever changed. In order to have great result, you really need a method. Here are some great tips to maximize your time and resources.
1. Make a budget.
This is very important. Decided what you want to spend on groceries. If you don’t, you’ll end up spending a fortune, I promise. If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll know to avoid foods such as grouper in the north or berries in the middle of the cold winter, months. Grab ads and search sales. There’s no sense in creating convenience by meal-planning and preparing, if you’re going to go broke doing it. If you want to do that, you might as well eat out every night, at a healthful restaurant, and save yourself the four-hour prep time.
2. Write down your goals.
How many days are you planning? What meals are you planning for? Will they be freezer meals that can be stored for many days, or refrigerator meals that must be consumed with in the week? Are you looking for low calorie, or low carb foods? Are you on any special diet? Having all of your thoughts in order throughout the meal planning process will really save you time, energy, and money. After all, that’s what meal planning is all about, right?
3. Gather your resources.
Whether you use a computer, cookbooks, a different electronic, or any other resource you may want to use, get them all together in one place. When you’re focused on the task at hand, you won’t want to be getting up and plan shuffling through papers and digging through cabinets to find the things you need. Once you get rolling, you won’t want to stop!
4. Take an inventory.
Check your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator for anything you might be able to make use of. Often times, “the basics,” will shorten your grocery list considerably and save you money, as well. To avoid doing this every time you sit down to meal-plan, keep a running inventory of the things you have.
5. Discover new resources.
My absolute favorite resource to go to in a rut is Super Cook. You type in what you have, and it tells you what you can make. Keep scrolling, however, and it will give you a list of things you can almost makes give or take a few ingredients. This is a great way to begin building your shopping list, using what you already have as a guideline. There are many other resources available to you for meal preparation and planning. Use them! You just might fall in love and make your life a lot easier.
6. Choose a set day.
What day will you plan? How often will you plan? What day will you shop? What day will you prep? One of the biggest ways to stick to your plan is to stick to a schedule. Then of course, write it down. Keep a calendar for meals and planning, or throw it into your personal calendar.
7. Use your bookmarks.
Once you’ve gathered all of your recipe resources, sit down and go through them. Whether you’re going to flip through physical pages of cookbooks or scroll through your favorite recipe pages, blogs, or databases online, make a special filing system. Online, you can make a special folder in your “favorites” section. In a cookbook, you can use colored tabs or post it notes. If you make a recipe and decide it’s not for you, remove the bookmark. If you love it, leave it there for future planning!
8. Standardize your recipe.
Unless you want your bookmarked resources to be floating around on your work space, I highly recommend you create a standard for your collection of recipes. There are some excellent apps out there for recipe organization such as Recipe Keeper, or OrganizEat. I, personally, don’t want my electronics anywhere near my prep space, however, so I like to use plain ole’ index cards. That way, I can make side-by-side comparisons and really get an idea of what my grocery lists and preparation time is going to look like.
9. Purchase and plan your storage containers ahead of time.
Unless you have unlimited refrigerator space, single serving storage containers aren’t always practical when you’re feeding a family. As a stay-at-home mom with non-school-age kids, however, they’re an excellent way to always know what’s for lunch. I really like these divided containers for ease and portion control. They also take up as little room as I could find in any portion control container. I wouldn’t have a hope of sticking to a meal plan without them, and they seem to hold up well for a week at a time. Otherwise, my personal favorite container is BPA-free zip lock freezer bags. They fit really well in my deep freezer, and I primarily make “dump” slow cooker recipes. I get a lot of them from New Leaf Wellness – this blog will change the way you look at slow cooker meals.
10. Set up a block of a few distraction-free hours.
I know, funny joke. It really does make the job easier though. Choose a nap time if your kids nap at the same time or wait until your partner is around to help wrangle the little ones. Maybe screen time might be your best bet. I understand that distraction-free is a tall order, but it really makes the project more enjoyable. I have a pretty busy life and I love to cook, I just don’t always have the time or the desire every single night, so my meal prep time is my wind-down time, even if I can only find time with my toddler running around.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. My ideas and opinions, however, are my own.