I’m not going to lie…
Real food requires a lot of work!
There are many days when I wish a trip to the store and a box of frozen pizza qualified as “real.” Not for the taste or nutrition (99% of store-bought boxes are majorly lacking in both), but for the convenience. A real food lifestyle requires a total shift in behavior and thinking, one from quick and convenience to slow and homemade.
Okay, this post is sounding rather depressing. Shall we pick things up a bit? I promise, there’s good news!
Just because real food requires more time and work than processed food doesn’t mean you have to spend every single day in the kitchen creating everything from scratch… I don’t! That’s great news. I told you things were going to pick up.
Prep day is my secret “trick” to keeping real food simple, time efficient, and even affordable!
Prep day allows me to prepare ingredients and foods in advance. This means I have more time during the week to work, play with my kids, read a book, etc. Yes, I still cook during the week, but prepping ingredients and foods in advance drastically reduces my overall time in the kitchen, making real food doable even on the busiest of days.
Prep Day 101
What is prep time?
A set day/time for preparing as many ingredients or meals as possible for the week ahead. I suggest writing or typing the day/time on a calendar.
How do I know what to prep?
Take a look at your meal plan.
Now, circle the days that are super busy. Soccer on Monday night? Circle Monday. Church on Wednesday night? Circle Wednesday.
With the busy days circled, take a look at the meals you plan to serve. Think about the ingredients you can prep in advance to save time and stress. Busy days are always my prep time priority. After the busy days are tamed, I choose the hardest recipes and prep ingredients that will make the recipes easier to prepare.
How much time should you spend prepping?
The amount of time you spend preparing is completely up to you. I dedicate two hours on Sunday afternoon. Two hours goes by fast in the kitchen, so I reduce all my distractions–my phone is turned off and I put a movie in the DVD player for the kids (yep, I do that!). I turn on my favorite music and get to work.
I can usually be found chopping vegetables for soup or salads, making salad dressing (vinaigrette or my favorite Caesar dressing), baking bread (I purchase bread from the health food store on super busy weeks) or muffins, making a pot of pinto or black beans, roasting a whole chicken, assembling bean or breakfast burritos, and cooking waffles or whisking a pre-made mix.
20 Prep Day Foods
To get you started with prep day, here are just a few of the possibilities of foods and ingredients you can prep now to save time (and money) later. To make life even simpler, I created a printable checklist so you can print the list and hang it on your fridge or keep it safe in your Meal Plan Binder/Folder. Find the printable list here or by clicking the “printable” icon below.
1. Chop Vegetables and Fruit
2. Chop Salad and Sandwich Ingredients
3. Marinate Meats
4. Form Meat Patties: Hamburgers, Meatballs, Meatloaf
5. Cook Meats: Whole Chicken, Ham, Brown Beef, Crock-Pot Beef Roast and Shred /Slice Meats
6. Cook Soup
7. Bake Muffins, Bread, Biscuits (Biscuits and muffins can be stored raw in the freezer.)
9. Make Pancake/Waffle Dry Mix
10. Cook Beans, Lentils, Rice, Pasta
11. Make Quiche, Mini-Quiche (in muffin tin)
12. Hard Boil Eggs
13. Slice Snack Veggie Sticks: Carrots, Celery, Cucumber, Broccoli, Peppers and/or Roast Vegetables
14. Prepare Salad Dressing(s)/Dips
15. Shred/Slice Cheese
16. Assemble Burritos: Breakfast, Bean, Meat
17. Assemble Salads/Sandwiches/Wraps: Lunch Main Staples
18. Assemble Freezer Smoothie Packs or Prepare Ready-Made Smoothies
19. Make Spaghetti/Pizza Sauce
20. Make Treats: Lara-Like Bars, Homemade Granola Bars, Homemade Granola, Cookies
Prep day/time is the answer to my sanity, and the only reason I’m able to consistently feed my family real food day after day. With my meal plan in hand and food prepared in the fridge, the time I spend thinking about food and cooking is greatly reduced each week. With a little planning, real food is doable, affordable, and even time efficient!
I am loving your site! It has been incredibly helpful and I appreciate that you have taken the time to share! 🙂
First, I am wondering if you are able to heat up these breakfast burritos without it resulting in the hardened pieces I have always experienced as a result. If so, what might you be doing differently to prevent that?
Second, what storage containers are you using in the freezer (for the Shepherds Pie for instance) as well as for your chopped fruits and vegetables?
Thank you so much. I’m so glad you’re enjoying Live Simply!
One trick to reheating breakfast burritos is wrapping them in a damp (not wet, just slightly damp) paper-towel before reheating them. Another idea is to divide the reheating time into chunks. For example: 30 seconds. Then stop, flip the burritos and reheat for another 30 seconds.
For the storage jars, I really love a system I found at Costco called, Snapware. The containers are glass and work great for freezing foods! I own two sets so I also use these for storing chopped fruits and veggies. I also love Weck containers for storing broth, soups, and small chopped foods. Here’s a page with these resources and links to the products: https://livesimply.me/shop/kitchen-tools/
And here’s a video where I mention the storage jars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=angTXYtI3Lc
Kristin, for prepping food a week in advance, how long does everything last in your fridge/freezer? I guess I’m concerned if I cut up veggies that I intend to roast 5 days later, they’ll get soggy and gross. Same goes for raw/cooked meats…
Thanks for your tips! I just discovered this blog and I think it’s AMAZING! First blog I’ve ever been inclined to comment on. Keep fighting the clean fight!
Thank you, Katey. I’m honored to receive your first blog comment!! Welcome to Live Simply.
Usually hard veggies (onions, celery, peppers, carrots, etc.) can sit in the fridge for 5-7 days without getting soft. Cucumbers and tomatoes are best used within 2-3 days. Meats usually last 4-5 days (max) in the fridge if the meat was “fresh” or previously frozen (not clearance meat that needed to be sold and used ASAP). If I’m not planning to use an ingredient within a few days I usually freeze it for later.
I am new to this site, but I am loving it all your tips are so helpful. I have made all your homemade body washes and creams. Myself and my kids thank you.
Thank you so much, Rebekah! Welcome, I’m so happy to have you here at Live Simply.
This will surely help me to get more organised in 2015. Thanks for the printable as well!
You’re very welcome, Krystal!
I do a prep day too, but it takes me way longer than 2 hours! How do you keep it that short?
Hey Rebecca, I only prep the most important foods for the week and try to double many recipes. This week I made Chai Zucchini Muffins and doubled the recipe. In the amount of time I could make one batch, I ended up with over 36 muffins. I won’t make muffins again for another three weeks (give or take). Next week, based on my plan, I may focus on a different baked good like biscuits and double the recipe. I also focus on chopping versus making meals most of the time. Chopping veggies and fruits saves me a lot of time during the week, but doesn’t take a lot of prep time. There are weeks I go over 2 hours, but I really try to keep it within that limit so we can enjoy family time on Sunday. I could prep more, but I try to keep my work to just the ingredients that will cut down on time throughout the week. I also plan for an easy meal on Sunday (Applegate hotdogs or Chipotle), so I don’t have to cook on top of prepping food.
Cool! Yeah I do muffins some weeks and other things, like meatballs to freeze, etc, other weeks too. Sometimes its a perfect storm and i seem to be out of everything at once. And those are the days the baby wants me all day. Lol, so maybe that why it seems to take so long. But it’s so worth it to do a prep day before I start my week. I never regret it, that’s for sure!
Lol, I hear year ya, Rebecca! It seems like everything runs out at the exact same time in our house too. And those are the days my toddler needs me the most as well! Even just a couple of basic prep items getting accomplished seems to help for the week ahead, even if I can’t make muffins, roast a chicken, etc.