When I first started meal prepping, I tried to make my meal prep sessions look like the images on Pinterest. And most of the time, I felt like a complete failure because I couldn’t do “all the things.” Of course, you probably know what happened next…
I knew there must be some kind of balance to be found with meal prep–a way to prep without feeling overwhelmed each week.
In today’s short podcast episode, I’m sharing my practical approach to food prep. Let’s talk the why, what, and how long of food prep.
You can listen to the podcast episodes here on the blog, iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play.
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- Download Your Food Prep Action Plan
- Episode 013: Debunking Meal Planning Misconceptions and The One Thing You Need to Simplify Meal Planning
- My Favorite Storage Containers for Food Prep and Storing Real Food
- Instant Pot Chicken and Rice
Food Prep Ideas…
- How to Cook a Whole Chicken (Spatchcock Method)
- Roasted Vegetables
- How to Prep and Store Cut Carrots and Celery
- Salad Dressing: Ranch (a favorite dip/dressing in our house) or lemon tahini (a favorite vinaigrette)
- Favorite Prep-Ahead Muffins: Master Einkorn Muffins, Banana Einkorn, Almond-Banana Blender Muffins (Gluten-Free), Almond-Oat Blueberry Muffins (Gluten-Free), Almond-Oat Carrot Cake Muffins (Gluten-Free)
- Instant Pot Hard or Soft Boiled Eggs
- How to Make Beans in the Instant Pot
- Smoothie Packs
- Waffles (Gluten-Free or Einkorn)
- Overnight Oats
- Baked Oatmeal Cups (portable oatmeal “muffins”)
Why food prep?
First, I believe most of us know all too well about real food frustration. You know, it’s 8am and you suddenly realize you have to pack lunches for the day, or your family needs to eat breakfast pronto. When we don’t have a plan or anything prepared, it’s easy to throw our hands up in the air and wave the white flag of surrender.
When it comes to processed food, you don’t need much of any plan. Food goes from a box to the microwave in seconds. But when it comes to real food–food that nourishes and sustains us–we’re talking about ingredients. And these ingredients need to be prepared in some way.
A meal plan allows me to strategically create a plan for the week. This plan tells me what we’ll eat for the week, using the ingredients purchased, and then allows me to strategically think about what I can prep in advance based on our schedule and our biggest stressors–we’ll talk more about this in a minute. Prep time reduces stress and the amount of time throughout the week spent in the kitchen.
When I intentionally take the time to prepare a few food components for the week (like: cooked chicken, a cooked grain, veggies, waffles, pancakes, muffins, or hardboiled eggs), our days are smoother and we’re nourished with real ingredients. When I’m not intentional about both planning what we’ll eat and preparing a few things to help simplify the week to come, real food becomes a burden, stressful, and something that just doesn’t happen.
What exactly should I prep?
Food prep is simply the act of preparing for the week ahead. This act of preparation is based on your family’s schedule and your biggest stressors; not an image on Pinterest or Instagram. In fact, what food prep looks like for me will probably be very different than what food prep looks like for you.
Each week, after creating my meal plan (which comes from a list of rotated favorite meals, and occasionally a new meal to try. You’ll want to go back to episode 13 to learn more about this–it will change the way you approach meal planning, promise!), I sit down with my plan and calendar and ask myself, “What can I do right now to simplify our meals and life this week? What are my biggest stressors and what can I do to eliminate these stressors with some intentional prep?”
Mornings are extra busy and my biggest stressor, particularly during the school year, so preparing a food that will simplify breakfast is usually my first answer. I also pack lunches in the morning. This means getting a jump-start on lunch is typically my second answer. Dinner prep isn’t a priority for me, unless we have an usually busy evening on the calendar. If that’s the case, I’ve already planned to make something in the Instant Pot, or an easy dinner like burgers, quesadillas, or fajitas.<–Nothing that requires a ton of prep work.
Once I know what to focus on, based on our schedule, it’s time to take action and write down the food(s) to prep based on my meal plan. Usually this includes muffins or something that’s easy to serve alongside another breakfast option (i.e. yogurt, smoothies, or eggs). And for lunch, I like to focus on meal components, such as: cooking a whole chicken for shredded meat, cutting or roasting veggies, cooking a grain, making a salad dressing/dip. The idea is to make meal components that may be used in a variety of ways throughout the week. Other times, I may choose to prepare an actual prepped meal that can be stretched across multiple lunches.
I like to focus on components that can be mixed and matched with other foods, or food that will stretch across multiple days.
Food prep is something that helps us simplify our week, not something I’m doing just to do. It’s about intentionally thinking, “Okay, here’s what we’re planning to eat this week, what can I do right now that will simplify our week and eliminate our biggest stressors?”
Some ideas for what to prep (see links under “Show Notes”–above):
Make muffins, waffles, pancakes for multiple breakfasts, snacks or lunches
Marinate meat for tomorrow’s dinner
Cook a whole chicken for shredded meat for salad, sandwiches, etc.
Make hardboiled eggs
Cook beans (beans freeze well) for nachos, quesadillas, “refried” beans, etc.
Make soup, for easy grab-n-go dinner or lunches
Make smoothie packs
Make parfaits or overnight oats
Wash and chop fruits and veggies
Cook rice, quinoa, grains, etc.
Make a dressing that can be used in multiple ways: in a salad, as a dip, etc.
Make pesto that can be tossed with pasta and a meat or veggies throughout the week for lunch
How long does it take me to food prep?
I’m often asked how long it takes me to prep food for the week to come. The answer: one to several hours, depending on the priorities for that week. Some weeks are jam-packed, so spending a few hours in the kitchen on the weekend is a sacrifice I’m willing to make. And some weeks are more on the chill side, which means very little food prep needs to be done on the weekend.
Here’s the key: Make food prep work for you.
Forget all the images you’ve seen on the internet and just focus on what will work for you and your family. Think about your schedule and what you can do right now to help simplify the upcoming week. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to prep. Don’t let Pinterest fool you, like it did me. The goal of prepping is to simplify life; not complicate it.
Food prep is a routine. It’s part of our life now. It’s not something I always love doing, but I love the benefits: a simplified week, less chaos in the morning, nourishing food staples ready to grab in the fridge.