We’ve talked about prep time a couple of times here at Live Simply. We’ve discussed ideas for prepping food in advance and how to prep real food with very little time. I’m a huge believer in the idea of taking time to prepare real food in advance.
Despite my belief in this activity I fondly call “prep time,” I haven’t been implementing my belief. My practice of prep time came to a complete halt the moment I moved from my ’60s kitchen to the temporary garage setup (kitchen remodel season). The absence of this important time each week has created new habits: eating out a lot of more than usual, family members randomly standing at the fridge wondering if there’s anything in the house to eat, and frequent trips to the grocery store (AKA: overspending!).
Piper started summer camp this week, which made me realize we only have one month left of summer freedom! August will soon be here along with school season. School season means our family will be busier than ever, particularly in the morning and late afternoon with school pickup. I may have been able get away with slacking on my prep time this summer, but come August our real food lifestyle could seriously suffer.
Those thoughts were my motivation to get back into my weekly prep time routine this week. When I posted a picture of my hour prep time on Instagram many of you commented about the need for a prep time routine in your life as well. Our discussion about the picture made me realize that many of us need the accountability and practical steps to maintain a dedicated time each week to prepare food.
Over the next few weeks, I’m excited to share a prep day series with you! Together we will hold each other accountable and learn practical ways to prepare food for our families without spending hours and hours in the kitchen.
Now, I’m not talking about an extreme prep time. I’m sure you’ve seen the extreme prep times plastered across Facebook and Pinterest. The prep times that make you think, “Woah! That’s amazing!” And once you give it a go, you realize a prep time like that will require surrendering your entire weekend to cooking and dishes. Oh no! Nothing extreme here. What I am talking about is a dedicated time each week (or multiple times throughout the week) reserved for prepping important foods/ingredients based on your schedule.
Sounds doable, right? Oh, my friend, it is!
Let’s dive right into the series with a practical plan for a simplified prep time.
The Why, What, and How To
Why should I spend my time prepping food?
I find that if I have a “why” behind a routine, I’m more willing to turn an activity into a regular part of my lifestyle. So, let’s talk about the why behind prep time.
First, I believe most of us know all too well about real food frustration. You know, it’s 4:00 in the afternoon and you suddenly realize your family is going to be hungry in t-minus 60 minutes. Yikes! And maybe that very second you also realize your son has soccer practice at 6:00pm. Double yikes! With nothing thawed and vegetables just sitting in the crisper drawer (they need to be washed and chopped) you decide to visit the store for something quick and last minute. None of us have ever been the “you” in this story, right? Not me! Kristin, don’t lie.
Prep time allows you to strategically create a plan for the week. A plan for what you’ll eat and how you can prep that food in advance to make life run smoothly. Prep time reduces stress and the amount of time throughout the week spent in the kitchen. Prep time assures you’ll be ready with a healthy meal for the 5pm dinnertime and 6:30 soccer practice without having to run to the store for a quick meal.
What should I make during my prep time?
Now, let’s talk about the what question.
I like to prep food/ingredients based on our schedule. Each week after I meal plan, I spend a few minutes reviewing our schedule and what I’ve planned for the week.
For example: If Tuesday night is a busy soccer night and I’ve planned crock-pot black bean soup and corn bread, I know prepping this meal or at least the ingredients in advance will reduce the Tuesday night meal stress. If snack time is particularly crazy, I may spend some time prepping easy snacks for the week: chopping veggies (which may also be used for salads and soups) and making granola bars or raw bites.
The most important question I answer when thinking about the what each week is: What can I prep that will maximize my time throughout the week in the kitchen and give me the biggest “bang” for my time?
Here are a few ideas:
Chop veggies used for multiple meals, snacks, and salads
Make granola bars or “bites” for multiple snacks
Cook beans (beans freeze well!) for nachos, quesadillas, “refried” beans, etc.
Make soups, for easy grab-n-go dinner or lunches
Grind coffee for the week
Make smoothie packs or smoothies to store in mason jars
Create a snack bin
Wash and chop fruits, veggies, greens
Cook and shred meat(s) for dinners and lunches
Cook rice, quinoa, grains, etc.
The possibilities are endless.
How do I implement prep time?
Finally, let’s talk about the “how to” of prep time. This is where the rubber meets the road, or the knife meets the vegetables…I’m trying.
1) Set aside a time each week to prep food (you may also want to prep homemade cleaners, etc. during this time). Determine a weekly time you can easily commit to without wavering. For example: I was prepping on Sunday, but now Dustin is home all day on Monday. This means he can play with the kids while I spend 1-2 hours prepping food for the week. I usually meal plan on Saturday morning, shop on Sunday night, and prep on Monday morning. Of course, your schedule will look different than mine.
Prep time may also be divided by multiple days/times. I recommend setting a 1-2 hour prep time window each week. If this isn’t doable for you, no worries! Divide this time throughout the week. On Monday morning/evening spend 30 minutes chopping veggies for the next few days. On Tuesday morning/evening make muffins and double the recipe(s) so you can freeze enough for a few weeks. On Wednesday morning/evening cook chicken for lunch the rest of the week.
2) Create a meal plan. If you need help with strategically creating a meal plan, I recommend reading my Meal Planning 101 post and also purchasing the Real Food Planning Challenge. Without a meal plan, prep time simply can’t happen! A meal plan is your essential eating guide–what you need to make meals and how you plan on using those ingredients/foods.
3) Determine what you’ll buy vs. make each week. Once you know exactly what you can and will buy vs. make in a week, you can start thinking about prep time.
4) Now that you have a meal plan and food sitting in your pantry and fridge, it’s time to create a prep time action plan. To get you started with thinking about prep time strategically, I’ve created a printable action plan you can use throughout this series. My hope is that you’ll use this printable until these steps become an innate way of thinking each week.
Prep time is about spending time making food that will maximize your time in the kitchen throughout the week. Prep time isn’t about doing it all! The printable action plan walks you through the steps of thinking about the most important foods you can prep that week based on your meal plan and schedule. I recommend sticking with a maximum of five foods each week to prep. Will this allow you to prep everything for the week? No, but it will allow you to prep the most important foods in a 1-2 hour window.
Next week, we’ll start with our first lesson: How to Wash and Store Leafy Greens in Advance. I can’t wait to get started with the practical tips and recipes we will be using during prep time.
This week, your homework is to create a meal plan, go shopping for the food you’ll need to implement the meal plan, set aside a specific day/time for prep time, and then print and fill out the Prep Day Action Plan printable. Focus on five foods you can prep this week based on your meal plan and schedule: chopping veggies, making rice, baking muffins, etc.
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