Prepping Real Food: A real life (video) look at a prep time! Plus, a free printable to help you get started with prepping healthy food.

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Last week I showed you exactly what a real food shopping trip looks like for me (watch the video). Once I shop for our food, I spend 1-2 hours on a Sunday or Monday prepping for the week ahead.

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.

My prep time looks different each week depending on the food I purchase and what our schedule looks like. My goal is to spend just a couple of hours in the kitchen to help jumpstart our real food meals.

Prepping Real Food: A real life (video) look at a prep time! Plus, a free printable to help you get started with prepping healthy food.

My Meal Plan

My weekly prep time is determined by my meal plan. If you’d like to learn more about planning real food, I highly recommend taking the Real Food Planning Challenge. Here’s my meal plan for the week…

Monday- Breakfast: Green smoothie //  Dinner: Roasted Herb Chicken Thighs with White Beans and Rosemary (crock-pot)

Tuesday- Breakfast: Yogurt with Granola (already made from last week’s prep time) and Fruit + Hardboiled Eggs // Dinner: Salmon Burgers (salmon already in the freezer from my Costco trip) with Tuscan Kale Salad (add chickpeas)

Wednesday- Breakfast: Smoothie (green or fruit-based) and Muffins //  Dinner: Sheet Pan Flank Steak Fajitas with Peppers and Onions (tortillas already in the freezer)

Thursday- Breakfast: Oatmeal and Fruit (chopped apples) // Dinner: Quesadillas with leftovers from fajitas (tortillas already in the freezer)

Friday- Breakfast: Oatmeal and Fruit (cinnamon pears) + Eggs // Dinner: Cheese pizza + Pear and Arugula Pizza (adults)

Saturday- Breakfast: Eggs in a Hole (sheet pan style) and Fruit (probably pears or grapefruit) //Dinner: Cobb Salad (add chickpeas) with Homemade Bread (maybe)

Prepping Real Food: A real life (video) look at a prep time! Plus, a free printable to help you get started with prepping healthy food.

My Prep Time

After planning our meals and shopping, I determined my top prep activities. Based on my meal plan, there are many different foods/ingredients I could prep in advance. Before determining what I would prep for the week ahead, I thought about everything I could prep: marinate chicken thighs, create lunch options for Piper, wash and chop greens, make coffee creamer (a 60-second recipe), make cinnamon pears, shred cheese for pizza, par-bake pizzas, boil eggs, make muffins (I’m out of my freezer stock), chop vegetables for the fajitas and possibly the salad, make almond milk for smoothies.

My mental list may not seem like a lot of activities (or maybe it does), but realistically those activities could consume an entire day! If I had all day to spend prepping, then by all means I would prep everything. Instead, I only spend 1-2 hours prepping each week, so I prioritize based on the foods that can be used in multiple ways and our weekly schedule.

Mornings are super busy for us, so making breakfast food is always high on my priority list. Piper is always hungry when I pick him up from school, which means food that can double as a snack is a huge bonus. We also keep snack time super easy with just a piece of fruit most days. Dustin and I enjoy leftovers for lunch, but packing lunch for Piper can be a challenge so I like to make easy lunch food (pasta, chicken and rice, beans, make-ahead jelly and seed butter sandwiches). Finally, anything that will be used for multiple dinners is considered a top priority. Based on these “rules”, here’s what I decided to prep this week:

No. 1: Wash and chop greens for salads, lunch sandwiches-if needed, smoothies, fajitas, quesadillas, kale salad, and arugula pizza. This activity also extends the life of leafy greens.

No. 2: Cook chickpeas in the crock-pot. Also, make hummus with the chickpeas for snacks and lunch.

No. 3: Boil eggs for breakfast and Piper’s lunch.

No. 4: Cook pasta with frozen peas from the freezer. I top the pasta with butter and parmesan cheese for an easy lunch. A great alternative to the mac and cheese so many of Piper’s friends consume at lunchtime.

No. 5: Bake muffins for breakfast, lunch, or a snack. I usually double the muffin recipe so I have plenty for the freezer.

No. 6: Make almond milk for smoothies.

Normally I keep my prep time limited to five activities. Since cooking the chickpeas, boiling eggs, and cooking pasta were very easy activities, I added almond milk to my list.

Your Turn

To help you get started with prep time, I created a printable resource, Prep Time Action Plan, to help you prioritize your prep choices. I also recommend reading Prep Day: The Why, What, and How To of Prepping Food In Advance.

Prepping Real Food: A real life (video) look at a prep time! Plus, a free printable to help you get started with prepping healthy food.

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  1. What about putting the Dutch Oven in the oven? It might cook a few hours faster, but I’m pretty sure you could adjust that. In fact, Julia Child’s recipe for beef stew uses that exact technique. Look up Boeuf Bourguignon.
    Kristin, I was wondering what fruit you used in you muffins in the video? Have you ever baked with goji berries?

    1. Hey Bethany!

      I did actually think about the oven for a bit, but one of the things I like about a slow cooker is using it in the summer when I don’t want to turn the oven on. So, I kept searching, and ended up finding two slow cooker options that are “ceramic coated aluminum”, and are specifically advertised for stovetop searing. For the life of me, I can’t find info to confirm that ceramic coated is as safe as a regular stoneware pot… but, the actual ingredients of the Crock Pot version ( are available, and all seem inert/safe to me. Wish it all weren’t so complicated, though! (FYI that the other option is a 6.5 qt one made by Bella — you can find on Amazon by searching “Bella ceramic searing”.)

      After finding those options, I was still tempted to just go with a Hamilton Beach basic programable stoneware version… but finally ordered the Crock Pot one in the hopes that it’s perfect. I’ll try to remember to report back here if I am happy/unhappy with the coating in the end. If not, I’m going to order the same one in Kristin’s picture on the Kitchen Essentials page.

      Hope that’s helpful!

      (PS. Kristin, does your HB slow cooker have a rubber gasket? And, if so, do you have any issue with it absorbing food odours that you can’t remove?)

      1. Hey Summer, Yes, my HB slow cooker lid has a rubber gasket. I believe an extra gasket came in the box, too. So far I haven’t had an issue with it absorbing food odors.

  2. Thanks for responding to everything!

    The pizza attempt was actually a disaster… my fault: I tried using the back of a cookie sheet in place of a pizza peel, and failed to get it to slide properly. It was the first time using my Emile Henry baking stones (I bought them before I noticed yours!), and I wasn’t very happy about all the toppings falling all over that, and the dough sliding onto the oven rack. 🙁 We tried parchment paper for the next pizza, and that worked much better. I think I’ll stick with that for a bit, and then see if we start making them enough to warrant a pizza peel.

    Which brings me to another topic. Can I ask a bunch of kitchen equipment questions here? 🙂

    First, do you have just the Emile Henry baking stones? Do you ever miss a baking pan with rimmed sides? I replaced our nonstick ones with the stones, but I’m wondering if I need to have an aluminum baking sheet on hand too.

    Next, do you have a pizza peel? If not, what do you use? And, if so, what is the largest pizza size you make on it for those Emily Henry stones?

    And, also, do you use your pizza cutter right on the stone? I know it says you can, but I’m nervous!

    Finally, we need a new crock pot, and I’m debating how much priority to put on getting one with a ceramic/stoneware insert. (Is there a difference between ceramic and stoneware?!) I like the idea of the 7 quart Breville (insert can be used on the stovetop for braising there) or the 7 quart Cuisinart Multi-Cooker one (the slower cooker has it’s own braising function). I hate browning meats on the stove because of the mess. But, both those slow cookers are nonstick cast aluminum, and I don’t love that (especially when the nonstick isn’t even defined). I see your crock pot has a stoneware insert. Any thoughts on whether you would ever switch for the ability to brown/braise?

    Really appreciate your time even reading through all that! Thanks for always being so helpful!

    1. Hey Summer,

      Oh no, I’m sorry to hear about the pizza. I had quite a few mishaps with homemade pizza when I started making it at home–it gets better/easier with time and practice!

      For baking sheets/stones, I own the Emile Henry baking stone. I also have two smaller circular baking stones, which I picked up from Target years ago, but don’t use them as much as the Emile baking stone. I keep a metal baking sheet with rimmed sides for jobs like cooking lots of chopped veggies, etc.–anything that may slide off the stone(s).

      I don’t have a pizza peel. The best way I’ve found to transfer large pizzas from the parchment to the baking stone is to just pick up the parchment with the ready-to-go raw pizza and place it in on the baking stone, parchment and all. This also makes for super easy cleanup!

      I use a pizza cutter on my baking stone. So far I haven’t had any issues with it cutting the stone.

      I believe ceramic and stoneware are pretty similar. Stoneware is made from a certain type of clay, from what I’ve read. I believe most stoneware inserts can be used on the stovetop as well (I’m just always cautious to advertise that with all crockpots in case something goes wrong for a reader). I brown meats and/or saute veggies in my crockpot base all the time before putting the base back in the crockpot.

      1. Thanks!

        The manual for our current slow cooker (with a stoneware insert) specifically says not to use it on the stove top. So, I’d be pretty nervous to try that. Did your manual say anything on the subject? It totally makes sense that they could make it like any other dutch oven to be okay on the stovetop, but I know that you can fire things differently so that they are able to withstand more (thinking of glass). That gives me impetus to keep looking for a stoneware one. What I really wish you could buy was a heating part that could work for a regular dutch oven. I guess the sizing would be hard… but it seems like making something that multitasks like that would make sense.

        (Thinking out loud now! 😉

      2. Truthfully, I never read my manual, so I’m not sure what it said about the stovetop. So far it’s been okay! I primarily use my Hamilton Beach crockpot.

        A heating device for a Dutch oven would be genius!!

      3. I know this is a few years old, so you may have found what you are looking for…but Pampered Chef now has something like this…

  3. Again, so helpful! Thank you!

    Question about the pasta: when you make that ahead, do you add the cheese and butter while it is still warm? Does Piper eat it cold in his lunch?

    And, a question about breakfast: I see one day you have just smoothies on the menu, and one day you have smoothies and muffins. How intentional/specific is that? I’m curious because I always struggle between the idea that breakfast should be a full meal, and the idea that I want mornings to be simple and streamlined.


    1. Hey Summer, Thank you! It’s so great to hear the post was helpful.

      I’ve gone about the pasta in two ways: 1/ Add the butter and cheese the day of prepping the pasta, then serve the lunch at room temperature in his lunchbox (both parm and butter can handle a couple of hours at room temp.) 2/ Wait to add the butter and parmesan until the day of lunch, then heat the pasta and toss in the topping, and store the warm pasta in a thermos.

      I’m a big breakfast person, but my family doesn’t like a big breakfast during the week. When it comes to a “smoothie day”, I usually just serve a piece of toast with nut butter and sliced bananas on the side, along with a hardboiled egg if everyone is really hungry.

      1. That’s all helpful too. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

        I’m trying make-ahead pizza tonight (make some for tonight, plus extra for tomorrow). Appreciating so many of your posts (and applying them) these days. Thanks!

      2. That’s awesome, Summer! I love having frozen homemade pizzas available–I think I’ll add that activity to my prep time this week for Piper’s lunch!

        Here’s another breakfast post that may be helpful. It’s old (about a year old) and needs some updating (more items can now be added), but still contains helpful recipes and ideas for prepping breakfast in advance: Many of these pair really well with a morning smoothie.