If you had made your nutritional habits a priority, chances are “meal prep” has been mentioned. “How do you meal prep, what should I meal prep, when do you have time?” If you are thinking these same thoughts, trust me I get it. It’s tedious, overwhelming, and frankly; it could feel like a part time job. Meal planning and preparation is going to look different for everyone. Meal prep for a high level athlete, with specific training goals, is going to be different from a male or female who has a weight loss goal. Someone who lives alone, someone who has a family, someone who works night shift; every single person will need to do this differently. Although all the examples will differ in respect to what and how much they are eating and preparing, the steps they took to get there, may have a lot of common ground. We say this frequently, and it often drives frustration, but it’s the truth: what works for one does not work for all. This really is a practice, and one that takes time to perfect for your goals and lifestyle.
Among other things, I am a mom of 3 boys, and it’s important to me that they grow up with good nutritional foundation. Realities of life can make eating as a family a challenging sometimes; but we do our best we can to make sure dinner is cooked from home as much as possible. We are not perfect, and my kids have seen their fair share of chicken nuggets, too much sugar, and nights of take out. It used to drive me crazy scrolling through social media and seeing these perfect posts of refrigerators stacked high with matching containers of meals prepped for each day of the week ahead. Maybe a little jealousy, maybe a little shame, call it what you want. Over time I have learned that comparing my lifestyle to the insta famous, did not help any apprehension, about getting healthy meals prepared. My fridge could never look like that, but what I have learned is it doesn’t have to. It took time, but I eventually figured out what works for us, and you can too, but it all starts with a plan.
For me, this is a weekly chore, just like laundry, and all the other not-so-fun things we as adults tackle. I am typically planning on Thursdays, and sometimes it is sitting at breakfast with a pad of paper in hand, other times it is a pad of paper on the counter. I simply jot down ideas and items as the day progresses. I’m sure there is an app for this, but I prefer the paper process, this is what works for me. I usually consider the weeks events and activities ahead, planning for what days we have to be out on the fields early (which requires a quick dinner or something super easy to throw together), nights we might be at a social gathering (and I don’t have to cook!) and nights I have time to try a new recipe. I also take a peek in my freezer to see what I have on hand and what I can use for dinners in the upcoming week. -I am a big fan of make double and freezing for later, but that is a story for another post. All I know is on Thursday, I need to have a plan, I need to have 7 meals written down on that piece of paper. I have been consistently doing this for a while, if you are new to food prep and planning, stay with me.
My list is merely a rotation of a bunch of favorites throughout the years; each week I pull from what we love, and occasionally I’ll try new recipes too. While this may look like a lot, I’ll take you through the break down. What I can tell you, is that you’ll seldom see me in the kitchen just before dinner time “making dinner” from start to finish, its more normal for me to be baking it or reheating at this point. Most of my dinner is done in the morning before work, because that’s what works for me. After school hours are just busy, and me in the kitchen for an hour can’t happen. What I mean, is that I do so much prep ahead, I spend the time putting it together and cooking it. Dinner time is rough in this house, because sports schedules run my life, literally. I do as much as I can pre dinner time so when it comes time to get it done, it’s easy..ish.
This list is 7 days’ worth but I am most definitely not “preparing” all 7 days, because it was done ahead. The burgers are frozen, homemade ones I make ahead of time in bulk, specifically for nights like this. We need quick and easy. On the grill they go. Don’t have pre mades readily available? So what, grill some pre made ones! The point is to get dinner on the table, and create the habit of meal planning and preparation, not beat yourself up about having them be home made.
I have been married for 15 years, I have had a lot of practice here, because I have made it a priority. Pre-kids my husband and I shared dinner together on weekends only, maybe a night or two during the week. Our 12 hour days, opposite schedules, and my night shifts didn’t allow for meal planning, or so I thought. Looking back, I just didn’t plan for any of it. Over time with practice we have figured out what works for us. Little by little, two dinners in a week turned to three, and so on. Tacos are easy to put together. Chances are on taco night, I had defrosted the meat the night before and I brown and season it at 6am post workout. Yep. 6am. Meat is cooked and put in the fridge, I cut up the taco fixings and then that it’s pretty much ready. Dinner time rolls around and I am only heating tortillas and warming the meat. “Kids, build your tacos!”
I could run through the entire list, but you get the idea. We are all BUSY, have schedules that change or rotate, or situations that force us to change how we plan, or how much time we have to prep. The point here is that if you schedule the time to plan, shop, and prep, it will happen. The best part is your week ahead will be so much easier!
For me, lunch is the hardest, here is where I have my “matching food prep containers.” In addition to meal planning dinner, I come up with a few lunch ideas (usually circulate through a few favorites here as well) and I plan for lunches and healthy snacks to have readily available. For me, lunch is where I struggle to stay on track, if I have something prepped I stay the path that works for my goals.
Time to Shop
Now that I have my plan, I create the grocery list. I first start with the ingredients I know I will need for the dinner and lunches I plan on preparing and then go on to everything else we need for the week my family. Grocery shopping has become so much easier with grocery pickup and delivery services available now. I usually schedule a time on Fridays, well, because sports run my weekends. As time allows, I try and prep as I can throughout the weekend to avoid any extra work in the kitchen during the week. This is what works for me, but not necessarily the way for you.
Before getting yourself overwhelmed with thinking about how you are going to meal prep, think about how you will begin to meal plan. Without a plan you cannot successfully prep. Your plan could very well be coming up with recipe ideas for one lunch and dinner per week, and that is a perfect place to start!! Get creative with ways to make one meal turn into 2 or three meals. For example, I used tacos as a dinner one night. Why couldn’t you make double, freeze half for next time, and use any leftover meat from dinner in a salad for another night’s dinner? Stop thinking about having the perfect dinner, having variety, or having everything being “homemade.” If that is something that is important to you, then plan and work towards that. Just like with anything, you have to start somewhere, and you have to build the habit. Break it down and begin to evaluate your overall goal, think about an attainable place to start. If having prepped lunches ready to grab before work in the morning is your goal, start with two to three days a week. Maybe you don’t plan or cook at all, start with making a goal to schedule time to plan and shop, to cook one meal a week. Perhaps you already cook, but you want to begin using less convenience foods, but you never make the time to prepare food ahead, that’s a goal to work towards too.
Once the habit is formed and consistently put in place, add to what you are currently doing, to make it a line with what your big picture end goal. As you practice and perfect what will work for you, your process will be ever-changing. Throw the idea of perfect or ‘the right way’ out the window. Build on your new habit, and think about how you can get healthier prepared meals readily available to you. Start small, start with a plan.
For more details on how to start incorporating meal planning into your routine or setting goals to get there, schedule a live call with us, to help you work this new habit into your schedule. Do you have a system in place that works for you and your family? Share it with us! We love to share ideas, recipes, and talk about how we can balance healthier habits in our daily lives!