What is Meal Prep
With lives becoming busier and more fast-paced than ever before, meal prepping is becoming more and more popular. Meal prepping is a bit different than meal planning. What’s the difference? Meal planning describes the process of coming up with your menu for the week, deciding what your going to eat for each meal, and what you’re going to buy at the grocery. Meal prepping is spending a couple hours cutting, mixing, essentially, well prepping your food for each meal, and storing it in air-tight containers for the week. Although it can be a lot of work to be in the kitchen chopping and prepping for 2-3 hours straight, it makes it so worth it for the whole rest of the week!
By prepping your ingredients, you can just dump all of your food into a pan to cook, or in a crockpot to simmer. Prior to my meal prepping routine, each night I would dirty up my kitchen by chopping all my vegetables for my meals every single day. By the time I finally got my food to the stove or oven, my toddler was an impatient mess. She would be tugging on my pants while I was trying to not burn my dinner on the stove. It was very distracting! Not to mention made the mommy-guilt kick in.
I knew I needed to save time, but didn’t want to give up my love for cooking homemade meals each night. I wanted both mommy and baby to be happy by saving time cleaning, chopping, and putting dinner on the table. I had many friends who meal prepped, but didn’t quite know how to do it. I felt it seemed easy to meal prep if you eat just cold meals (i.e. sandwiches, salads, etc). But I love to cook, it is my way of showing love to my family. I didn’t want to have to limit what I put on the table just to save time. So, one day I did my usual Costco shopping trip, and on a day where my hubby could watch the little I went into the kitchen, and went down the list of my weekly menu plan and just figured out on my own how to prep for each of the meals I wanted to make that week.
Fortunately for my readers, I figured out the ins-and-outs of meal prepping for hot, home cooked meals and am passing it along to you!
The Benefits of Meal Prepping
- It keeps your kitchen cleaner: Each day after cooking dinner, I would not only have to wash my pots and pans, but would have to wash knives and cutting boards and mixing bowls, too. Now I get all that dirty work out of the way on my meal prep day, making cleaning up a breeze post-cooking during the week.
- It gives you more counter space: If you’re cooking a stew with lots of veggies, imagine what all you have to do to prepare that–you have to pull out a head of cauliflower, several zucchinis, onions, a can of corn, the can opener…the list can go on and on. If you’re like me, you need a clean and organized work area to feel at peace. Also, it’s kind of hard to find what you’re looking for with 10 ingredients on the counter! But, by chopping all your veggies ahead of time and putting them in air-tight containers for the week, you just pull out a small container or two of your ingredients rather than several cans and whole pieces of veggies.
- It gives you more fridge space: It seems like you would have the same amount of fridge space whether you have your veggies whole or chopped, but removing packaging and cutting up into smaller pieces and putting in containers makes your items more stack-able and compact. Much easier than shoving a ton of produce in your vegetable crisper. It makes things easy to find, for sure!
- Less food waste: Often times you can forget you have an ingredient if it gets shoved in the back of your fridge. But, if the few ingredients you have leftover that didn’t go into your meal prep containers are minimal, it’s easier to notice them since the majority of your food is in stack-able, streamline containers.
- Save Money: Not only do you save money by having less food waste, but prepping ahead of time definitely helps motivate you to eat at home, rather than dine out, since cooking is much easier and less exerting. Even after a long day, cooking a meal doesn’t seem like a big ordeal.
- Fresher food: When I used to store berries or lettuce in my crisper, they would wilt or get mushy fast. When you prep and store in air-tight containers, their life increases significantly, and your food tastes farm-fresh!
- Happier kids, happier you, happier family!: My toddler can definitely wait for me patiently during the 10-20 minutes it takes me to cook my ingredients, so she’s no longer having tantrums while waiting on me for an hour or more, like she used to before my meal prep routine days. Also, since she’s happy, I have less mommy-guilt, and am less fatigued! My husband is also quite pleased, as my meal prepping has allowed him to have more gourmet-style meals on the go when taking his lunches to work.
Step-By-Step Guide on How to Meal Prep
When you meal prep, you are just prepping the ingredients of your meals, not actually cooking the whole meal ahead of time! I have found that this creates the perfect balance between organization and still achieving that artisinal home-cooked meal vibe all of us mommy chefs strive for!
- Clean out your fridge! Before you start your meal prep session, be sure to clean out your fridge to make your organization much easier.
- When you are about to meal prep, have either your menu with your recipes for the week printed out on a piece of paper or in front of you on the computer. Have your air-tight containers ready (I use Pyrex, they have great deals on them at Costco). Have a station for fruit, a station for veggies, along with cutting board and knife for each, and a station for mixing sauces and batters. Feel free to take up a ton of room, and overflow onto the kitchen table if need be, this is your one messy day of the week after all!
- First, work on your dishes that require cooking. Look at one recipe at a time, and prep for each one individually so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.
- For each recipe you are prepping, cut all of your veggies and put into one container, storing 5-7 days.
5. An exception, if you are using onions in your recipes throughout the week, cut them and store them in their own container separately, as onions when stored next to other veggies can age them faster.
6. Now, onto the fruit! For any fruit you have for recipes cut them up and store in air tight containers, apart from your veggies. If you aren’t going to be using berries, etc. as ingredients in your meals, but will instead have them as a topping or side dish, I recommend still putting them in an air-tight container since it helps them last even longer than in a crisper. However, if you are wanting to cut apples ahead of time be sure to squeeze some lemon juice on them so they don’t brown.
7. Now, onto the meat! Go through your recipes again, marking down how much chicken, how much beef, etc you need for the whole week. Then, cook it all at once! For example, if we are having chicken for four meals, we get enough chicken breasts to cover that and we BBQ them all. This way we can just reheat the chicken when we are ready to eat it. Or, if you eat a lot of vegetarian meals you can pre-drain and cube tofu for the week.
8. Now take a look at things that require batters or sauces, and create those mixes and store each in separate containers.
9. Now take a look at the meals you don’t have to cook, such as grab-and-go breakfasts like yogurt, or boxes for your lunch like sandwiches or salads.
10. For things like yogurt, etc. I still like to put into individual serving containers, so that way if I’m in a hurry I can just grab it quickly on my way out the door.
11. For when you are prepping things like work or school lunches, I like to do that last since it normally is the easiest part of meal prep. I like to do my chopping first, since when I’m beginning I normally have the most energy, so prepping ready-to-eat items is nice to do near the end of my meal prep session. For salads, put all your ingredients in grab-and-go containers, as well as dish out your salad dressings in condiment containers so you’re ready for the week! For sandwiches, I like to put all my ingredients (lunch meat, cheese) in a container with my side dishes (carrots, hummus, etc), and then on the side add my sandwich bread in a Ziploc bag. That way, my bread won’t get soggy or too stale. I can have fresh bread to make my sandwich with when I’m ready to eat the lunch I’ve prepped.
MISC Items: If you want more ready-to-go snacks for the week, you can hard boil some eggs during your meal prep session, and have a bin of fresh and hard-boiled in your fridge. You can also make sure your plastic utensils are well organized and easy to get to for your on-the-go meals for the week.
It’s important to remember not to get discouraged during your first meal prep session. It will take 2-3 hours to do your prepping, but when you’re getting tired remind yourself that it will set you up for success the rest of the week by saving time, eating healthy, saving money, and having more quality family bonding! Once you get in the habit of doing it, you’ll wonder why you haven’t been meal prepping your whole life!
I hope my how-to meal prep guide for those who don’t know how was helpful to you, and if you have any other meal prep tips I would love to hear them!
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