There's a new trend in town - meal prep!
Whether you're on a specific controlled diet or not it is, simply, a fact that getting ahead of things and prepping your weekly meals on a Sunday morning does make your week go smooth and stress free. The difficulty, I would say in most of the cases, is to know:
WHERE DO I START ???
Well, I just started my first Whole30 round and I took it as the perfect opportunity to explain the what's and the how's to this amazing world of domestic organization! It is not hard, it is not difficult - it just takes a few simple but methodical steps to get it done and, believe me, once you've tried it you'll never want to go back to those stressful weeknights, looking for something quick but sometimes, not so healthy, to feed your tribe! This week I achieved this (and so can you!):
Basic steps for a successful meal prep:
1 - Choosing your favorite proteins, veggies and fruits with which you'll be working on your weekly menu. Don't forget that, unless you're living by yourself, you're cooking for other people too: significant other, kids, siblings. Get everyone around the table and ask them to write down their favorites - this way, you'll be sure to come up with meals that everyone will love and eat - we all know how that can be hard sometimes, right??
Actually, while you have their attention, ask them to write down their favorite meals too! This will be a a huge help for when you'll be drawing down your menu, so to speak!
So, do you have your basic ingredients listed and are you ready for the next step of the game? Lets move on to the next step!
2 - PLAN, PLAN, PLAN!
Figure out, according to your routine, job and household habits if you're going to elaborate a weekly or a monthly meal planning. Word of advice: start slow but steady! The easiest thing to do is to try this system for a week and then move to the next one. By the end of the month you'll be able to figure out where you missed something that could have saved you time and stress during the week and you'll be able to adjust on the following one. Once you've become comfortable with the idea, I've figured out that the major stress freeing task can be achieved - monthly meal planning!
This, my friend, is the ultimate goal in terms of feeding your family and making sure that every snack and meal is accounted for! The monthly planning requires work but I assure you that you'll be collecting the gains from it until the end of the month!
Draw a menu that accounts for everything from breakfast to lunch, dinner, snacks and fruit. Don't forget specific situations like:
Everything must be accounted for in order to achieve total success! Carry around, at all times, a notebook in your purse so you can jot down some ideas or ingredients that you may be wanting to incorporate in your recipes, recipe ideas or events that just show up unexpectedly. We all know those happen all too often, right?
Been there, done that!
3 - Getting all the recipe ideas based on your favorite ingredients and writing down a plan with breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack ideas for everyone in the house. At our house I always try to have fish, at least, twice a week and load up on veggies and fruit for the kids. That's all they take for school as snack - fruit is a nutritious food and it's perfect in any form (washed seedless grapes, peeled clementines, cut strawberries, homemade fruit and yogurt cups, cinnamon apples, just choose whatever they like!).
Another thing that used to happen was me forgetting about my husband! Well, not about HIM but about his lunch and snack to take to work. Buying lunch everyday can get tremendously expensive and, most of the times, the options aren't really that good. Taking his lunch and snack from home to work has become a regular practice since two years ago and it really is the best option - better quality, better taste and it cuts down on your expenses by the end of the month!
Get organized and create a spreadsheet with this planning for every single day of the week or the month, whichever it may be. Don't forget to account for any leftovers and use them to build meals on different days so you don't get bored of eating the same thing over and over again. I don't know about you but I fear FOOD BOREDOM and I think that may be the greatest risk with meal planning if we don't take it as a methodical task with a very specific purpose - building menus with flavorful and exciting meals that will save us time and stress. I feel I can't "stress" that enough! Pun intended!
4 - Now we get to the "it will take you sometime to get this done" part of the meal planning thing!
Go through every meal you planned and list ALL the indigents you'll need to prepare it - yes, all of them! Write down the ingredients and the quantity that you'll be needing of each item. Using a spreadsheet, list the ingredients and add ingredients or change them as you go. It may seem daunting but doing it like this, instead writing it down on a piece of paper really simplifies and speeds things up!
No - don't back up now! You can do it! If I can, everyone can...it's just a matter of focusing on what matters and getting it done.
Consider this a monthly task like any another: at the end of the month you get your paycheck, pay your bills, check if someone needs new shoes or new clothes and you list your meals and ingredients. It is just anther task and one that will get you feeling pretty darn good for a whole month!
I dare you to try it out and tell me that it isn't true!
5 - Choose the Sunday to be your meal prep day. You'll have to work hard on it, depending on what you're going to be cooking but you'll have the rest of the week off! Kitchen wise, at least!
Take advantage of your kitchen appliances, after all you bought them for something and that was not to sit on the counter! If you think about it, you can cook several things at the same time if you use:
OVEN - roast most of the veggies and potatoes you're going to be needing during the week and, if you're going to use chicken for your recipes get your chicken roasting at the same time - while those are cooking you get to focus on something else on your stove top!
STOVE TOP - grill, sauté or fry foods that you'll need later in the week, as long as they stay perfectly flavorful and appealing: breakfast sausages and bacon can be quickly cooked and stored in airtight containers to eat during the week.
INSTANT POT - if you have one of these you already know how precious they are! I can't imagine living without mine now and I use it to cook everything from pot roast, to soups, steamed vegetables, chili and even, bone broth which has become my latest but healthy obsession! I bought my Instant Pot when we got the US, almost three years ago, and I've said numerous times that it was one of my best buys of all times!
6 - Be sure to have appropriate containers to store everything that you've prepped. Making sure that the cooked food stays safe and retains its nutrients preserved in the best way possible is key to the process. We want to save time but also have nutritious and delicious food! I have plastic containers and glass containers because I use them for different foods - soups, fruit, meals. For foods that contain some fat and for fully cooked meats I always choose glass containers. I just bought these and I'm loving them: perfect size, convenient lid with a small opening for venting and clean looking, just like I like it in my kitchen!
I also like to have at hand reusable plastic containers of the perfect size to carry fresh fruit, fresh veggies for snack, nuts and granola, hummus or dips or anything, basically, that I'll need in smaller portions but that can be washed and reused over and over again. I tried several ones but I'm currently using the ones I'm posting bellow because they have the perfect size and they are resistant which makes them last for a LONG time.
About snacks: get creative with good food! Yogurt with fresh fruit or nuts and hummus with celery sticks are great options and if you get the containers with the divider, to get the ingredients separated, it's a great option, both for kids and adults. These were the snacks from last week:
If you look closer, in my fridge picture, I love to label everything! I think it gives a more organized image and I also notice that it draws the kids to the food and leads them to choose the healthy options that are prettier than they would be if they were to be on their original package! The ones I used were bought in Portugal, when we were there during Summer break, but you can choose from a vast array of cute looking labels on Amazon, just like these ones!
The best thing to do when you're finished with the cooking is to rearrange your fridge in order to get everything organized for the week. You should be able to see every item when you open the fridge - items that stay out of sight usually get forgotten about and end up in the trash can. One of the other purposes of meal planning and meal prep is to avoid food waste so, please, be attentive of that.
After organizing the fridge, the last thing you have to do is:
When you've done all that, please, DO THIS:
Take a deep breath, open the fridge and take a minute to admire your work!
Pat yourself on the back, give a high five, do a back-flip!
Whatever you though was too hard and out of reach for you to do, is done!
See how pretty everything looks? Just the look of this fridge makes me smile and, I bet, it will make you smile too!
It feels amazing to be able to conquer the "meal prep" game and, honestly, I can't imagine my life without it, anymore!
Life gets simpler, easier and so much less stressful.
I get more time to do other things during the week, like blogging, spending more time with the kids during the week days or just taking care of daily stuff, without feeling overwhelmed by the cooking chore that used to be a stressful time of the day!
I hope this inspires you to start experimenting with meal planning and prep and I'd love to know about your personal experience! Tell me if you've ever done it, how did it go? What more could I tell you to help you further along your stress free journey?
I'll be offering a free weekly menu and corresponding grocery shopping list for my followers, on Instagram, so be sure to follow my account and, whenever you see my post about it, just click the link in my bio and you'll get all that info! I'm also planning on working on more monthly plans and, again, if you ever need some more advice just send me an email or post a comment and I'll be sure to answer to the best of my abilities!
I'll be also posting a LOT of Whole30 recipes during this next month, including the ones of the meals you can see in the pictures. I've just started this new and exciting journey and I'll love sharing it with you! All the recipes are, obviously, healthy and focused on whole foods but you can always personalize them and adjust them to your household liking. For example, on my monthly Whole30 planning and shopping list I included pasta, rice, bread and dairy products that my kids and husband will be consuming. Everything must be accounted for to assure a successful meal planning!
Now, choose a day and start your meal planning/prepping journey!