Weekly meal prep saves my sanity

I am writing a post about cooking.  That’s right – I, Emily Gonzalez, am writing a post about cooking.  Stop laughing, dry your eyes, and read this because it’s important.  I started doing weekly meal prep two months ago, and it is literally one of the best things I have ever done for myself and my family.  I have SO much to say about it that I’m going to do a little series on it.

Some background: I am not a terrible cook.  When I make food, it generally tastes pretty good, but the amount of time and effort it takes for me to get there is ridiculous.  It just doesn’t come naturally for me.  And I’m not one of those people who finds chopping vegetables relaxing after a long day at work – I actually really shouldn’t be wielding a knife at that hour.  Now with the second baby, cooking has become a practically impossible task for me during the week, and we frequently rely on frozen food and take-out.  Not that there is anything wrong with either of these options, but it became an excuse for me to eat super unhealthy.  At the end of the summer, I finally decided that I was tired of feeling sluggish, guilty, and broke because of my food choices.  The beginning of this new school year was the perfect opportunity for me to make a big change.

One of my yummy creations! These egg cups will keep for a few days in the fridge, and you can also freeze them.
One of my yummy creations! These egg cups will keep for a few days in the fridge, but you can also freeze them.

Here’s a little look into the meal prep routine that has been working for me so far:

  • Throughout the week, I spend 20 minutes here and there looking for recipes.  I used to save them in a folder on my Gmail, but it was hard to keep them organized and easily accessible.  Plus, I hate having to look on my tablet or phone while cooking.  For my meal prep initiative, I have started printing recipes and filing them in a binder.  Every time I find a recipe that looks good, I print it right away, slip it into a sheet protector, and file it under the “recipes to try” tab in my binder.  Recipes I make and like get filed under the tab for the meal I made it for (e.g., breakfast, dinner, snacks).  Duds get filed in the back.
  • Friday night I spend a few minutes deciding which recipes I will be making for the following week.  I typically find that two or three breakfast recipes, two or three lunch recipes, and three or four dinners do the trick for the week if I make large quantities.  I pull these out and file them under the “this week” tab in my binder so they are all together when I’m ready to cook.  Then I make my shopping list.
  • I do my shopping early Saturday or Sunday morning with one of my two kids or late Saturday night by myself. Walking around an empty Stew Leonard’s BY MYSELF at 9:00 pm on a Saturday with an ice cream cone in my hand is pure bliss.  Plus my cart filled with produce makes me feel so good!
  • Sunday late morning/early afternoon is meal prep time.  My husband plays with the kids while I blast podcasts in the kitchen and get my chop on.  What I set out to do is completely make and portion out all of our breakfasts and lunches for the week so it’s a no-thinking-required grab-and-go every morning.  Everything is sealed tightly in glass containers (more on my new-found love for mason jars in a future post) so it stays fresh all week.
  • For dinners, I chop everything and prepare to the extent that it is possible.  For example, if I’m making a meal that’s going in the crock pot, I’ll put everything in a ziplock bag in the fridge so that all I have to do is dump it into the crock pot in the morning before work.  Casseroles I’ll assemble completely and either freeze or keep in the fridge for a few days.  I’ll wash chop up a large quantity of something like broccoli so that I can just quickly steam some for a last-minute weeknight dinner.  I often cook up a big batch of chicken as well to put in salads and eat with quinoa or rice (my rice cooker is my best friend) and a vegetable if we end up short on leftovers or something.
  • My first meal prep day took so many hours.  Now that I’m more practiced at it, I would say I need about four hours.  It is a time commitment (and it’s a little tricky when I have to break routine if we have a birthday party or are away for the weekend – again, more on this in a future post), but it is time well spent when I think about how much money we are saving, how much time I DON’T have to spend thinking about what we’re having for dinner during the week, and how much healthier we are able to be.
A typical scene in my kitchen on a Sunday: rice cooker, slow cooker, and three pots on the stove!

Until next time, I will leave you with a few of my favorite make-ahead recipes I have made over the past few months:

Quinoa Egg Breakfast Muffins

Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato, Pasta, and Spinach Mason Jar Salad

Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew

Healthy Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup

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