Although my work schedule is more flexible these days than it used to be, I still adhere to a few simple meal prep techniques that have served me well over the years. Especially when my kids were little and I was a single parent driving them to 3 different schools, all of their after school
activities, and working at the hospital full time. It wasn’t easy but my health and the health of my children were important to me. So meal prep became a priority and it’s something I’ve continued to this day. It makes for a more productive and calm week, and I am not stressing each day, when 4 o’clock comes around, about what to make for dinner.
1. Categorize your menu - nothing fancy but it’s very important to plan out your meals for the week, especially the week days when you are most busy. I have found it helpful to break down each day in categories. Example: Monday - pasta, Tuesday - soup/stew, Wednesday - burgers, Thursday - veggies/deluxe salads, Friday - pizza. So each week I always know my categories and don’t have to think further than what kind of pasta, salad, soup etc. Then, if I have any sort of craving for a dish in my head, I will plug that into the day and best fitting category. You can also talk to your family and ask them if there is any particular meal they are craving. It’s a great idea to include them in the process so they feel they have a voice as well in what they are eating for the week. If there are any meal gaps, this is when I will turn to the myriad of cookbooks I own and browse through pages and categories to see what interests me or sounds good for the family. Then I plug those in and finish the menu for the week. Again, this never has to be fancy, just healthy and practical. Sometimes I will see a recipe that may be a bit more challenging and looks good, and I’d really like to try, but I have learned to save these kind of recipes for the weekends when I have more time to experiment. The week day meals are all about simple, easy, healthful, and nutritious meals. Next, go through all of your recipes for the week and make your grocery lists. I use one big piece of paper and make columns; one column for the farmer’s market and the other column for the regular grocery store.
2. Don't skip the farmer's market - there is nothing better than heading to the farmer’s market on a Saturday morning. This is a regular routine for me now. With my grocery list in one hand and my organic, fair trade coffee in the other (a must on weekend mornings) I head to our local market to get whatever produce I can on my list before heading to the regular grocery store. It’s a wonderful way to get to know your local farmers and to start learning about seasonal produce. With the owners, I talk about what is currently in season, what’s coming up next. Sometimes we will talk about the best way to cook a new vegetable I am not completely familiar with or how to cook with a particular herb etc. These farmers know their stuff and I always have a great time chatting with them. One pointer, I have 2 sets of grocery bags in my car, one for the farmer’s market and one for the regular grocery store. The farmer’s market produce always has more dirt on them than the regular conventional grocery store. I actually like this because, if it’s organic produce, you are getting a lot of prebiotic goodness on your produce. Don’t feel like you have to scrub, scrub, scrub your local organic farmer’s market produce to the point of sterility, if you trust your farmers. All good for the gut - remember my last article about vitamin B12 - this is it - in the dirt - so don't fret! I digress. The other set of grocery bags in my car is for the regular grocery store. Both sets also contain a bunch of plastic produce bags that I save and reuse as well, and all of my grocery bags are made of cotton so I am able to wash them as necessary.
3. Put away dirty - once I get all of the ingredients and produce needed from both stores, I come home and put everything away. I do not wash my produce before putting things in produce bags! Most people say wash and clean before storing but in my experience my produce lasts longer when I just leave it be until needed. Cutting the base off of lettuce heads and washing all the leaves causes things to wilt that much quicker. Same with carrots, celery, green beans and more. So now I literally just throw everything in my linen produce bags and put in the fridge until needed.
4. Dice, slice and blend - now if I have time and want to continue meal prepping on Saturday I will, otherwise the above steps are all I do for the day, and I finish meal prepping for the week on Sunday. Sundays are always nice to take some time to finish meal prepping while listening to music, a podcast, or an Audible book and, if there is time to play in the kitchen, experiment with a new recipe. In finishing up, this is where my meal prep for the week really shines. I will do some batch preparation cooking. Meaning I will look at all of my recipes for the week and determine how much can I slice, dice, and prepare ahead of time. For example, mincing garlic and dicing onions takes time, and it seems like these basics are needed for every recipe. So inevitably what I do on Sunday is I will pull out my big food processor, and then shred, dice, chop, and mince anything that is needed for the week. I will batch dice my onions, garlic, celery, carrots or whatever else is needed and I store everything in glass tupperware or mason jars in the fridge. This way when I come home during the week, and am ready to cook dinner, no mincing, dicing prep is needed. It’s already done! So meal prep on a Monday evening after work went from 30-40min to about 5-10min! This preparation saves soooo much time. I promise, give this technique a try, it is a game changer. So once I’ve done all of my dicing, and shopping etc. I will then blend up any sauces that can be done ahead of time and store these as well in the fridge. Boom. Meal prep is complete and literally hours of time have been saved for your work week.
5. Storage bags & containers are key - it may take a bit of time to get prepared to get prepared, but having the right containers is important and will make things easier down the road. As I mentioned, all of my grocery bags are made of durable cotton. I have saved these up over the years. Not only are they more sanitary because they can be washed as needed, but they will last for years - far longer than those fancy designed paper-ish bags you can buy at the check out counters of any grocery store. These get dirty, stinky and don’t last nearly as long. So my recommendation is to start slowly accumulating durable cotton grocery bags that can be laundered. My produce bags are ahhmazzing. They are made from organic flax linen and I get them from Ambrosia bags by Long Life Linen. They are a little pricier than the regular produce bags you can buy in stores or on Amazon but again, they work extremely well and will last a lifetime. All the containers in my house for storing food products are glass. I will use either glass tupperware style containers with BPA free plastic lids or I will use mason jars of all sizes. Food stays very fresh in glass and there is no risk of chemicals, phthalates etc. leaching into your food, like plastic or metals.
So there you have it. These are my top 5 meal preparation, time saving tips, on how to consistently get healthy meals onto a very busy family dinner table. I hope they help, and if you liked this post I would love it if you like, share or comment below!
Until next time…xx
Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash
Photo by Brianna Santellan on Unsplash
Photo by Ambrosiabag.com website