The Busy Mom’s Guide to Getting Started With Meal Prep
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Basically, no matter what you’ve got going on, if you want more time, less cleaning, healthier meals, and to spend less money–then meal prep is absolutely for you. But it can get overwhelming trying to figure out how exactly to start prepping meals ahead of time, especially if you haven’t done much of it in the past. Well, sit tight and stop worrying because meal prep is EASY and will save you so much time and hassle while helping you eat healthier.
A while back, I realized that we were spending, on average, $219 a month on fast food and take-out. I was floored because I did not feel like we ate out that much. But then I thought more about it. With 4 little kids and a very busy life, it was so easy to roll into Chick-fil-a for lunch as opposed to taking time and making a mess in the kitchen preparing a meal. And on nights I had to teach, it was so easy to just have my husband pick up take-out on his way home since I was busy taking care of the girls and prepping my class. I’ve always done meal prep, but it was time to up my game and do it simply and weekly.
Why Meal Prep?
Meal prep is amazing:
- it saves so much time because you only have one time for chopping and preparing all the food and one time cleaning up the mess.
- It’s healthier than takeout.
- It will save you money. On busy days, you can simply pop something out of the freezer instead of sliding through a drive through. Y
- It can be incredibly simple and just take minutes.
Meal prep can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be. Some people will spend hours making dozens of meals at once while others do it on a much smaller scale yet still reap so many benefits. I’m all about maximum efficiency so I like quick and simple. You can prep your lunches for the week and have them in containers in the fridge (these mason jar salads are a personal favorite). Or you can make a dozen lasagnas and have them in the freezer. If you are busy, you don’t have time NOT to do meal prep.
GETTING STARTED WITH MEAL PREP
1) Pick out a couple meals that you you want to prep in advance.
The sky is the limit with which meals you can start with, but it’s best to start with meals you already make and you know your family likes. If you are at a loss, 2 super easy places to start are spaghetti sauce and marinated chicken breasts in quart bags to go in the freezer (these marinades are amazing–I have made them all). Both are easy and you you can make a ton without too much effort. If you haven’t done much meal prep or are short on time, I’d stick to maybe 2 things max.
Here are some amazing (and super easy) make-ahead breakfast recipes that my family lives on.
2) Pick out a day of the week to do your meal prep
Depending on what you plan to do, it’s good to have a couple hours blocked out for meal prep and clean up. I tend to make a bunch of stuff at once and so I am racing around the kitchen for 3 hours, but then at the end, I have 10 dinners for my family, a bunch of pizza rolls, and like 60 protein muffins for breakfasts and snacks.
3) Make list of the ingredients you need & do the shopping
With 4 kids 5 and under I only go shopping once a week, so planning ahead is crucial. There is nothing worse than settling in for a nice meal prep session and realizing that you are 1 or 2 items short. Take the recipes that you want to make and decide how many meals you are looking to have on hand. If you want to a 5 meals, make sure you multiply all your ingredients by 5. Unless you use the ingredients all the time, only buy as much as you need. I find that meal prep helps me eliminate food waste. I get a bunch of veggies, chop them all, and use them immediately.
4) Be sure you have the appropriate containers
You’ll pick your containers depending on what you are trying to do. If I’m prepping meals to go in the fridge, I love these glass containers since they store well, and you can heat them right up in the microwave without worrying about BPA and all that nasty stuff. If it’s a sauce or chicken in a marinade, I just use quart freezer bags. These little guys are amazing for helping fill the freezer bags without awkward spills. I use these aluminum foil dishes for lasagna and enchiladas and I used to use these smaller foil dishes with lids when our family was smaller. Make sure you label everything–preferably before you fill it with food.
5) Prep your meal
It’s magic time! Stick on some great music, a podcast, or whatever strikes your fancy and follow your recipes. The more recipes you try at once, the trickier it gets. However, with practice meal prep will become more efficient and easier. For food safety, be sure to let everything cool before going in the fridge or freezer.
6) Put meals away & clean up
If using quart freezer bags for sauces, soups, or chicken, be sure to lay them flat when you put them in the freezer. Otherwise, they can get stuck to things as they freeze. If you have the space, don’t stack them until after they’re frozen. When making something in individual pieces (like muffins), flash freeze them on cookies sheets. When you put them in gallon freezer bags, they won’t stick together.
I try to clean up as I go along. The great beauty of meal prep is that you have just one clean up session for all the meals you make. This is probably my favorite aspect of meal prep!
7) Celebrate because you are on top of it mama!
There is something so satisfying about seeing a bunch of meals on your counter or in your freezer. There’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, plus peace of mind knowing that you’ve got a stock of meals for your family.