I feel as though I should apologize for the quietness that has fallen upon this place the last few months. While I just about physically cringe at the word, ‘busy’, that’s exactly what life has been. Good busy and bad busy. The kind that fills your cup, and drains it just as quickly. I keep looking for things to eliminate each week, to make breathing room (both literally and figuratively), some weeks it’s easy…and others not so much. What I have found is that being organized seems to help, especially when it comes to my kitchen. Outside of that, I’m still trying to figure it all out.
Confession: I am a dismal failure when it comes to meal planning. In concept it is wonderful and efficient for your family as well as your budget. No matter how many times I tried to be successful, it just hasn’t worked. I craved flexibility. While I confess to being pretty organized in most areas of our household, the kitchen is not one of them. I’m a pretty ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants’ kind of girl when it comes to meals. What all my failures at meal planning taught me is that we eat a lot of different variations of the same meals. I keep things pretty simple with my cooking, as it seems to be what works best for us. We have lots of mexican dishes, pizza, pasta, egg dishes, breakfasts for dinner, soups and one bowl suppers. The running theme is that we have our main item and it’s built upon with whatever fresh fruits and veggies are in season.
All of this insight led me to food prepping. Each week, I make a rough outline of what I have on hand for meals. This includes produce, staple items like beans, eggs, or grains as well as ingredients for any baked goods. From there I fill in the holes by making a list of what needs to be picked up at the grocery store. Usually, this is largely produce items. From there I start the prepping…
- Wash and drain beans…usually black, pinto and garbanzo
- Wash and chop veggies for snacking, salads and packed lunches
- Cook any pasta we might be eating that week…be sure to toss it with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.
- Bake a sweet treat or two, we especially love these, very simple bites. For the cookies I will only bake a dozen, then scoop out the cookie dough onto baking sheet, freeze and bag to use for other weeks (I only do this every 2-3 weeks).
- Make jam
- Make a jar of green tea or herbal tea concentrate
- Roast veggies for salads or side dishes
- Wash and bag lettuce
- Make any salad dressings, vinaigrettes, salsas, sauces or veggie dips
After all the food baked, washed, cooked, drained and laid out, then I set to labeling. This may seem a bit over the top, but there is good reason behind it. My boys are famous for opening the fridge and saying, ‘there’s nothing to eat in here!’ Once I would point out what was in the various fridge containers they were able to assemble whatever snack they were craving. Now, with the label system, they can see exactly what their choices are and get what they need.
While this may sound like a lot of work, it really isn’t that bad. I think the most I’ve ever put into it is 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. I start with items that will take longest first (roasted veggies, baked goods) and while they are in the oven, I work on everything else. I pull the boys in to help too. Not only does it get them in the kitchen, they are able to contribute their suggestions about our meals for the week.
You may be wondering, is all this work actually worth it? The times I haven’t taken the time to prep for the week, regretted it. I just didn’t realize how much time that little bit of work on Sunday afternoon, was saving me during the week.
What’s the best part about meal prep? You can completely customize it to your family and budget, and it’s flexible enough for busy families on the go. I love that if we are headed out the door to a night of soccer games and activities I can throw a quick dinner in one of our lunch containers and take it on the road. Less nights eating out is always good…for our bodies and our pocketbooks.
Below are a few other tips that have been helpful to me in getting started. I especially loved the post Tracy over on Shutterbean did on Meal Prep as part of her High Straightenance series.
Invest in some good containers.
I bought a few sets of these. I like the glass because it’s clear, but also can go right to the microwave.
I didn’t add any baked goods until I’d been at it for a couple of weeks. This is supposed to be a helpful process, not an overwhelming one.
Bag your lettuce.
The first couple of weeks I tried to chop the lettuce for our salads. It never lasted. Now I wash it, wrap it in a paper towel and put it in a large ziploc bag. It lasts well over a week, if we don’t polish it off first.
Try it for a month.
It takes time to find your groove with this, and develop your own system. Give yourself the chance to make it truly work for you.
Do you food/meal prep for your weeks? I’m still working on perfecting my method, and would love to hear your tips!