Let’s face it – lots of us just don’t have unlimited time. We can look at a drink recipe and say, “that looks awesome, but it has too many ingredients and what is a julep?” So, sitting down for weekly meal prep of breakfasts, lunches and dinners is a big “nope.” We feel you.
The thing is, meal prepping can be as detailed and regimented or relaxed as you want it to be and, best of all, it doesn’t have to last for the same duration of time every single week. Just tweak your menu duration until it realistically fits your lifestyle needs. Once you truly get the hang of meal prepping, you’re guaranteed to notice a few things: A) you eat out A LOT B) you have a lot more food in your pantry than you thought and C) you can really save a lot of money.
Be realistic with yourself
Though we’d like to think we’re going to snap a finger and suddenly we’re Suzie Homemaker, that’s unrealistic. In fact, Suzie Homemaker probably doesn’t even need instructions on weekly meal prep. She has the steel Bento boxes to prove it. Nevertheless, don’t let the “prep” in meal prep scare you. The scariest it gets is creating a grocery list. So, if you know you’re not the best cook, maybe it’s best that you create a bank of one pot, pressure cooker, or crock pot recipes. If you know that you have a diet with lots of restrictions, maybe it’s best that most of your meals utilize the same ingredients and you just swap out the protein. The key is to make this process as painless as possible.
Check your pantry, freezer and refrigerator
Before you look up any recipes, make sure you check your fridge, freezer and pantry to see how many ingredients you already have that you can throw into a crockpot. Many of us buy cans and cans of beans and cream of whatever soups and they stay in the cabinet long enough for several presidents to get elected. Your cabinets or pantry should be the first place you check for ingredients you can use in your weekly meal prep. Beans, cream of mushroom soup and chicken stock are common ingredients that many people have that can be used in loads of recipes. Many of us also have lots of proteins or tofu in our freezer that we haven’t thought about thawing.
Be very specific when searching for recipes
When you look up recipes, you want to make sure you specify that you want the meal to include the exact ingredients you have at home. The easiest way to do this is to download an app that allows you to input the ingredients you already have, and it gives you applicable recipes. Two great options are Allrecipes and Cookbrite. Allrecipes is awesome because it allows you to pick breakfast, lunch, or dinner, how much time you have and the main ingredient. It, then, spits out tons of recipes with videos and allows you to touch the ingredients that you’d need to buy and add them to an in-app grocery list. Cookbrite is similar, except it allows you to choose the types of meals you’d like such as comfort food or light meals. You pick the recipes you want to cook for the week and gives you a custom grocery list, while keeping stock of what you already have at home for an in-app grocery inventory.
Also, be very specific with the type of cooking technique you’re needing when searching anywhere (i.e. easy crockpot meals) and if you have a dietary restriction or you’re following a specific diet, specify that (i.e. simple crockpot meals for gluten intolerance).
Create meals that utilize different appliances
When meal prepping for a week, you want to make the process as simple and quick as possible i.e. don’t plan for four crock pot dinners. Instead, diversify the appliances you’re using. Have as many going as you can. Grill some chicken, sausage patties, and asparagus on your George Forman while you make a pot of chili in your crock pot. Bake some salmon on one rack in the oven and bacon and cornbread on another while you make oatmeal and a pot of Jambalaya on the stove. Though it may seem like a lot of cooking at once (and it is) the key is to make dishes that finish at different times. Set timers for the dishes that cook quickly that you can’t see, such as the items in your grill press or the items in the oven. It’s also a good idea to opt for dishes that can be prepped without you having to keep an eye on them such as frozen veggies or smoothies.
Make each dish last at least three days
Whether you only want a home cooked meal three times a week or seven days a week, it’s important that you get the number one benefit out of meal prepping – resting. When you’re planning which dishes you’d like to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, ensure that you’re making enough to last at least three days. Even if you’re the type that doesn’t like to eat leftovers more than twice in one week, that third dinner can be frozen and eaten in a week to come. The beauty of using an app is you can specify how many servings you’d like. Never do just one.
You deserve to unwind with a homecooked meal, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of all your time. Just spend an hour or two on the weekend and stock up your fridge for the week.
To find the right meal prep app for you, visit this round up on The Spruce Eats.