If you asked me what one of the keys to balancing work with home life, I would say, without hesitation, that meal prep is the single biggest factor for me. It’s so vital on so many levels: It takes the stress of “what’s for dinner” off my shoulder when I get home after a long day at work; it saves us grocery money because we’re not buying food we don’t need that may end up going bad and being wasted. Contrary to what some may think, meal prepping in advance actually doesn’t take as long as you might think. But it does take practice and patience to find a system that works for you.
Here are some steps you can take to help you get started with meal prepping and work your way to being a lean, mean, Sunday food prep machine!
1. Start Small: Meal prepping doesn’t have to be a go hard or go home venture. I would actually recommend doing the exact opposite. Small steps take the frustration and anxiety out of the process and help get you into a habit you’ll be able to sustain (much like healthy eating, exercise and any new habit you want to stick with long-term). The way I started was simply to wash and slice raw veggies for the week. It takes about 20 minutes for me to prep peppers, carrots, cucumber (the key with cukes is to slice them and stuff them close together in a container so they don’t dry out).
This is the most time saving thing for me because I can throw the container on the table for snacking, slice them up further for stir-frys or salads or just throw them on the kids plates at dinner time.
2. Plan your meals before you shop: I don’t mean plan them 30 seconds before you run out the door. Give yourself at least a day to plan. Things come up, distractions or last minute dinner plans that can change what you might need to buy. I typically grocery shop on Fridays and will start thinking of meals and making my grocery list on Wednesday and finish it off on Thursday so I’m ready to go. I also write down the meals I’m planning to make so I know why I’m buying what I’m putting in my cart (I tend to forget when I’m at the store).
3. Understand that not everything works as a prep ahead meal: Some meals work great (soups, lasagnas, casseroles), other’s…not so much. You also have to work within the boundaries of what your family is willing to eat reheated if you cook the meal on the weekend to be enjoyed later in the week. The rule of thumb I follow is veggie prep (see step 1), one dip (usually hummus), breakfast (steel cut oats to be reheated daily) and one grain (rice or quinoa). Those few items can be prepped in about an hour to an hour and a half and take care of 50% of the meal work for the week.