When I gave birth to my daughter, and my husband and I were both working full-time, something that worked out great for us was weekly meal prepping.
Meal prepping was great for so many reasons. A- I was trying to lose the baby weight, and wanted to eat healthy. (Also, I was breastfeeding so I needed to eat healthy, otherwise Mom Guilt.) B- It kept us from dining out, which would cost anywhere between $20-$30 per day between the both of us. C- It kept us from eating fast food. D- Taco Bell in particular. E- My husband went through a pretty lengthy Taco Bell phase when he became addicted to their 2 XXL Grilled Stufft Burritos, and still to this day I give him so much grief about it. F- How can anyone eat something called the 2 XXL Grilled Stufft Burrito and still feel good about themselves afterwards? G- Look, I get it. At 2 A.M. on a Friday night, after one-too-many El Nino margaritas (we went through a Chili’s phase, too), a Gordita Supreme sounds like heaven, but one should never eat at Taco Bell, or any fast food food establishment, seven days a week.
Needless to say, before we hopped aboard the meal prep express, our diets were not great. And I’ll be the first to admit that I had some reservations about the whole meal planning thing. “That sounds like too much work,” I said. “And it’s probably expensive, and what would I even cook anyway, and UGH I have to plan a menu for the entire week, what if I plan to eat Chicken Parmesan on Wednesday, but then Wednesday comes around and I’m craving enchiladas, I’m a fickle person, this will never work for me!” I’m a very pessimistic person who speaks in long, run-on sentences.
If you’re wanting to alter your diet, either for budgetary or health reasons, I encourage you to try it! That was August 2013 when we decided to give weekly meal planning a try, and we’re still going at it- three years later! Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:
- Have a Plan
I cannot stress this enough. So many times I found myself wandering around a grocery store without a list, thinking I could just wing it. First of all, no. If you go into meal planning without a plan, you’ll find that one of two things happens. A- you way overbuy, spending a lot more money than you need to, and end up with so much food waste at the end of the week or B- you forget many key ingredients, leaving you woefully unprepared when it comes to carrying out your recipes. Always, always, always have a plan! Stick to the list! This is so very important.
- It’s Okay to Eat the Same Meal More Than Once
Seeing that I’m currently a stay-at-home mom, I personally cannot afford that many ingredients on a weekly basis. This is why I typically buy in bulk. If Kale is on sale for 99 cents at Kroger, you best believe my family will be eating a crap ton of Kale that week. I’ll saute it and toss with some roasted sweet potatoes and chicken sausage, or fry it up with some mushrooms and throw it in a veggie lasagna. When I shop, I try to stick to a formula: 2-3 starches as a base, 4-5 veggies, 2-3 meats, and seasonal fruits for a snack. Of course I’ll pick up a few other ingredients for very specific recipes, but I try to keep it simple. For example, one week I’ll buy rice, pasta and sweet potatoes (carbs), spinach, carrots, peas, broccoli and cauliflower (veggies), ground turkey, chicken sausage and chicken thighs (meats), and pick up some bananas, apples, and berries for snacking. With a few more ingredients, this list can provide a lunch and a dinner, five days out of the week. Which means you’ll probably find yourself eating the same meal twice, or maybe three times that week. But that’s okay! It’s so much better than fast food! If you happen to live in a state where Kroger is one of your main grocery chains, do yourself a favor and download the Kroger app. Once you sign up for a Kroger card, you can upload coupons straight to your card right on the app, and once your card is swiped, all of your discounts will be applied at the check-out counter. I saved over $30 on my last shopping trip just by researching deals and coupons on the app beforehand. If your grocery chain has something similar or has once of those loyalty cards, sign up and keep your eyes peeled for discounts!
- Do What Works For You
For me, this means spending an entire day on meal prep. Grocery shopping, cooking, and boxing up the meals- all of it in one day. This may not work for you. Maybe you prefer to cook every night of the week, or maybe you would like to prepare 2 meals on Sunday, and complete the rest on Wednesday. For me, I know that once my week gets started, my schedule will take over and I’ll be too exhausted to even step foot in the kitchen unless I need to quickly microwave something. This is when bad-decision snacking can happen, and I’ll just reach for anything in sight, like Watermelon-flavored Oreos or whatever. (It’s true. Nabisco actually inflicted this upon us. They turned this concept into an actuality because they thought it needed to be shared with the world.) So I prefer to get it all done on Sunday and not have to worry about it the rest of the week. Again, stick to what works for you and your schedule. There shouldn’t be any pressure to measure up to anyone else’s standards.
- Have a List of Pantry/Fridge Essentials
My husband and I have a strict, go-to list for pantry and fridge essentials. These are items that we prefer to always have on hand, either because we eat them on the regular, or use them frequently in recipes. Items such as old-fashioned oats, cooking spray, olive oil, yellow onions, garlic, milk, eggs, greek yogurt, etc. Once we run out of a certain pantry or fridge staple, we’ll add it to our shopping list for the week. That way, our shopping list only consists of items we know we always use, and ingredients necessary for our meals of the week. And hopefully we won’t get distracted by whatever new Oreo flavor just hit the shelves, or that new, *limited edition* Ben & Jerry’s, as tempting as that may be. (No one understands the temptation of new Ben & Jerry’s flavors more than I do, trust.)
- Invest in a Lot of Tupperware/Containers
If you plan on preparing all of your meals in advance, you’ll definitely want to invest in some containers. This is the tupperware we’re using at the moment.
- Wait, But What About Breakfast?
My husband and I are fairly boring, and we both stick to the same breakfast pretty much every morning. His is old-fashioned oats with a sprinkle or brown sugar and whatever fruit we have on hand. Mine is coffee and a scrambled egg with buttered toast. I know that on most mornings, a lot of us are in a rush to just make it out the door in time so try to keep it simple and have a go-to breakfast. Greek yogurt with granola, a quick breakfast scramble. There are many amazing recipes on Pinterest for overnight oats or even baked oatmeal that you can prep the night before for a quick grab-and-go meal in the morning.
- And What About Snacks?
Stick to the perimeter of the store. There are some decent bars and granola, and other sorts of snacks that you can find in the health food aisle, but try your best to avoid other processed junk and grab a bunch of seasonal produce like apples, grapes, carrots, broccoli, bell peppers, or celery. As soon as you get home, I recommend that you wash and cut/prep all of your fruit and veggies (minus the ones that are prone to browning, such as apples) and store them in containers. Seriously, it takes maybe 5 minutes to do and it basically guarantees that your food will get eaten before it goes bad. I have a 3-year-old at home, and she is snacking constantly! It helps to have fruit and veggies washed, cut and ready to go so she can just grab what she wants when she wants, especially when I have my hands full with my six-month-old.
That’s it! Just remember: stick to the plan, have a master list that you consult and replenish as needed, have many healthy options available for when you feel the urge to snack, and don’t put too much stress or pressure on yourself. Stick to what works for you and your schedule.