Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Meal Prep 101: Getting Started

Oh, meal prep. I cannot tell you how much it has changed not only my life, but our family life. Taking some time each week to plan out our meals and prepare items ahead of time obviously saves time but it also saves money, too! When my husband and I first started budgeting each month we noticed that most of our money was being spent on last minute "quick bites" aka unhealthy fast food. We have saved money by eating at home more often and we have been living healthier lives as well. Win-win! Meal prep can look different for everyone. I will break down different methods today and what has worked best for us.

Start with a clean refrigerator. Take some time to take inventory of what you have in the fridge and what you need to replenish. I like to do this on Fridays by taking everything out, wiping down the shelves with some DIY cleaner, and making my list as I go.

DIY Refrigerator Cleanser:
- 1 teaspoon of castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner's unscented)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4-6 cups of warm water
- 3-5 drops Lemon essential oil (optional) - I like to add this in for the scent, and because lemon oil is great for cleaning grime without a lot of harsh chemicals.
Mix all ingredients together and use a microfiber cleansing cloth, washcloth, or paper towel to clean off your shelves

Make a list of essentials you need to restock. For us this is fruit, milk, and eggs. What do you find yourself reaching for consistently? Assess your pantry items as well - what has gone out of date? What are you running low on?

Create a weekly menu. This is where we get into different thought processes. I have seen people come up with one meal idea, such as a salad and sides for lunch, and put together 7 containers of individual meals. You can find this all over Pinterest and Google. This is not feasible for our family because there are too many people and not enough space. Personally I would prefer to make a big batch of that meal and take some time at night to put it in the container needed for work the next day rather than dedicating that much room in my refrigerator for lunch alone. However, if you have the room then go for it! Break out all of those containers and create individual portions. It makes grab and go very easy and you can keep on track with portion control. On the other hand, we tend to make a menu/list of what we will be eating throughout the week and I make certain items ahead of time. I organize that list like so:

Egg muffins, fruit
Egg muffins, fruit
Egg muffins, fruit
Deli boxes
Deli boxes
Leftover items
Scrambled eggs, toast, fruit
Salad + protein
Salad + protein
Salad + protein
Sandwich, snacking vegetables
Tuna sandwich, snacking vegetables
Leftovers from dinner
Anything left in the fridge, thrown into a soup or salad!
Protein muffins
Protein muffins
Protein muffins
Greek yogurt + berries + granola
Greek yogurt + berries + granola
Greek yogurt + berries + granola
Snack on protein muffins/balls, any vegetables left from the week
Tray bake
Crock pot meal
Fish + vegetables + rice
Grill out

Keep in mind we have a toddler, so we also make a list of her favorite foods such as fruit, yogurt, hot dogs, etc. to have on hand. While we always offer her meals we eat in order to encourage her to try new things, she is definitely on a toddler diet and we have to play it by ear.

Certain meals may vary week by week (such as dinner) but certain things I meal prep each week without fail:

- hard boiled eggs, perfect as breakfast or a protein add-on to any meal
- chopped vegetables for easy snacking such as celery, sweet peppers, carrots, cucumber
- freeze bananas for smoothies
- wash and slice berries, our daughter's favorite
- a large salad for lunches or as a side for dinner - kale is a perfect base for this because it is hearty enough to marinate in dressing for several days without getting soggy

Do the main meal prep on Sunday, and refresh on Wednesday. Wednesday is the day I boil more eggs, run out for milk if we ran out, and freeze any bananas that look like they are getting too ripe. I may also replenish our lunch salad bowl. It is also a time where I may notice that we have more leftovers than anticipated, so I can make some menu items the following week, such as chicken breast. I will freeze any meat or bread that will not be needed after all so as to not go bad.

Soon I will be sharing my favorite/go-to recipes for meal prep! Have you tried meal prep? What has worked for you?

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