Part two of two of my meal prep series.
So last week I showed you Five things to consider when meal planning. That’s usually my starting point before getting down to figuring out what exactly we’re going to eat all week. I like to use a magnetic dry-erase weekly calendar that I just stick on the fridge, so I can quickly glance at it and remember what’s up for the week.
I’m going go day-by-day for this post, so you can get an idea of how I proceeded and roughly how much time it took me to do everything. In the spirit of being a good educator, I’ll also jot everything into a table, for all you visual learners. I don’t ever do that in real life, mostly because meal planning is supposed to save you time, not consume your time.
To start, I only plan five meals and I only plan weekdays. I do this because I like to leave room on the weekend for impromptu guests, BBQing if the weather is nice or dinner out if that’s an option. Also, I know I’ll be restocking the groceries on Friday or Saturday so I like to empty the fridge by Friday and start fresh for the following week.
Now, on to the five things you could make for dinner every week. To make sure we have some variety, I usually start by picking five different categories and choose a recipe from each category. Here are my go-to categories:
- Tacos/Something in a tortilla
- Big salad
- Stir-fry/Rice bowl
Other categories you could choose from: pizza, meat & veg, casserole, slow cooker. Think of your go-to recipes and choose five categories that are suitable for your family.
I also try to make sure that at least one or two meals per week are meatless.
Once I have my categories, I check the fridge to see what produce needs to be used up and check the freezer for things we already have. I make my grocery list while I’m doing this. If I have produce that will spoil quickly, I try to use those things earlier in the week and save the freezer and pantry-based meals for later in the week.
These are my strategies. They may not work for you. That’s okay. There are tons of meal planning strategies out there and not all of them will work for you. I actually enjoy cooking, so I don’t consider making dinner a chore. For me, making dinner is 30 minutes of mostly uninterrupted time alone in the kitchen on most days, so I prefer to make something fresh than to pull a pre-made bag out of the freezer and toss it in the slow cooker, to take advantage of some “free” me-time. I do, however, like to pre-make some things and give myself shortcuts, because let’s face it, nobody in this house is leaving me alone for more than 30 minutes. Ever.
This is what we ate last week:
Monday: Chicken caesars
Tuesday: Beef tacos
Wednesday: Burrito bowls
Thursday: Mac & cheese
|Meal (Calendar)||Chicken Caesar salad & naan||Beef tacos||Burrito bowls||Mac and Cheese
|What we have
|Taco shells and tortillas||Rice
|What we need
**I always put out raw veggies or a salad if I know the kids won`t eat what I made, or for a quick side.*Starred items are all on my 55 Ingredients to have on hand at all times list.
As far as prepping goes, whenever I have a good chunk of time to prep, I do as much ahead of time as I can. Some veggies, for example, peppers and cucumbers, get slimy if sliced too far in advance, so I like to do those no more than a day before. And I wouldn’t dare stink up my fridge with pre-chopped onions, so I save that for right when I need them.
I decide which meals we’re going to have on which day based mostly on how much hands-on prep time I need versus have. If all four kids are home, I’ll opt for something that I’ve prepared ahead of time, or something I can just throw in the oven. I usually do a soup in the slow cooker on Mondays because…Monday.
Here is an example of my planning “play by play” so you can see how I executed the meal plan and roughly how long it took.
|What’s going on?||-Soccer 6:00
|-Soccer 6:00||-Soccer 6:00||
-School orientation 6-8
|Hands-on prep required||-Chop raw veggies for the week
-Cook chicken for tomorrow (while cooking chicken for tonight)
|-Wash and chop lettuce (for tonight and tomorrow)
-Heat up meat and shells
-Rinse and drain corn and beans
|-Heat burrito bowl ingredients, season, assemble.
-Make mac & cheese ahead of time.
|No prep required.||No prep required.
|Hands-off cooking time||Bake in oven 35 mins|
|Hands-on cooking time||Veggies 10 mins
Chicken 30 mins (divided by two since it’s for two meals, so 15 mins)
|Lettuce 10/2 = 5 mins
Dressing 5 mins
Naan 5 mins
|Tomatoes 5 mins
Meat 5 mins
Shells 5 mins
Rice and veggie prep: 10 mins
|Burrito bowls 10 mins
Mac n cheese 20 mins
|Notes||TOTAL TIME 25 mins||TOTAL TIME 15 mins
*We needed diapers so I took advantage and got tomatoes for tomorrow. Since I only needed tomatoes, I probably would’ve just used salsa and skipped the grocery trip if we didn’t need anything else.
|TOTAL TIME 25 mins
Impromptu guests: We had two extra people over for dinner so all I had to do to accommodate that was take an extra bag of meat out of the freezer.
I always buy a bulk package of meat and cook and portion it as soon as I get home.
|TOTAL TIME 30 mins
|TOTAL TIME 35 mins (but you’re not actually doing anything, so I’d call that free time!)
Things to notice:
1) I barely needed any groceries. Most of the meals used ingredients we already had on hand.
2) Including prepping, the hands-on time was under 30 minutes each day (but I also got two days sans prep!)
3) On Thursday, I chose mac & cheese (there are always leftovers), in case our babysitters haven’t had dinner.
If you have kids and they’re anything like my kids, you know that between 4:00 and 5:00 kids are tired, whiny and grinding you for snacks every five minutes. That’s mostly why I like supper to happen quickly.
If you don’t have kids, you’re probably tired from your long day at work and would rather do what I used to do before I had kids, which was sit down, have a drink and eat popcorn for supper. Meal-prep is for everyone!