It feels like there is never enough time in a day to get everything done. Add kids to the mix, and that time shrinks even more. One of the ways I have found to make each day run more smoothly is through meal prep. I truly believe we make time for the things that are important to us; if you’re looking for simple ways to make your life easier, meal prep can definitely help. Trying to eat healthily and being organized helps me feel better, which is why our family meal preps. It’s a task that may feel overwhelming at first, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. It’s one of the best things we do to help our weeks run smoothly. Here are some tips if you’re looking to get started.
1. Start small and plan out your week.
If you have never meal-prepped, choose one meal a day that you want to have planned out for the week. Since we both work Monday through Friday, my husband and I always prepare our lunches for the week on Sundays. As someone who is not a morning person, it makes it easier for me when all I have to do is grab what I need out of the fridge before I leave. No fuss, no questions, no guessing what to pack each day. Not only does this keep our meals healthier, but we save money by not being tempted to eat out.
2. Plan out each day.
In addition to having our lunches prepared for the week, I plan out what we’re having for dinner each night. This not only helps me create my grocery list, but saves both time and money at the store. I also try to make at least one large meal a week that will feed us on two different nights. This is really helpful when we have a busy night and don’t have time to cook.
Depending on how in-depth you want to go with meal prepping, you can have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks planned out each day. While I don’t personally do this for myself, it helps to know in advance what my son’s options are each day to make sure his food is ready to go when he’s hungry. Nothing is more stressful than trying to figure out what to make a toddler when he’s already demanding food!
It doesn’t take much time to make a batch of pancakes or waffles for my son and store the extras in the fridge for the following days. This makes breakfast much easier and less stressful in the morning. Plus, if you already have fruit washed and cut up, just add it to the meal.
3. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time.
Once lunches are cooked for the week, I try to stay at least a day or two ahead on dinners. This means when my son goes to bed, I double-check what is on the dinner menu the following day or two and see what I can prepare ahead of time that will make dinnertime go more smoothly. This could be cooking rice, chopping vegetables, shredding cheese, etc. If I am making a casserole or something that will bake in the oven, I like to put it all together ahead of time so the only thing to do the next day is toss it in the oven.
Snacks are another simple thing that can be prepared ahead of time, especially if you want to have healthy options. Washing and cutting fruit and vegetables, or putting things like crackers and goldfish into individual bags or containers makes it easy to grab and go. Since getting out of the house on time with a toddler can be challenging, when my son has activities going on like swim lessons, we always prepare his snacks the night before.
4. Shop your pantry first.
What are some things you already have stocked in your pantry that you can use up first? Sometimes I get meal ideas by looking through our pantry staples to see what I can utilize for the upcoming week. Sometimes it’s an abundance of noodles, cans of beans, or tortillas. These give meal inspiration, reduce waste, and save money at the store.
5. Create a rotating menu and organize recipes.
If you want things to be as simple as possible, keep track of family favorites so you remember to make them again in the future. It can be helpful to have theme nights too – maybe every Monday you have a meatless dish, Tuesday is pasta, Wednesday is Mexican, etc. Depending on how far out you want to plan, you could even determine a whole month’s worth of dinners and post it on the fridge or a calendar to refer back to. For me, I like not having to guess each night what we’re going to have for dinner.
If you have one spot where you keep track of all recipes and meal ideas, it’ll be easier to stay organized. Plus, if your kids are old enough to help cook, they can have access to it as well. I use the Notes app on my phone to keep a running list of our favorite recipes, and include where they are. Since I eat the same thing for lunch each day, I like a lot of variety in our dinners. To get meal inspirations I look for ideas on Pinterest a lot, along with the website Budget Bytes, and a few Instagram food accounts.
6. Utilize your freezer.
There are a couple of ways I like to use the freezer to help with meal prep. One is by cutting up vegetables like onions and preppers, especially if I can get extra on sale or before they go bad, and then store them in the freezer until I need them. Another idea is to purchase things in bulk, use part of it, and freeze the rest to use later in a meal. If you want to make a double batch of something, like a casserole, you can always make two of them and freeze one to eat later.
7. Have fun with it!
Eating should be enjoyable, so find fun ways to meal prep to where you aren’t dreading it all the time. Try to get your kids involved if they’re old enough. Ask friends and family members to share recipes, or even pick one night a week to try a new dish!
Every other week I like to try out a new recipe for my son, and I usually find them on Instagram. Some of the pages I follow that have great kid-friendly ideas are: