Intro to Meal Prep and Meal Planning

When I left the restaurant and began working a steady schedule, I was too brain dead to figure out what we'd have for dinner fresh every day. I just didn't want to put forth the energy. I also didn't have free food and a commercial kitchen at my disposal to take dinner home whenever I wanted to. That led me to meal planning. Suddenly it went from planning an entire meal from nothing to picking something off the list! It made life significantly easier and I loved it! A few years later a friend, who is a body builder, introduced me to meal prep and life was changed for the better. Meal prep is where you spend some time on day per week cooking the majority of your meals for the week, so all you do is reheat and move on with your life. This post will go over my basic approach to meal planning and prep and I'll start posting my weekly recipes. Sorry there aren't a lot of pictures this week, but stick with me and we'll go far. 

Meal Planning

I start each week by planning about 7 dinner meals each week. I do about 5 meals from scratch and default to 2 easy or frozen meals for convenience. We also will have at least one fend-for-yourself night (FFYN) each week where we're both on our own. Every family is different, so you have to observe your patterns and do what works best for you. I don't find it helpful for our family to plan what we eat each day of the week, like so:

  • Monday - tacos
  • Tuesday - spaghetti
  • Wednesday - meatloaf
  • Thursday - pork chops
  • Friday - stir fry

I have a friend who plans her family's meals like that and she loves it. To each their own. I usually draft the meal list overall and pick what I want whatever day I feel like fixing that particular dish. Like so: tacos, spaghetti, meatloaf, pork chops, stir fry. Knowing what my options are makes it easier to pick what we're going to eat or communicate to Logan what we have if he needs to cook one night.

Once my recipes/meals are chosen I then make my grocery list side-by-side so I know I have all the ingredients for everything I want to make. I'll take inventory of the pantry and fridge too and try to make sure we always have staples around. I highly suggest (and am obsessed with) Aldi or Lidl if you have one around. They save us so much money!

Weekly Meal Prep

Every Sunday I will prep my breakfast (Logan doesn't eat breakfast) and 5 lunches each for me and Logan for a total of about 15 meals. You have to find your personal rhythms and adjust your preferences there. I find that I can eat the same 5 breakfasts per week, but I can only eat the same lunch 3 times max. That leads me to plan one breakfast per week, then 2 different lunches for myself and usually 2 different lunches for Logan.  

My biggest tip for weekly meal prep: practice and don't give up! It's going to take forever at first, create a giant mess, and it'll take you some time to figure out what recipes work well and are easy to knock out. Personally I will spend 2 hours max on meal prep and like to keep it to 1.5 hours. It took me about 6 months to nail my 1.5ish hour rhythm, but now I can usually breeze right through. 

I like to do a mix of recipes to make it easy. Breakfast is usually baked oatmeal (recipe will be below) or some combo of scrambled eggs, vegetables, and grains. I'll usually mix in a baked/roasted or crock pot recipe in addition to cooking stuff on the stove top. Again, be patient and find your groove. 

I also try to pull out all of my ingredients and lay them out in a semi-organized manner when I start cooking. It saves time and sanity because you aren't running to the fridge or pantry 1,000 times while trying not to burn your whatevers. 

And lastly, you're going to use a lot of plastic storage containers. Every one has a favorite size and shape, but I largely prefer square shaped ones and 2-part segmented rectangles. Pro tip: eggs and beans super stink if you let them sit/don't rinse or clean your plastic storage container pretty soon after you eat the mean. 

Recipes

I love talking food and talking to other people who meal prep! We all need new inspiration and all get bored. Please feel free to text me if you ever want to talk food! I have a board on Pinterest and also use cookbooks, food blogs, and magazines for recipe inspiration.

I like to be fancy, Logan just wants to eat, so I try to strike a balance between the two. Logan doesn't like to cook, but he will to help me out some nights. If he does, he likes it to be easy, so it'll usually be burgers (veggie or turkey) and instant mashed potatoes or something easy and frozen. We don't discriminate around here. Let's be full and let's be easy. 

Whatever meals we don't make get rolled over to the next week (provided the ingredients haven't gone bad and I didn't waste food). We have family here this weekend, so it's an off week and no formal menu is planned. Here's what we have on hand though: stir fry with egg rolls (rollover meal), burgers+veggie burgers and fries or mashed potatoes, frozen fajita meal (for Logan), and shrimp and veggies or potatoes. We'll also likely work in a FFYN this week and stretch it out. 

We will use leftovers for FFYNs or for lunches later in the week. I also don't usually have different "meal prep" recipes or "dinner recipes." Most things we make work well both places.

I typically follow a pescatarian diet, but Logan eats meat. I've started playing around with substituting mushrooms in recipes that call for chicken. Logan gets the chicken, I get the mushrooms, we both win. Early disclaimer: I rarely follow recipes exactly.  Here are a couple of my favorite recipes as of late (remember, we don't judge for convenience in this house):

  • Shrimp nachos - frozen cooked salad shrimp (takes 6 mins to thaw under water), toss in a skillet to warm up with whatever taco spices you like and a little oil/butter. Throw those babies on top of tortilla chips and go to town with whatever nacho toppings you like. You do you. Puts dinner on the table in about 15 minutes and is easy to fill with veggies. Favorite toppings include: black or pinto beans, tomatoes, avocado or guacamole, cheese, salsa, corn. Substitutions: swap out the tortilla chips for tacos, tostadas, or taco salad. 
  • Arrabbiata - serve with penne or spaghetti. Also garlic bread (frozen or home made, whatever). 
  • Shrimp Scampi - there are a million variations, but we like to serve ours with spaghetti or fettuccine and plenty of garlic bread. I'll also do some kind of green vegetable. Whatever is easy and I'm in the mood for. 
  • Spaghetti Carbonara - total classic. Add peas, I like an extra egg....just skip the cream. Don't do it. You don't need it. But I won't judge if you want it. If you've never made it before I suggest watching a couple videos to the technique and putting the pasta straight from the water/pot into the bacon pan. Also feel free to use bacon, pancetta, or guanciale. Whatever is available. 
  • Spaghetti Amatriciana - my favorite pasta sauce of all time. I can't get enough. So good for dinner or prep or breakfast or life in general. Serve the sauce with penne, spaghetti, fettuccine, or bucatini. Again, use bacon, pancetta, or guanciale. 
  • Chicken Teriyaki - I usually will make this for Logan's lunch meal prep. Serve with rice and some kind of vegetable. You can choose to dump a bag of frozen stir fry veggies 30 minutes - 1 hour before the chicken is done if you want. 
  • Creamy Chipotle Carrot Soup (vegan!) - this is a recent find for me and I'm obsessed with it. I don't think it's spicy at all, but everyone is different.
  • Mexican Street Corn Tostadas - the corn also makes an excellent topping for tacos or nachos. I usually add chili powder to the corn mix and extra lime juice.  I don't eat cilantro so I leave it out altogether and also don't like red onion so I sub onion powder in.
  • Zucchini and Black Bean Tacos - very loose guideline recipe here. I did not make the cream sauce, so let me know if you do. I just cooked the veggies then did whatever taco seasons I was feeling at the time. I only recently made this for the first time but it will definitely get put into rotation. 
  • French Onion Chicken - we're obsessed with this recipe. I added a ton of garlic and portabello mushrooms. Serve with rice or noodles and tons of french bread. Pro tip: you may have to drain the mushrooms if you use them. Sometimes they put off extra liquid you won't want in the final dish really.
  • Chicken goo - this is a family recipe so we have no idea what it's actually called. Grab a casserole dish. Add a can of cream of mushroom soup and the same amount (just eyeball it) of sour cream. Add some/lots of garlic, salt, pepper, and dried parsley. Taste and adjust. Add some chicken, cubed or tenders, and bury in the goo. Top with portabello mushrooms cut about the same size as the chicken. Cover and bake at 375-400 until the chicken is done. Serve with wild rice. Only wild rice. Don't even think about white or brown rice. Crescent rolls are also a good idea here. 

Let me know if you try any of the recipes! I know that was a ton of information, but I'll be back next week with a regular meal plan menu. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below or on Facebook!