Why We Meal Prep

A couple weekends ago, we did another cook-a-palooza.  If you recall, earlier this year I wrote about how we plan, prep, and freeze a mass quantity of breakfasts, snacks, and dinners.  We spent a good deal of money at Costco in preparation for the endeavor.  And, it took the better part of the weekend to accomplish our goal and clean up from the chaos that ensued.  But, here’s where it gets good!  Guess what our bill was last week for groceries?!  Drum roll please…$54!  That is correct.  $54 for a family of 7.  In a quick 30 min trip to Aldi, I was able to get milk, fresh fruits and veggies, bread, nuts, some crackers, and a couple treats.

Not only did I save money, but I saved time.  I spent less time shopping for food.  I spent less time thinking about a menu and what ingredients I needed.  I spent less time prepping that food.  I spent less time cleaning up from the meal prep.  And, our family still ate home cooked meals all week.

Now, I will not sugar coat the actual weekend of cooking.  It is exhausting.  And, it’s messy.  See here for a heart-stopping, morning after shot:

That is not easy for me to share.  I still cringe at the site.  Anyway, the good news is, it looks much better now!

The kids’ involvement in the process is another positive aspect of this undertaking.  As our cooking day approaches, we pep talk them as if they are gearing up for a big game.  They understand that their contribution is critical for a successful day.  Their pride is palpable when we warm up a dish that they helped prepare.  It also makes it more likely that they will eat the food.

Our plan is to keep doing these days every few months.  We make enough food to get through 2-3 months with little daily meal prep.  It is one less worry on our plates–pun intended.

In case you are interested.  We made the following foods:

You may notice that many of these are repeats from the past, as they were hits with the family.  We made about 3-4 recipes (7 of some!) of each of these.  It is a lot of good food that I’m excited to enjoy with the family!

Cleaning Out and Inventory: Essential to Meal Planning

I spend a lot of time coaching people to help them make more healthy eating decisions on a regular basis.  Most people have a basic grasp on how to eat healthfully.  But, when I delve into their daily habits, I begin to understand the disconnect between their health knowledge and their actual behaviors.  Often, the problem lies in the lack of planning and limited time.  Many of us lead very busy lives: kids’ activities, tough work schedules, caring for others…you name it.  But, as I tell my clients, some simple small changes, done consistently, can really help transform your habits.

One of the most basic habits I recommend adopting in order to consistently plan and make healthy meals is to clean out and organize your fridge, pantry, and freezer on a regular basis.  The pantry and freezer do not necessitate a clean out as frequently as the refrigerator, but all must be inventoried regularly.  I recommend cleaning out the fridge weekly and cleaning out the freezer and pantry every 2-4 weeks.

Why is this step so essential?

  • It helps you see what foods/ingredients you already have
  • It helps you not to waste as much food
  • It helps keep everything clean and organized

When cleaning the fridge, you should purge anything that has gone bad.  I like to wipe the shelves with a clean, warm dish cloth, as I go.  I rearrange the items to make sure the maximum number of containers are visible.  I’ll place taller items towards the back and shorter ones toward the front. After the dirty work is done, I take note of items that need to be used in the near future.  I do my best to integrate those items into the meal plan or alert other family members to be sure to eat them that week.

The freezer is a little more involved.  I find it best to remove most items to assess what you have.  Obviously, you should move quickly to insure nothing melts.  But, this is the best way to see it all.  Once you know what you have, place the items back in your freezer in a logical manner.  For example, place all veggies in one area, stack boxes or containers with labels facing in the same direction, so you can easily read them.  Trash anything that has been in the freezer too long.  Again, take note of foods that should be integrated into meals in the near future.

The process of cleaning and organizing the pantry is similar to that for the freezer.  I recommend removing all items from the pantry to start.  I dump anything that has gone bad.  And, I make a note of foods that I have and ones that should be used soon.  Next, I organize based on category–for example, all canned beans in one section, breakfast cereals in another, and drinks (coffee, tea, etc.) in yet another.  Once the items are organized, they can be placed back into the pantry with taller, bulkier items in the back and smaller shorter items in the front.

A lot of this advice may seem logical, but the key is actually making it happen.  It is not the most exciting task, but it can really help you stay organized and on task with your health goals, as well as help you to save money!  So, start that Netflix show you love to binge watch, and dive in.

Cook-a-polooza Jan 2018

Patch and I held another cook-a-palooza a little over a week ago.  Essentially, we choose a bunch of recipes (focused on dinners), make a list, and shop.  Then, on cook day, we cook, prepare, assemble, and freeze a large number of meals.  We started doing this about a year-and-a-half ago, after our fifth child was born.  We have been consistently holding our cook-a-palooza days 3-4 times a year.  I think we are finally hitting our stride concerning which recipes work best.  We are definitely still a tad overambitious, but we accomplished a lot.  And, after 7 days of not having to cook a meal from scratch, yet still eating a home cooked meal, I’m loving it!

Let me take you through the process.  The planning began here:

While at our family lakehouse, we talked about which recipes we’d like to make.  We used cookbooks, other blogs, websites, and one recipe from memory.  Here is the list of recipes we used (including links if applicable):

Thai Chicken/Tofu Noodle Soup
Stuffed Shells (My own recipe–I need to write it down!)
Broccoli Garlic Quiche
Caramelized Shallot and Gruyere Quiche (we did not make the crust)
Slow Cooker Black Bean Enchiladas                                                                                                   
Orange-Glazed Chicken (Williams-Sonoma One Pot of the Day book)                                     Japanese Turkey Meatballs – Instant Pot
Mahimahi with Onions Capers and Lemons (We substituted with Tilapia to save on cost)
                                                                                                                                                               Quinoa Black Bean Crockpot Stuffed Peppers
Bagel Bombs
Potato Leek Soup

For the first time we used a website/app called Pepperplate.  It has been wonderful! With this site, we were able to automatically upload or enter in the recipes depending on the source.  It then generated a shopping list for our planned recipes.  When we shopped, I was able to check off the items as we went.  The shopping list was organized by section.  It was very easy to follow and helped me feel a little less crazy.  After a marathon night of shopping at Costco and Meijer…

We woke up and began our day of marathon cooking and prepping.  The kids were involved in every step of the process.

We try to choose recipes with a variety of flavors that are relatively healthy, but that we hope will generally appeal to the kids.  So, far this round has proven to be most successful (the recipes taste great and have been given the thumbs up by most of the kids)!

The process takes the entire day and goes into the early hours of the next day (Patch was up until 3am!).  But, the time we save on our weeknights, is well worth that sacrifice.

Here’s the tilapia with garlic, lemons, and capers–before and after.  This one was a big hit with the kids.


Maddie made her bagel bombs, which the kids have been fighting over, as she tries to ration them.

I don’t want to sugar coat things.  This is by no means a tidy process.  I almost had a heart attack when I came down to see my kitchen in this state the next morning. (It’s still painful to look at!) But, we cleaned it up, and now I’m having a glass of wine while our enchiladas cook in the slow cooker.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with freezing meals ahead!

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