Plan. Shop. Prep.: A Guide to Meal Planning and Meal Prepping
Ready to never wonder what's for dinner? By planning your meals weekly or monthly, you will save so much stress, time, and money! But, I know that meal planning can seem stressful and overwhelming. And meal prepping? You know all those lovely containers that have the same meal in them for the whole week! How does those people do it! Here are my tips & tricks to Meal Plan. Shop. Prep.
Planning is probably the hardest party for me because I am creature of habit and coming up with a menu makes me want to break out in hives. Perhaps that is why we eat a lot of the same things week in and out. I mean, there is nothing wrong with repeating the favorites (and those you know your kiddo will eat). But, every once in a while, its nice to try some new dishes.
So, I approach meal planning from a calendar standpoint. First, how many lunches, dinner and snacks do I need for any particular week. That depends on after school activities, date nights, etc… Then I plug in our favorites or any requests from my husband or E. Neither my husband nor I follow a “diet” meaning we are not Keto, Whole 30, Low-carb people.Nope, we are fans of clean eating through portion control, so we strive to get the correct number of servings of each food group each day. This is extremely helpful when I plan meals. I know approximately how many servings of protein, veggies, fruits, carbs, and healthy fats I need to plan for. I use the Portion Fix meal planning and use these handy dandy sheets.
Those little colorful boxes tell me how many servings of each food group I need each day. (Am I perfect, no, but its what i strive for). So, I list out meals and then put down my grocery list. I also keep a white board, which I have mentioned before, that we put down other items that we are out of, i.e. pantry staples, household needs.
Breakfast for me these days tends to be oatmeal with brown sugar and berries or my shake. Snacks are raw veggies, fruit, hummus, hard boiled eggs, protein bars, or muffins. Lunches are anywhere from sandwiches, salads, bento boxes or leftovers. We love leftover in our house.
I pull from so many places for my meal ideas. Pinterest, Beachbody Blog, cookbooks, you name it.Once I have my list, my hub’s heads to the store. We do 99% of our grocery shopping at Target. We have a Red card and love the 5% savings.
Do you struggle with grocery shopping on a budget? Or grocery shopping in general? ( I seriously hate it). Here are a some tips to help you get through the grocery store without spending your life savings!
1. Find a discount store! I personally love Aldi (TX), Target & Publix (in FL & GA) and I buy about 90% of our groceries there rather than WholeFoods/Central Market, or as some call it WHOLE PAYCHECK. It saves us a lot of money! But there are certain things I love from Trader Joe's (but that is a whole other post). And I know some of you ladies love Wal-Mart and their pick up.
2. Make a menu, make a list, and STICK TO IT. Seriously! Just see how much of a difference it makes! I literally do not buy things that are not on my list.
3. Have a healthy snack before you go to the store. We all know what happens when we go to the store hungry...we buy a bunch of stuff we DON'T need because we are shopping with our STOMACH, not our HEADS!
4. Stick to the perimeter of the store. There you will find your 'cleaner' foods - produce, protein, dairy, etc. Boxed processed foods are typically in the center aisles of the store. I try to just buy a few things from the inner aisle.
5. Read labels. Do your research. Labels with fewer ingredients are best. You can also tap into TECHNOLOGY by trying out apps like FOODUCATE or SHOPWELL that help you know exactly which foods are HEALTHY choices and which are just marketed as "healthy" because it's SUGAR-FREE, but instead of sugar they replaced it with an artificial sweetener (which is oftentimes ever WORSE for you) These apps allow you to scan the barcode of the product to get the REAL DEAL on the product! :)
Make HEALTHY, TASTY!!!
To Coupon or Not to Coupon.
Drop the scissors (or, uh, gently set them down) and trash those circulars. It turns out that your phone has everything you need to save a bundle on your regular groceries. That said, some grocery store coupon apps far outperform their competitors!
Whether you plan and bargain hunt before you hit the grocery store, or just follow your heart and grab some rebates later, here are a few apps you should try out...
1. Coupons.com (abundance of coupons and super easy user interface)
2. Checkout51 (upload your receipts and then matches the items you purchased to any coupons on their list.)
3. Shrink (organic and natural products that aren’t usually found on the other apps)
4. Saving Star (great selection of kid-friendly items and snack foods)
5. Ibotta (find items you typically buy. Save the offer. Scan the barcode and upload your receipt for credit on each item. Cash out every $20 banked)
6. Cartwheel. Target’s signature app, and I’ve saved more than $200 to date at Target with this little guy! All you do is either search (by category or typing in your item) or scan an item’s bar code to see if there’s an offer available. When you’re checking out, hang the cashier your phone and the discount will be taken off!
Grocery Delivery/Pick Up
So, I do not do grocery deliver, but if you haven’t tried a grocery delivery service in you area, I highly suggest you do! It’s a GAME CHANGER for the busy mama.
Not only do you NOT have to go to the store, someone else brings you EVERYTHING you need to stay on track for the week. Meaning, they won’t pick up that bag of chips you passed by and thought would be good or the box of your favorite cookies you cannot just eat one of! You get EXACTLY what your need, right to your doorstep!
A lot of the services are super simple. Login to their site, pick out what you want and within a couple hours there is a smiling, helpful person knocking on your door with your groceries. AND you can even add digital coupons. Although there is normally a small fee, most services usually offer the first delivery for free, so DEF take advantage of that. Plus The convenience and time and money saved is SO WORTH the investment in my opinion!
Alright, you have you meals planned, you have your groceries, now its time to prep. Do not get alarmed or overwhelmed. You do as much prep as works for you.
Meal Prep 101
1. Wash, peel and chop all veggies and have them ready in bowls
2. Get any slow cooker meals started- this can be done in 2 different ways • If you want to cook it, I throw it all in the crockpot and get it cooking OR place all ingredients in a large ziplock bag and label it to throw in the crockpot the morning you plan to cook it- then put it in the fridge or freezer!
3. Get soup(s) simmering
4. Start any oven meals, get them cooking!
5. Cook stove top meals (i.e Turkey taco meat, etc)
6. Clean your counters, load your dishwasher, and move on to prepping your snacks • wash and chop fruits • Portion out any nuts/etc • Portion out yogurt
7. Once everything is cooked- start loading containers. Portion everything out for lunches and label them.
8. Put supper meats in the large containers and label those!
9. Snacks are all piled and labelled as well.
*A few tips: - I love ground turkey and we have it 2-3 times a week- so I fry up a big batch and then portion it off for the different meals, then I add whatever seasonings I need for each and set them aside! - We love to add chicken breasts to salads, stir fry’s etc… so when they go on sale, I stock up. I also bake full chicken breasts and chop them to use in my salads and stir frys- easy, healthy and on hand for last minute meals! I don’t ALWAYS do ALL of this in one day. But when I do, it lasts a couple of weeks! A few hours on a Sunday & you will be set up for success!
1. BATCH COOK!
Choose recipes or mix and match ingredients that are similar so you can cook up a big batch of foods and eat multiple times throughout the day or week.
Easy foods to batch cook:
Roasted veggies: Add them to a breakfast scramble, then toss some into your salad for a not-sad desk lunch.
Quinoa: Add this nutrient-packed food to your soup for lunch, then turn it into a side dish with baked salmon at dinner.
Chicken breasts: Bake a few chicken breasts to pair with a side of sautéed veggies and a baked sweet potato for dinner. Then add a sliced chicken breast to some zoodles for a clean “pasta” dish for lunch the next day.
Hard-boiled eggs: Grab these as an easy snack when the afternoon slump hits, then make avocado egg salad toast for breakfast in the morning.
A big pot of brown rice will last you 4–5 days in the fridge or up to 1 month in the freezer. This versatile grain can be used in a slew of recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
2. PORTION, the PLATE!
Meal-prep containers are your new best friend: All you have to do is portion out your meals in advance after you’ve batch cooked for the week. No more standing in front of an open fridge trying to decide what to eat; just grab your container and go. Many people choose Sunday as a meal-prep day, but pick whatever day is most convenient for you. Committing to a few hours of prepping one day can save several hours during the week.
3. BE MINDFUL OF FOOD SAFETY!
Most foods will keep in the fridge for 3–5 days. If you’re making something on Sunday that you don’t plan to eat until Friday, put it in the freezer and defrost it in the fridge Thursday night. Some foods like eggs and sweet potatoes don’t freeze well, so schedule freezer-friendly meals at the end of the week so you only have to cook one day during the week.
4. CONSIDER FROZEN FRUITS & VEGGIES!
Frozen fruits and veggies can be just as good as fresh! This is especially true when it comes to meal prep. Since frozen vegetables have already been cooked, all you have to do is heat them in the microwave with some cooked quinoa and your pre-made chicken breast, and you’ve got yourself a balanced meal. Frozen fruit is also a great addition to shakes; no washing or cutting required.
5. MINI MEAL PREP!
Certain meal-prep tasks should wait till the night before or just before eating: like washing fresh fruit (to ward off mold), chopping delicate greens (to prevent wilting), or adding fresh herbs (to minimize oxidation and maximize flavor).
6. SHORT CUTS!
Make it easy on yourself if you’re willing to swap a few extra dollars to save a little extra prep time.Many grocery store chains offer pre-chopped veggies, zoodles, “pre-riced” cauliflower rice, peeled and diced fruit, pre-washed salad greens, and precooked proteins like fish, chicken, and tempeh.
7. REPEAT YOUR LITTLE HEART OUT!
No need to make an entirely new meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. Just choose two or three of your favorite recipes for each meal, and simply double or triple the recipe so you can have it multiple times throughout the week. (Remember to take “repeats” into account when you’re writing out your grocery list!)
THE TAKEAWAY - Meal prep can seem intimidating at first — planning ahead! endless grocery lists! batch cooking! — but it’s not. We promise. Follow these tips, set up a process that works for you, and you’ll be meal prepping like a pro in no time
One thing I love having for my PREP DAY are these meal prep containers! One is more of an option that is reusable a few times, the others get years of use and are what I personally use, but cost a bit more because of their high quality and long-term use!
Freshware Meal Prep Containers [21 Pack] *Bento Box*
Rubbermaid Brilliance Microwavable Food Storage Container Set (18pc)
For my VISUAL/HANDS ON LEARNERS -- Check out this quick video with tips for MEAL PREPPING EFFICIENTLY!
If you made it to here, bless you. If you have any other questions about meal planning, shopping, or prepping, drop them in the comments, and I would be happy to answer them!