I’m a mom, busy entrepreneur and runner training for a marathon, which means my time and energy to cook dinner at the end of the day is often slim to none. Don’t get me wrong – I certainly love the idea of preparing a relaxing meal from scratch that uses local ingredients or testing a new recipe, but that’s just not feasible for my life right now or for many working professionals at that.
Most of us have busy lives to lead and we're always questioning how other people find time to get everything done. Personally, having meals prepped throughout the week is something that is important to me and my family, so I do prioritize meal prep. Some weeks it’s more robust while other weeks, it looks like just roasting veggies and making snacks to bridge the gap between meals.
Here’s a rundown of how I make it happen.
While you may envision meal prep as just happening in the kitchen, it actually starts in the grocery store with what foods you buy and keep on hand.
Once a month, I’ll stock up on pantry staples, like canned beans, lentils, whole grain crackers, flours, whole grain tortillas, nut butters, nuts, seeds and frozen vegetables. Those find their way into our weekly meals several times throughout the week.
Then, each week I’ll choose two recipes to make. Two is a reasonable number for me and with leftovers, we can usually stretch it to three to four nights of meals, and then I’ll ad lib based on what I buy for the remaining meals.
At the grocery store, I’ll buy five fruits/vegetables, three protein sources and three carbohydrate sources. This includes my pantry items, too, and are loosely based on the recipes I’ve chosen to cook for the week. Having an intentional plan helps me budget and also reduce food waste throughout the week.
For example, my fruits and vegetables could be frozen broccoli, red peppers, apples, bananas and a mixed bag of greens. For carbohydrates, I may buy brown rice and sweet potatoes and use the tortillas I already have in the pantry as my third option.
Often, one of my recipe meals is an Instant Pot or Crockpot meal that I can set and go. I’ll often choose a recipe with 4-6 servings or double the serving size to make it last longer. Whether it takes 30 minutes to make or cooks for most of the day, it frees my hands to be working on other aspects of meal prep, like chopping vegetables, cooking grains and planning snacks.
Another time saver is grouping similar tasks together. This helps with organization, but I also find batching helpful because I’ll only have to chop vegetables once for the week. For example, if my fruits and vegetables for the week includes carrots, peppers and pears, I may cut them into strips and slices for easy salad toppings and snack options. This also makes it easy for my toddler to grab and eat.
Multi-tasking is probably the secret to getting things done in the kitchen. While the Crockpot is working, I’ll chop my vegetables and potatoes. Then, I’ll throw the vegetables and potatoes in the oven for roasting, and I’ll make muffins or homemade energy bites for the week.
This allows me to finish meal prepping in a reasonable amount of time, rather than waiting for each individual part to be done.
Convenience items were made for a reason and we utilize them when we need to. There are several healthy convenient product options out there that make my weeks easier. Some examples may be buying pre-chopped vegetables to save time, relying on rotisserie chicken, hard-boiled eggs or even buying individual serving sizes of packaged snacks for portability.
Energy needs are high when training for a marathon and I often need to eat on the go and have things ready as soon as I finish a run or workout. This is where meal prepping and convenience items come in together.
Find a meal prepping schedule that works for you. It can be as simple as it needs to be, but something that allows you more time to concentrate on the things you need to during the week is sure to be a success.