With any kind of change that you attempt to make, having a solid plan is important. While you might want to plan for meals and change your family’s lifestyle, know that it is a process that happens gradually. By focusing on what must be done before you even prepare your food, you will be able to feel confident in your decisions. Select a day or days that you would like to devote to your meal prep. A lot of families like to shop and prep all in the same day for the entire week, but if that doesn’t work for your schedule, you can spread the prep throughout various days of the week. For example, you can cook on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in order to still remain ahead without having to devote any single day to cooking.
Deciding on what method is going to be more efficient for your lifestyle is definitely going to shape your meal prep experience. Many days of prep can seem less overwhelming. A lot of people do not consider meal prepping an option because most meal prep plans focus on only one day of prep. You can grocery shop one day, wash and cut the fruits and veggies another day, and then cook and portion when you have the time. The most important thing to remember about meal planning is that it should be practical for your lifestyle. Because it is a flexible solution to boring food and unhealthy eating, you should be able to come up with a schedule that suits your needs.
The USDA has found that an average family of 4 that includes children should be able to spend about $128 at the grocery store each week. This is made possible by utilizing a thrifty budget. If you find that you spend far more on this on food each week, you might find that money is being wasted on fast food or take-out options that can be very expensive and unhealthy. You can change this by shopping smarter. Even if you have no idea what you are going to prepare for your weekly meal prep, there are certain staple items that all families should have in their homes. As long as you keep these items around, you should be able to curate a great menu with plenty of variety that makes everyone happy.
Sample Grocery List
1lb blueberries (frozen)
2lbs any other fruit that is in-season
1 large box of raisins
1 bag of broccoli (frozen)
1 bunch kale (or lettuce of your choice)
1 bag of corn (frozen)
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1 head of garlic
1 bag of green beans (frozen)
1 bag of salad mix
1 jar of salsa
4 large sweet potatoes
1 can of sliced olives
1 bag of yellow onions
1 bag of tortillas
1 bag of whole wheat bread
2lbs rice flour
1lb black beans (uncooked)
1 can of salmon
1lb chicken breast
3lbs whole chicken
2 dozen eggs
½ cup flax seed
2lbs ground beef
⅔ lb red beans (uncooked)
1 jar of peanut butter
1 pack of pepperoni
1 container of butter
2lbs cheddar cheese (block)
10oz mozzarella cheese
3 gallons of milk
1 large container of plain yogurt
This sample grocery list will provide you with a solid foundation for your meal prep goals. Keep in mind that you won’t always need to buy these things each week. You will find that you will likely have a nice supply of many of the things on the list, especially the pantry items. The more that this supply grows, the less shopping that you will have to do each week. This is the perfect example of how your meal prep lifestyle can start to save you money. When you are aware of exactly what food you have at home, you will be less likely to select an unhealthy alternative. Being able to take the above ingredients and come up with recipes will start to feel like second-nature.
In order to further simplify your prep, this guide is going to focus mainly on breakfasts and lunches. These meals are likely eaten in a hurry or away from one another because of various schedules and obligations. What you send your children to school with makes a difference, and if you can avoid cafeteria food, you will find that your kids will begin to appreciate the taste of the healthy alternatives that you provide. By having a handle on the first ⅔ of your day, you will have the huge benefit of being able to spend time together during dinner time without all of the added stress. When everyone is well-fed from the start, dinner becomes a breeze.
The easiest way to come up with wonderful recipes is to ask your family what they would like to eat. It seems like a simple request because it is one! Get an opinion from everyone in the household, and with this information, you should be able to build a menu that will appeal to everyone. If they are having a hard time coming up with ideas, you can research some meal prep recipes ahead of time. If you give everyone a few options to choose from, this can help give you an idea of what your week is going to look like. It also becomes a fun way to come together as a family and make these decisions.
Keeping efficiency in mind, you should be able to schedule your grocery shopping day. Unlike the first part of meal prepping, this part does not necessarily have to be done as a family. If you have a list of all the things you need, you should be able to get everything fairly quickly. A list will keep you organized and on track. It will also prevent you from giving into the temptation of buying junk food and other foods that will be steering you in the wrong direction. Remember to focus on what you came for and your shopping trip should not take long at all.
If you have the time and energy when you get home, you can begin the initial preparations. You can start on any veggies that need to be washed and chopped, and fruits that need to be peeled and sliced. Having these available as snacking options will already complete one step of your meal plan. Remember, kids love to snack! After school, having healthy snacks around the house before dinner is ready will keep your kids satiated. When you give them many options, there likely won’t be any complaints about the snacks available. It is when they come home to an empty fridge or pantry that they resort to junk food.
Depending on how much time you have available, you can begin cooking all of the raw foods. This will mainly consist of proteins and veggies. You might also have to cook some grains depending on what your menu for the week looks like. The great thing about cooking is that you can turn it into a relaxing experience. By cooking all of your food at once, you will be able to have multiple pots and pans on the stove at the same time instead of worrying about cooking a small amount of food every single day. While it can feel much different than what you might be used to, you will find that it makes life a lot easier when you can select a day to do all of your cooking.
If you still need some time to work up to this kind of prepping, that’s okay! You can take the alternative suggestion of breaking the prep days down to a few days each week. This still eliminates your need to cook every single day and it will give you an idea of how much you can handle. Meal prepping is a process of trial and error. You might find that you have a lot of energy some weeks and less energy other weeks— this is completely normal! All families tend to have unpredictable schedules and meal planning is possible regardless of how busy you are.
Try not to become discouraged if you are unable to shop, prep, and cook all in the same day. You can work up to this if you truly want to! Think about your progress in small increments, giving yourself credit for each minute and dollar that is saved. While it might not seem like it at first, by the end of your first 4 weeks, you will realize that you have transformed your habits completely. Know that it is okay to do what feels right for you. Think about this each week before you prep and make any changes that are necessary. Through experience, you will find that certain things become easier the more that you try them. Much like anything else in life, you need to practice before you feel like you know exactly what you are doing. Remember that you have a team that is involved in the entire process, too. Getting the family more involved in your prep day(s) can be a huge relief when you already have a lot on your plate.
If you make anything fun, the kids are a lot more likely to get involved. You can have them list their favorite foods and write them all down on pieces of paper. Randomly picking some of the papers from a jar, you can use this as a method for determining what you will cook for the week. You can also use a voting system, giving them lunch and dinner options that they get to vote on. Having this kind of input not only gets the kids involved in the meal prep process, but it also gives you a guideline for what you need to prepare for the upcoming week.
Between the two adults in the household, you and your spouse can split the shopping and cooking duties. Discuss your schedule each week and, from there, you should be able to determine who has the time to shop and who has the time to cook. You might even want to each do a little of both. The prep work is something that you might be able to complete as a family, depending on how old your children are. As you navigate through your first 4 weeks of meal prep, you will all become more in tune with one another. The process of meal prepping gives everyone an important role. At the end of the week, you are all going to feel very accomplished and happy with the meals that you all took part in making.
Keep a grocery list on your fridge at all times. Allow each family member to add things to the list in order to ensure that everyone is satisfied. The list can be organized in a similar fashion to the sample list above. By separating the foods into categories, this will give you the most accurate idea of how much money you will need to spend and how much food you are actually buying. A lot of people tend to overcompensate in case they are forgetting something, but you will find that this will happen less as you really stick to your list. Your grocery list is your key to completing an organized shopping trip, so if you have one, your time at the grocery store is going to be well spent.