Today I was told that our kitchen renovation should be completed next week! I know, I know... this is the type of information that one must take with a grain of salt in order to avoid crushing disappointment, BUT I just can't help dreaming of moving my daily cooking from the basement back upstairs where there are actually windows!!! It's been a long 2 months and just the thought of completion has got me dreaming of cooking All. The. Things.
One of the most common questions I receive is how I find the time to cook whole-food meals consistently. Truth be told, I have tried lots of different things but for the past 6 months or so I have settled on a method I refer to as "semi-prepping" that really works for our family. Meal Prep, it's a big topic to cover, but Spring weather and the promise of a bright functioning kitchen have got me feeling like I can tackle the world,. So today... I'm sharing My Weekly Meal Prep Routine.
Let's jump in.
(DAY 1): Friday
STEP 1: RECIPE SELECTION:
This is the day that I consider "the start" of my meal planning week and it's the day that takes the most time other than the actual "PREP DAY."
I use a program called "PLAN TO EAT" to store my recipes. I like it because I have a bookmarklet at the top of my computer screen and as I'm browsing the internet (I look at A LOT of recipes) I can just click that button if I see a recipe I would like to try. It then imports it into my "recipe box." At the current moment my recipe box has 1,274 recipes, lol. There is a nominal cost associated with it, I am thinking around $5.00/month, but for me it is worth having all things that I aspire to cook in one place.
I do all of my meal planning on the computer, so it's nice to have the recipes in digital form. If there is a recipe in a cookbook that I want to try, I actually enter it manually into Plan to Eat. I select one main meal for each night and 1 side. Every meal is served with a fruit option as well.
My Recipe Selection Rules
- Choose simple recipes, complicated cooking is saved for the weekend.
- Serve a variety of proteins ( I try not to repeat more than twice).
- Pay attention to how main course and side are cooked. Both needing different temps in the same oven is a problem.
- Select 2 Freezer Friendly options. Food you prep early in the week won't stay fresh until Thursday/Friday.
Here is a sample of a weekly meal plan (yes I do it on Simply Sissom Stationary cause it's pretty.. NO JUDGING). The red writing shows the thought process for each selection. The last 2 freezable meals are always reserved for Thursday/Friday.
STEP 2: DIVIDE IT UP
For me, assembling all 5 recipes at once is exhausting. It takes hours. I choose to "semi-prep" instead. Once I have selected my recipes, I print each one out. I then use a highlighter to go through and determine what steps will be done on prep day, and what steps I will do the night that I am actually preparing dinner. I DO NOT prep sides, only main dishes. The result is usually a 90 minute prep session on the weekend and 5 -15 minutes hands on prep per night.
Here's an example of how I "divide up" a recipe. The yellow highlighter show what ingredients I will need on exactly what I will be doing.
(DAY 2): SATURDAY
Step 1: GROCERY SHOP
(HELPFUL HINT: Order your groceries online and pick them up at the store.. it may cost a little extra, but it's So. Worth. It. My store charges $5.00, I think I save that much just by staying away from impulse buys!)
Assembling a shopping list can sound daunting, but really if you just sit down and knock it out, it doesn't take much time. As I mentioned, I like to meal plan on my computer, if you are more comfortable with pen and paper, go for it! I break the list down into categories according to where items are located in the store (even though I order my groceries). It doesn't take any extra time and it makes it easier to make sure that nothing has been duplicated or forgotten. Just grab your stack of recipes and start going through each ingredient list.
Here's an example of how I categorize my grocery list. The template is saved on my computer so I just cut and paste each week.
(DAY 3): SUNDAY
Sunday is my BIG prep day! I'm going to get REALLY specific with how I do things, it sounds like a lot, but when you are trying to prep multiple meals quickly being organized is really important.
Step 1: Cook Everything.
Doing things in batches is a huge time saver. For this reason, I do all my cooking first. Not all recipes require doing anything on the stove for prep day. Most commonly I brown beef or sausage that will be going into a casserole or par-boil potatoes to save time later in the week.
Step 2: Gather Ingredients and Kitchen Essentials.
While the meat is cooking I pull out ALL of the ingredients and kitchen essentials (mixing bowls, storage containers, etc.) that I will need. I will organize them further later, but it's nice to have everything in one spot when you are starting out. Running back and forth between the pantry and you cooking space wastes time.
Step 3: Chop.
Again, batching saves time. I chop ALL veggies for all meals that are being prepared at once. I also juice lemons, grate cheese, cube bread, etc. I find it helpful to make a little chop list of the combined recipes, but you could also just flip through.
Step 4: Parchment.
My #1 time saver on prep day. Don't skip this one. For each of my 5 recipes, I lay out a large sheet of parchment paper. I then use a sharpie to write the recipe name and the ingredients needed for prepping (you could also print a copy of each recipe and just cut out the ingredient list, but make sure not to include un-highlighted items).
I then head over to my pile of ingredients and sort everything onto it's correct piece of parchment paper. If an ingredient needs to be used twice, I stick it at what I call "the chef's station" by the cutting board. This area usually includes things likes olive oil, salt, pepper, vinegars and spices. Chopped veggies get placed on their correct parchment paper as well.
Step 5: Assemble.
You have done So. Much. Work. organizing you aren't going to believe how fast these dishes assemble. Use your recipe to guide you and dump, mix, etc. It usually takes me about 5 minutes per recipe from this point! It's amazing.
My final step is wrapping up all the food and storing it where it needs to go. I often tape the recipe to the top of the assembled dish so the cooking instructions are readily available.
(DAY 4 - 7): MONDAY- THURSDAY
Step 1: Finalize it!
For the next 5 night's I'm able to coast through getting dinner on the table. Throw a side together and finish up the dish that I have prepped for that evening. Sometimes that is as easy as chopping up a salad and popping a casserole in the oven and other times it's a bit more involved. When I make my meal plans I keep what we have going on each evening in the back of my mind and plan the amount of prep needed accordingly.
- Yes, the meal plans take quite a bit of work to prepare, BUT they are reusable. Don't throw them away! I like to have 3-4 per season and I just repeat them. If I'm cooking dinner 5 nights per week I feel like my family can deal with a repeated menu 1x per month.