Five hours, one day a week is all you need to prepare healthy, homecooked meals that will feed your family for an entire week. I’m sharing the 8 steps needed to make your meal prep and cooking easy, as well as sample menu to get you started.
I love to cook. Before I had kids, I spent hours in my kitchen, doing weekly meal prep, experimenting with different ingredients, tweaking recipes, and convincing my friends and family to try my new concoction. That was many years ago. The combination of a full-time career and kids has significantly changed how I get healthy food on the table. Today, I take one day out of the week to prepare a week’s worth of meals. That’s how I’m able to run kids to activities, work late or just chill, and still feed my family healthy food.
Having kids usually requires a change to your routine. Between work, sports, homework and other extracurricular activities, it’s understandable how fast-food and convenience items have become a way of life. For many busy families, eating healthy, home-cooked meals seems impossible. Helping them figure this out is a huge part of my work. That’s the purpose of this post. It is possible to live a healthy lifestyle on the go. I’m going to share how.
How To Meal Prep For The Entire Week
Preparation is the secret ingredient to eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle. It takes some extra effort up front, but the pay-off is huge throughout the week. It allows you time to do other things, like driving kids around town, or cheering them on at sporting events and also makes it easy for your family to eat healthy if you’re working late or traveling. Here’s how to put it into practice.
STEP #1: Create a Weekly Menu
Take some time to decide what meals you want to eat for the week. This shouldn’t take you more than 20-30 minutes to write down. Think about what activities will be happening that week, and what your work schedule will look like. Consider where the family will be during dinnertime, and who will be responsible for heating and serving those meals. If kids will be responsible for getting their own food, be sure to plan meals that they can assemble. Plan for meals that can easily be re-heated, or packed in a cooler to go.
You also want to make sure to choose a variety of different preparation techniques. That way, different meals can be cooking at the same time. Think of menu ideas that require your oven, slow-cooker, stove-top or other appliance. I explain more about this below, in step #6.
Step #2: Make A Grocery List
Consider all of the ingredients and supplies that you need to make those meals. Check your pantry, refrigerator, freezer and cabinets to see what you have, and what you will need to buy. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of cooking, and realizing you don’t have an ingredient that you need.
Once you determine what you have, make a list of everything you need to buy. That way, you won’t forget anything when you go to the store.
STEP #3: Choose A Day To Meal Prep
Once you know what you want to prepare, and what you need to buy, you’ll need to figure out a day and time to cook it. Sunday is a common day meal prep day, since it falls at the beginning of the week. But, it can be any day and time that works for your family. Some weeks might be different than others, especially if you work weekends, have kids that play weekend sports, or you travel. If the day comes and you don’t feel like cooking, don’t worry. Make something quick and find another day and time. The important thing is that you make the time to do it.
STEP #4: Grocery Shopping
Once you determine what day you will cook, you’ll need to plan a time to grocery shop. It could be that morning, or maybe you choose to do your shopping the day before. If you have someone else shop for you, make sure you have a detailed list so that that person buys the right items. Another option is to shop online and have your groceries delivered or packed and ready for pick-up. Many grocery stores offer this service, which makes this step ten times easier.
If you want more tips on this this topic, check out my post: Simple Tips For Successful Grocery Shopping.
STEP #5: Find Helpers, If You Want
If possible, and if you want help, ask others to help with the meal prep. It can be a great way to speed-up the process. Recruit your spouse or partner, or get the kids involved to help you clean, sort, chop and prepare the foods. It’s a great way to teach kids about healthy food, and teach them basic cooking skills. As they learn, they become more helpful, and the degree to which they participate becomes greater. Eventually, they will be able to do some of the cooking for you.
I mention this step, but understand that not everyone wants help in the kitchen. An assistant can be helpful, but if you’re having to explain and teach techniques while cooking, it can also slow down your productivity. It might even cause frustration. I suggest involving the kids on a day that you have more time and patience, and doing it yourself on days that you don’t.
STEP #6: Multi-task To Speed The Process
The only way to cook a week’s worth of meals in five hours is to use a variety of appliances and preparation techniques. During this five hour period, you should have many of your appliances in use, as possible. Have a side-dish heating on the stove top, while something else is baking in the oven. Use your slow cooker, microwave, grill, toaster oven, and more, so that multiple items can cook at the same time.
While items are cooking, clean, cut and prepare the cold items. Clean and cut fruit for the week, and chop vegetables that will be used in your recipes. You can also prepare ingredients to use for salads, or as snacks throughout the week.
STEP #7: Properly Store Items For The Week
Since you’re preparing food for the week, you will need to cool them after cooking, and store them properly. The best storage container will depend on how you plan to use the food.
If your food prep includes meals you plan to take to work, I suggest portioning those out right from the get-go. Doing so makes it much easier to grab and go meals on busy mornings. There are a wide-variety of both plastic and glass containers to store your food. You can even purchase disposable containers, though I don’t recommend them. Personally, I prefer glass containers with lids that produce an air-tight seal. They are great, especially if you plan to transport soups or other meals with liquids. I use glass two-container food storage containers to pack my work meals, and I also use plastic leak proof containers. All hot food should be put into a shallow container, so that it cools faster, and stored in the refrigerator.
STEP #8: The Clean-Up
The worst part of cooking is having to clean-up. Unfortunately, this step can’t be skipped. To make the clean-up as simple as possible, I highly suggest cleaning as you go. Use down-time, between meal prep, to clean dishes and wipe your countertops. That way, you don’t have a huge mess to deal with when you finish cooking.
Or, since you did all of the cooking, try to recruit someone else to cleanup!
Sample Meal Plan: One-Week Of Meals, Made In Five Hours
To show you how easy this can be, I’m sharing a week’s worth of meals that I prepped and cooked in five hours. It shows how I used a variety of appliances and supplies all at once, to put this into practice.
Three out of my four stove top burners going at once to prepare my meals. I had quinoa boiling on one, rice cooking on another and mushrooms, peppers and onions sautéing on my third burner. The quinoa and rice were both side prepared as side dishes. Some of the sautéed onion, peppers and mushrooms were added to the quinoa, and the rest was used to make vegetarian omelets for breakfast.
In the oven, I baked salmon fillets and a roast. The roast was combined with seasoning sauce, and I added a bag of baby carrots to the roaster pan. I wrapped 8 sweet potatoes and 8 white potatoes in foil, and had them baking in the oven, too.
If you plan to use your oven to make multiple dishes, it’s important to choose items that all cook at the same, or similar temperature. That way, you don’t have to worry about overcooking anything.
I used the microwave to make a variety of steamed vegetables. I made mixed vegetables, carrots, broccoli and corn-on-the-cob.
I fired up the grill to make grilled chicken breasts and turkey burgers. I marinated some of the chicken with BBQ sauce, and left some of them plain. The BBQ chicken was served with rice and corn on the cob, and I used the plain grilled chicken to make chicken salads.
Another night we had turkey burgers with broccoli.
A slow cooker is the easiest way to make a meal, but food takes the longest to cook in this way. I suggest getting this meal started first. That way, it’s finished by the time you make everything else. I combined boneless, skinless chicken breasts with canned tomatoes, green peppers and onions for this meal. I served it with the quinoa I made on the stovetop.
Cuisinart (Food Processor)
Of all of the appliances in my kitchen, my Cuisinart food processor gets used the most. My son eats a 100% pureed diet, so I use it to puree all of his food. I pureed a portion of each food that I cooked, so that his meal was ready-to-eat, too.
In addition to his food, I used my food processor to grind almonds. I added those to the quinoa and vegetables, to make a quinoa pilaf.
While all of that was cooking, I cleaned, cut and diced other ingredients and foods. I had three different color cutting board sitting out on my kitchen counter – one to chop vegetables, another to cut up fresh fruit, and a third to trim the fat from the meats.
I cut watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, blueberries and grapes. These fruits were prepped, then stored in the refrigerator. They were eaten with meals, or as snacks during the week.
Having a vegetable tray in my refrigerator, at all times, is one of my weekly priorities. That way, the kids see a healthy grab-and-go snack as soon as they open the refrigerator. I cleaned and cut green peppers, broccoli, carrots and a cucumber, then combined them on a tray with cherry tomatoes.
The last items I had to chop was fresh oregano. I added it to the chicken dish, once it finished cooking in the slow cooker.
There you have it – meal prep that includes a week’s worth of meals, all prepared in about five hours. It’s some work up-front, but doing this means no cooking and minimal clean-up during the week.
Now it’s your turn. Write-down 5-10 of your family’s favorite meals, and decide which ones you’ll make for the week. If you need some ideas, check out my blog. It’s filled with simple, nourishing meals for those living on the go.