Summer’s lazy days are over, school has started and the hectic pace of day-to-day life has returned. That means our calendars once again become the rulers of our world. After a few months of sun and fun, seeing fall days packed with work, school, sports or other extracurricular activities can feel overwhelming.
After all, you still have all the normal chores of life to get done — and you and any family members you cook for will still get hungry on a regular basis.
With meal planning and prep you can get delicious meals on the table or in the lunchbox with less stress. (Those other chores in life are up to you to schedule and figure out.) See recipes here.
The über-organized set has been practicing this since the dawn of time. The idea, at its core, is to spend some time during the weekend (or whatever day makes sense for your schedule) planning, shopping and preparing, either partly or entirely, for upcoming meals to enjoy during the busy work/school week ahead.
Is it worth it? Giving up precious free time on the weekend might seem like a big ask. Why would I want to forgo my Sunday nap to spend more time in the kitchen? The answer is simple: because it will save you time and money and help you eat better/healthier for the rest of the week.
Whether you have specific dietary or budgetary goals you’re trying to meet, or simply want to make sure you and your family have the opportunity to sit down together over a hot meal on hectic nights, meal planning and prepping can help.
When you’re driving home from work and have no idea what you’re doing for dinner, it’s easy to resign yourself to the prospect of a drive-through window. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a good burger or pizza once in a while, but it can happen more often than you’d like when the refrigerator at home is empty and you’re too tired to think about going to the store and spending an hour getting something on the table.
Imagine, if you will, a world where your fridge was stocked with a family-pleasing, satisfying soup base, like Creamy Sausage, Tortellini, Spinach and Basil Soup. All you need to do is heat it up with some broth and toss in a few fresh ingredients, such as refrigerated tortellini, baby spinach and basil.
All the time-consuming tasks involved in making the soup, chopping all the vegetables and cooking them with the sausage have been done. By the time you get the table set and ring the dinner bell, the soup is ready to serve.
Meal planning and prep makes sense for others beyond a big family. It can be a useful solution for households with one or two people, as well, as you don’t have to worry about scaling back a recipe that serves four if it’s going to feed you for multiple lunches, dinners or both.
Plan for your week
The key to success starts with realistic expectations and a solid meal plan for the week. Don’t worry about planning for every meal Monday thru Friday. That could feel overwhelming for anyone, but more so if you’re new to meal planning and prep.
Start by looking at your calendar. If you know you’re going to be time-crunched on Tuesday and Thursday, only focus on dinner for those two nights. If you know you’ll have to get out of the house early all week, prepping and packing lunches in advance might mean you can hit the snooze button one more time before you have to rise and shine.
Choosing the right recipes for your meal plan can also be important. The tortellini soup works best for dinner, as it’s optimal when you can add those fresh elements right before serving and let it cook on the stove for a few minutes.
Maybe you’re just looking for a little flexibility with your meals during the week. Something like these Broccoli, Ham and Cheddar Quiche Muffins might be just the thing, as they provide a protein-packed addition to any meal.
Want something that’s easy for anyone in the family to assemble for themselves for those nights when everyone will be eating at different times?
Put those frozen pastry pockets back in the box. Ground Pork Al Pastor-Style Tacos With Spicy Avocado Crema can come to the rescue. Just pop a portion of the flavorful pork filling into the microwave and pile it onto a warm tortilla with the pre-prepped fresh slaw and zippy sauce.
If you’re new to meal planning and prep, it might be helpful to seek out recipes that give you lots of make-ahead information. This allows you to figure out what steps in the recipes you can prep ahead, and what needs to be done at the last minute.
Prep in advance
Once you’ve chosen your recipes and made a trip to the grocery store, it’s time to get into the kitchen.
How long will you need to spend on the prep? That depends on your week and the recipes you’ve chosen, but in my experience, you can get a lot done in one to two hours.
If the week isn’t too crazy, you might only need to chop up some fruit and vegetables, to give you a kick-start when mealtime comes around.
For busier weeks, you may want to prepare as much of the recipe as possible, including cooking most or all of it, making your weeknight dinners a breeze.
Knowing you have a week of nutritious breakfasts, tasty lunches and relaxing dinners to look forward to can bring you peace of mind, a much more relaxing workweek, and it may even give you enough extra time to tackle that pile of laundry.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.