Meal prep. Two words that towered in front of me like the Great Wall of China. I’m a mom. I have two kids less than two years apart and work full time. How the heck does anyone expect me to take the time to make my meals for the week and have them pre-packaged in fancy little containers?!?! At first I joined a meal prep service. The food was delicious, and the convenience was amazing — then came the daycare bill. Holy cow. Either I eat fancy, or my kids get cared for. Kids win.
Taking stock and looking at my fancy meal preps, I thought, “I can do that.” I just have to figure out how to do it in the smallest amount of time possible, using the least amount of money.
Guys — I think we’ve got this.
Get on a Budget . . . and on a Schedule
First things first: budget. Buy things in bulk – especially when it comes to the most expensive part of your meals, the meat. I always get ground turkey and chicken breast. If you plan on doing meals for just lunches or even lunch and dinner, you can get away with not having to buy meat more than twice a month. Just freeze the extra for your next crop of meals.
The meat that I purchase comes in bulk, but is portioned into smaller packages, so it is more convenient, and easier to just grab what you need and freeze the rest. This, as opposed to portioning out a huge hunk of meat into servings, then sectioning it off, bagging and freezing. We’re talking about using the LEAST amount of time necessary, right?!
When I was using the meal prep service, I would receive my meals for the whole week every Sunday. So that is the way I have set up my meal prepping agenda.
Every Sunday I make enough food for the entire week. I also make food for my husband, who doesn’t enjoy eating the same food multiple days in a row. For him, I plan a different dish for every day of the week. I’m big on planners, and one of my former students was kind enough to gift me this one for Christmas.
Writing it all down also helps me have a “road map” for how I cook each item, and how to pair side dishes with each entree. This is also helpful when putting the cooked food into its various containers, so that you can keep track of what meals go with what side dishes.
Get in the Kitchen
First things first: Cook the meat. For ground turkey, I usually take a package of meat and divide it into four sections. Each section will be enough to serve as a meal. As a rule, I incorporate a lot of veggies, either canned or fresh, with the ground meat. Not only do your vegetables come out infused with the spices and flavor of the meat, but your portion of meat (really meat and veggies) looks a lot larger. As I’ve learned from the Food Network, you always eat with your eyes first.
Some of my favorite ways to cook ground turkey are to form mini meatloaves that are stuffed with vegetables and cheese, or to cook it on the stovetop (again, with veggies – mushrooms and slivered onions, a can of Rotel, fresh broccoli, or even a can of fire roasted tomatoes with garlic!)
The key is to incorporate more flavor and “bulk” without adding things that will bump up the calories or fat very much. By making your own “lightened up” versions of your favorite food, you take control of your health.
When preparing chicken, I also take the “eat with your eyes first” approach.
The Kirkland brand chicken that I buy in bulk comes with 8 smaller packs consisting of two chicken breasts each. One pack will yield four meals. How, you may ask? Well, it’s all in how you cut your chicken.
If you cut a single chicken in half lengthwise it looks scrawny, like it’s nothing but a single long chicken strip. But, if you butterfly the chicken breast, you get the visual illusion of a larger cut of meat without the thickness. This also allows you to cook it in less time.
Now all you need to do is cover a sheet pan with foil (easy clean-up), and place the chicken breast halves on the pan with whatever seasonings you choose! They bake up perfectly at 375 degrees for only 18 minutes. Play around with flavors, think of things you like, and try to adapt it to your new cooking style!
- Love enchiladas suizas, but don’t want all of the tortillas?
- Try seasoning your chicken with garlic salt, baking, then pouring tomatillo salsa over it and adding part skim shredded mozzarella.
- Spicy chicken fajitas your thing?
- Try sprinkling fajita seasoning or chupacabra seasoning on both sides of your chicken breasts.
- Chicken cordon bleu got you?
- Season the chicken with garlic salt, then 3 minutes before they are done cooking pop open the oven, layer on a slice of ham, and a slice of mozzarella, finish cooking them, then add a swirl of dijon mustard!
Sauces and spices are your friends!! Mix it up! If necessity is the mother of invention, you, my friend, are the mother of deliciousness!
Once you have the meat cooked (only 18 minutes!!) you need some side dishes. I love to roast veggies with different sauces and spice mixes, and if you have multiple things you want to do on one pan make foil “barriers” to separate the different items.
Another idea for sides is to find your favorite frozen vegetable “swaps” for foods that you eat often. These swaps only take about 5 to 7 minutes in the microwave and then you’re done!
For example, my mother-in-law was having a really hard time controlling her diabetes, but she loved rice, so I meal prepped for her, and gave her cauliflower rice. She LOVED it!! (And, she had no idea she not eating real rice!) Same thing can be said for cauliflower mashed potatoes and cauliflower tater tots! (Don’t be fooled by the tots, my kids did NOT approve, but I like them.)
Get It Ready
Once you have all of your food, it’s all about putting the meals together. Line up your dishes, and compose your marvelous meals!! The containers I found in a large bulk store as well. These were about 20 dollars, microwaveable, dishwasher safe, and PERFECT! A lot of bulk stores tend to rotate their inventory, so the containers they are not always available, but keep a look out!
If I can get it all done in less than an hour, with one screaming baby yelling, “pick me up!!!” and the other demanding endless amounts of kisses, YOU can make it happen, too!
Get ready to be the meal-prep maven, and reap the benefits, lovelies!
Happy eating, and always remember: you CAN make those meals while keeping it real!