Raise your hands if you are ready to say “sayonara summer” and head back to school. You guys! Will. It. EVER. End?! Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad we got to spend all the time. We laughed. We cried. And we cried. And they fought. We laughed a little more. And then we all settled into the weird place that is the last few weeks of summer. So here we are, checking off supplies on the lists, visiting the dentist, adjusting bedtimes, sprucing up the unkept, sun-bleached hair, and preparing ourselves for the year ahead.
One such planning activity that has been keeping me busy this past week has been meal planning! Let’s face it. No matter how ready we are to get back into the swing of things, regular routines bring about challenges of their own. Planning and shopping for, as well as preparing meals can often feel overwhelming – even for those of us who enjoy time in the kitchen. Heck, I am a professional meal planner, and also I find it to be a drag when faced with meals times in our home. I have compiled a short list of my top meal prep hacks to help make wholesome meals less stressful.
1. Work smarter not harder.
If you were to conduct a Google search of meal prep, you’d likely come up with page after page of folks preparing one meal and dividing it into five different containers and eating them throughout the week. The thing is, though, A. I don’t want to eat a taco rice bowl every day of the week, and, B. spending hours in my kitchen on Sunday (a standard off day for our family) does not save me time, and makes me grumpy.
Instead, I like to think of my meal prep like meal strategy. Stick with me; it’ll all make sense in a moment. For example, let’s say it’s Sunday, and I make us a whole roast chicken, veggies, and rice for dinner. I will make more than is needed to yield for leftovers to be used for meals throughout the week. Instead of one pan of sauteed veggies, I’ll do two, and I similarly I can double the rice. It creates no more dishes and might take 5-10 extra minutes, but the return is high. From the leftovers of this ONE Sunday meal we will be able to create meals easily, like following, throughout the week as it suits our schedule:
A Sample Day might look like this:
-Breakfast -Veggie Egg scramble or breakfast burritos using Sunday veggies (less than 10 minutes)
-Lunch – Roast Chicken Sandwiches (less than 5 minutes)
-Dinner – Take -out Style Fried Rice – the leftover rice mixed with pre-shredded cole slaw and a protein is perfect for this fast and wholesome crowd-pleaser (an actual 30-minute meal)
The great thing about this approach to meal prep is it saves you real time. Plus the options are endless and easily adaptable to individual tastes. More so, not everyone has to eat the same lunch every day. In the example above, the kids could have roast chicken sandwiches and the adults possibly roast chicken salad jars. BOOM. Everyone is happy. The key is to think “ingredient” prep vs. “meal” prep, and think big picture.
2. Dust off the slow cooker.
Or embrace the slow cook option on your Instant Pot. I admit I fell out of love with my slow cooker over the years. As a family, we started eating more meatless meals, and I found the slow cooker recipes to be more meat friendly, and I, too, became all about pressure cooking. However, with the increasing popularity of plant-based diets, I am finding as many excellent recipes for our meatless nights as I am for our carnivorous ones. Pinterest is your friend on this front. Look for pins that have been “tried” by folks or recipes that have favorable ratings and comments.
AND. Don’t just think of the slow cooker for dinner. It’s a breakfast all star, too! I’ve got nothing but rose-colored glasses for my slow cooker these days, sometimes all you need is a little distance to see how great something indeed is.
3. Upcycle leftovers
Of course, this is a play on #1, but we’re taking it a step further. When I refer to leftovers here, in #3, I am referring to for realz leftovers. Think the end of the week weird random odds and ends that aren’t enough to fashion into an actual meal. In my day my mom called these days YOYO, as in “you’re on your own.” Our kids aren’t quite old enough for YOYO (although the future is bright!). In our home, we will have a “_______ bar” night.
- “Bowl” Bar
- “Pasta” Bar
- “Wrap” Bar
I place all leftovers, errr fix in’s, out on the counter like a buffet with the base (pasta, rice, greens, wraps, etc.) and everyone can create their own. Poof!
Ok. Real talk, momma. I know we, as moms, have so much on our plate. So much in fact, that we end up getting bigger plates (if that is even possible) and putting more on them. And I know that it feels like we’re the ones that have to do it all. But here are two truths
1. It’s not possible to do all the things. It’s just not humanly possible.
2. You were never intended to do them alone.
So let’s talk about some ways you can share the load. If you happen to have more money than you have time, I encourage you to check out meal preparation/delivery services. Costco is even selling meal kits now! I will warn you they are not all created equal and while they do save you time concerning planning and shopping, some of do not save time when preparing the meal. You want to look for a company that offers a range of cooking times (think 25 min, 30 min, one hr, etc.) to fit your lifestyle.
Maybe you’re out there shaking your head saying, “there’s no way we can afford that!”. I hear you. Your budget might be able to afford a grocery delivery service such as Shipt or InstaCart, and even if you can’t, Walmart has a curbside pick up service now! At the very least consider having a partner or older child share the load. True story, my sisters and I ALL did the grocery shopping (with a provided list) once we were driving. Furthermore, we ALL shared dinner preparation and clean up duties once we were able (middle school and beyond).
Momma, if there are non-disabled people around you, put those boogers to work! I promise, if you can tackle the strategy part of meal prep and planning (#1) then delegating other family members to help execute is doable. In my experience, a lot of husbands particularly like the meal kits because it makes it super easy for them to plug in and help on the fly.
I will leave you with this, remember life is going to happen. Weeks will get cray, and there will be days where everyone is eating boxed mac-n-cheese and some frozen thing out of a bag. One those days, pour a glass of wine and pat yourself on the back because you just fed them. Also, celebrate, because summer will be over.