One of the single greatest excuses that I hear from people about why they cannot eat healthy is that they “do not have time.” The second? It’s too expensive. In order to save both time AND money, you need to strategically plan out each meal for your entire week – oh yeah, lunches too. Even though this sounds extremely taxing and overwhelming, I have put it to the test myself for several months now. I have found that it not only makes being a working mom umpteen times easier and saves money on our grocery bills, but it also gives us NO EXCUSES when it comes to eating healthy. Follow this list in order to help yourself get started with this stellar habit for both your health and pocket book.
Find a block of time – This includes making your list and menu, grocery shopping, and prepping/cooking your meals. Even though this sounds like it will be a time waster and not a time saver, trust me. Doing all of your prep in one day will keep you from having to run to the grocery store daily to “grab something” (how many of us do this??) and it will save you cooking time and clean up each day. I find that this works best for my family over the weekend on either a Saturday or Sunday, depending on what we have going on as a family. As you get experienced at the process, you will become faster and better at it. At this point, it takes me about 2 hours and my husband about an hour to grocery shop (with a toddler).
Make a detailed menu and list – When I say detailed, I am talking DETAILED. I start by first deciding how many meals I need to make for the week. This depends on our calendar as a family and mine and my husband’s work schedule. I then look for recipes in the cookbooks I have and (of course) my pins on Pinterest. Some recipes will cover my family of four for more than one day, so they account for two meals, or I will freeze half the portion for next week or month. I also decide what we are having for dinner each evening. This takes the guess work out of it for EVERYONE. How many times are you asked “what are we having for dinner tonight?”. Lastly, comb through your pantry, fridge, and freezer to ensure you both have all ingredients and are not overbuying. I categorize my list into frozen items, dairy, meats, fresh produce, shelf goods, “kid food”, and home items. My husband and daughter then go on their “date” weekly and shop for me. The organization makes it super easy for him not to miss something and ensure he has gotten all of the ingredients I need for my meal prep.
KISS, Keep it Super Simple – If you are trying to make your family Duck Confit and Soufflés every night, you are not going to follow through with your meal prep and will end up getting Chinese takeout. There is no shame in a super simple salad with grilled steak or baked chicken with potatoes and veggies. My most simple meals go over the best with my sometimes picky children and cause me the least about of stress.
Plan for meals with overlapping ingredients – This is a huge money saver and ensures that you don’t have anything going to waste at the end of the week. If you are having a Cheesy Quinoa Bake at the beginning of the week and know you will have extra shredded cheddar, plan for BBQ Chicken Salads at the end of the week topped with the leftover cheese.
Ensure you have the proper storage – There is nothing more annoying to me than making a ton of baked chicken and quinoa that I need for later in the week and having no containers left in the cabinets. Stock up on lots of large containers in order to save your cooked masterpieces. I also have sectioned containers for lunches so I can prep them all one day weekly which gives me no excuse not to eat healthy. Homegoods or Amazon are great sources for these. On another note, make sure you clear room in your fridge and your dishwasher. You are going to need room in both!
Get to prepping – Do as much as you can possibly do. I prep all proteins by trimming the fat and marinating them. Some I will even pre-cook so I have them easily accessible for lunches like baked or grilled chicken for my salads. Cut up your veggies and fruits. Prep your smoothie ingredients. Make your sauces and casseroles. Prep your crock pot meals in gallon freezer bags. Make all of your quinoa or brown rice. Honestly, you will thank me later.
Enjoy all of your hard work – Meals after you have prepped them should take little to no prep or cook time whatsoever. You can simply come home from your long day and throw your bake in the oven or grill chicken for your salad. There will also be little to no cleanup – something that also makes my husband’s life easier.