Let me start by saying this is how I meal prep. It’s not an exact formula but it is a process and I do have some helpful tips! Next, let me clarify that by “meal prep” I mean the process of planning out your meals for the week not the actual preparation of food. I do that also, but that isn’t what this post is about. If you’re not sure why in the world anyone would plan their meals at home a week in advance you should check out my post 5 Reasons To Meal Prep.
Easiest way to start is to keep a grocery list, a menu for the week, a meal ideas list, and a price list on your fridge. The grocery list lets you add to it as you see the things you run out of (milk, eggs, butter, etc). The menu makes it easy to look at each night and pull out the food for the next night (or two days in advance) from the freezer. Some foods you can also chop or partially cook the night before when you aren’t pushed for time before dinner. The meal ideas lets you write down anything you get a craving for (then you can add them the next week or the next time the ingredients are on sale). The last list is the price list and it is a recent addition. On my price list I add the things we buy but don’t necessarily buy often (paper towels, toilet paper, cheese), the prices I paid for them, and the date when I bought them. That way I know when a sale comes out if that is a REALLY good sale and I need to go stock up or if it’s just the mind trick of “ooh look, it’s on sale”.
Plan the menu mid-week after you get the new grocery ads. If chicken is on sale, look at your meal ideas list and eat more chicken recipes. If ribs are on sale eat more ribs. By using the meats and produce on sale that week you will be forced to add variety to your diet and end up saving a lot on groceries instead of just buying what “sounded good” at the moment. Just as an example I know chicken breasts can range from $0.97/lb to $6.99/lb which means buying them on a sale week has a big impact on the bottom line. This partners well with the price list. If you know that the items on sale this week are a great price you can buy a few extra and use them another time. We personally have a FoodSaver and an upright freezer that we use for meats, cheese, bread, and pretty much anything else you can think of including some homemade freezer meals. The best thing to remember if you get a freezer is to rotate your food. Freezing doesn’t make it last indefinitely. Sometimes our menus end up more focused on what needs to be rotated out of the freezer rather than what is on sale that week. This can also be true for pantry goods, leftovers, or other produce you need to use. It makes you commit to using them instead of brushing them aside until it’s too late and something has spoiled.
Try cooking for a few hours on the weekend to prep the meals by cutting vegetables, browning meats, or starting marinades. Sometimes I will just make multiple batches of lasagna or chili and freeze them so that we have pre-made meals for nights I know we won’t have time to cook. If you have limited freezer space you can buy a few reusable oven-safe containers and make the 5 meals for the week on Saturday or Sunday then freeze those. By making multiple meals or recipes at one time you can re-use the cutting board instead of pulling it out daily, or the measuring cups, mixing bowls, etc. Who doesn’t love having fewer dishes to wash?
Change your portions so that you have less food left over. If you know you regularly toss half of the meal away try to half the recipe or try freezing half of the recipe after you cook. Face it, we all get burnt out eating spaghetti 4 nights in a row so why torture yourself? Spaghetti sauce freezes incredibly well and then all you have to do is boil fresh pasta. You’d be shocked that most meals have some sort of stopping point either in the preparation or after being cooked where they can freeze really well to make an entirely separate meal for later.