I love to cook nourishing meals for my family. When I started it wasn’t as much of the go big or go home approach that I tend to favor these days, but the more I cooked from scratch the better I felt. Feeling good is a powerful motivator when you’re talking about eating well. Yeah sure, my waste line is mostly where I’d like it to be, which is surely a result of all this home cooking, but the real motivation lies in good health and relatively (hey, I’m not perfect) balanced moods. I’ve slowly educated myself about the problems with most packaged foods (like the fact that 74% of all packaged foods contain some type of sugar) and it’s helped me understand why I feel so much better when I take the time to prepare meals from scratch. I hope these simple tips for meal planning and prep provide you with some guidance, encouragement, and direction to start on your own path of food self-discovery.
1. Make a Meal Plan Every Week
A meal plan can consist of three days worth of meals or an entire week worth of meals. I’ve been practicing this whole meal planning gig for a few years, so I’m seasoned enough to make a weekly plan that incorporates everything – breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. Not only will this help me to be more organized, but I only go to the grocery store once. Every trip to the grocery store can quickly become a time sink.
2. Cook or Prep When its Convenient
Let’s be honest, 5:00 p.m. meal prep is the worst! The kids are hungry and cranky, and I can think of a million things I’d prefer to be doing other than cooking a meal from start to finish. I do most of my cooking and prep work at times when life doesn’t feel chaotic. This often means I throw something in the oven after dinner or take a few hours on a weekend to wash, chop, and prep veggies for the week. If you don’t have a meal plan you can’t really look ahead to see what’s to come for the rest of the week and this step doesn’t work as well.
3. Buy an Electric Pressure Cooker
Can someone please tell me what I did before I owned one of these? Beets, sweet potatoes, winter squash, bone broth, soups, stews, shredded meat, dried beans, you name it. It all goes into the pressure cooker and cooks in a fraction of the time. I set it and walk away.
4. Unattended Cooking is Your Friend
One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning is to roll into the kitchen after breakfast and start a frenzy of baking. I stuff the oven with plantain breads, roasted vegetables, casseroles, whole winter squash, or any other foods for the week. I stuff it full and walk away… just like the pressure cooker.
5. Learn to Multitask
There’s much that can done while standing around in the kitchen waiting for something to cook. If you have a meal plan you can glance over at your plan and almost always find a task to fill any amount of time. Have an extra five minutes? Wash and chop cilantro. Have an extra 15 minutes? Prep burgers for tomorrow night. These small steps make a big difference when it comes to meal time.
6. Use the Delayed Start on Your Oven
Soccer practice ends at 5:30 p.m. Do you know what it’s like to come home at 5:45 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. and start cooking for ravenous children? It’s a terrible end to a great day. Well hello, delayed start! I throw dinner in the oven before we leave for practice and it’s ready to eat when we return home. I even use the delayed start when I’m at home on beautiful sunny days. I prep the food, put it in the oven when it’s convenient, and then don’t step a foot inside the house again till I know that dinner is ready.
7. Always Cook More than You’ll Eat at One Sitting
If I was cooking a new menu for every meal I’d be a prisoner in my own home. We eat a lot of leftovers and I don’t see anyway around it if you’re going to cook all of your meals from scratch. When I make chicken I cook around six to eight pounds of chicken. Whole chickens? I cook two. Hamburgers? 12 – 16 patties at a time. I don’t mess around with cooking single meals… it’s a waste of time.
8. Utilize Your Freezer
Sometimes I cook enough for a small army and my family would be totally burnt out on that dish before it was left to rot in the back of the fridge. But freezing that meal and presenting it again in a week or so is an entirely different story. I almost always cook around two to three gallons of soup/stews since these are easy to freeze. You can also freeze most cooked meats, which can serve as a quick side to a salad when you’re in a pinch.
9. Keep it Simple
I don’t cook elaborate dinners unless it’s a rare occasion. I make simple, easy, delicious food made from real ingredients that’s enjoyed by everyone at the table. We sometimes think that in order to cook amazing dinners we need copious amounts of time, but the truth is that we just need to know how to use an oven and a frying pan, and have a few good spice combos in our repertoire.
For More Simple Tips for Meal Planning and Prep…
If you enjoyed these simple tips for meal planning and prep, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter (and downloading my free ebook) or follow me on Facebook or Instagram to be one of the first notified when my COOKBOOK is published in fall 2018! I’ll be sharing all of my best meal planning and prep strategies for the grain-free, dairy-free, sugar-free family. I look forward to supporting your family more!