Does a Meal Prep System Save Time?
A meal prep system can save you time, save you money, and help you eat healthier. Instead of worrying about it taking a lot of time over the weekend, start to view meal prep as a way to give yourself time back during the week. A good meal prep system is one of the best routines for moms!
I am a firm believer in meal planning and meal prep.
I believe in anything that saves you time, money and helps you stay healthy and meal planning… well it’s the whole trifecta.
I know that a lot of people think meal planning and prep, since it can take time upfront, isn’t as simple as it actually is. Though meal planning and prep is an upfront time investment, the hours it saves during the week are crucial. As a busy mom, I know the less time I have to take to do anything and the less decisions I need to make in the moment, the better.
It’s taken me a few years to actually get a system that works for me, but I finally have came up with easy steps that, when I follow each week, set me up for success.
I started to meal prep because I wanted to lose weight. I was following an at home workout program, the 21 day fix and committed to planning and preparing all of my meals in advance so that my temptations were limited. Thanks to the preparation I took during this time, I was able to lose 70 pounds and get a great system for my family’s meals.
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Top Tips to Create a Meal Prep System
So you’re probably wondering… how do I get started with meal prepping without it taking 8 hours of my Sunday?
I stretch out my meal plan and prepping over the weekend so as not to get overwhelmed. Each week I follow the same system and complete the planning and preparation in chunks.
Fridays: Create Meal Plan
Saturday: Grocery Shopping
Sunday: Cooking and Preparing
If you follow these next 5 tips and the system that I’ve created, my hope for you is that you will be able to get your prep done in 2 hours and save yourself HOURS during the week!
How to Meal Plan on a Budget as a Busy Mom
My number one tip is to make sure you’ve created a meal plan for yourself. On Friday nights I sit down with a good episode of TV on Netflix and my recipe binder to create my meal plan.
I start with picking out our dinners for the week based on what we have in the recipe binder and then pick my new recipe for the week. One of my resolutions this year is one new recipe a week to mix it up, so I grab a recipe (most often from the Fixate cookbook) and put it into our weekly plan. Dinners tend to be the hardest ones to pick out and plan because they are different each night. I rotate 1-2 breakfasts and lunches which keeps it simple for me.
I’m pretty terrible when it comes to thinking of ideas for meals. I struggle to come up with ideas and get overwhelmed on Pinterest. This past month I started using Theme Nights to create a monthly meal plan and it’s been great! I highly suggest grabbing your copy of it to make your planning a snap! Elisa creates great template ideas and really takes the overwhelm out of it! Grab your copy here!
To Get More Tips from Elisa, check out a Facebook Live Interview we did talking all things meal planning and meal prep!
Simple Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping on a Budget
On Saturdays I go shopping for anything I need to make my meals. While I am meal planning I jot down what ingredients I need for the week and then cross check my pantry inventory so I know what I need to get.
I recommend not trying to make too many meals each week. Keep things simple because you will need less ingredients and it will save you time and money. When you try to make too many dishes each week you’ll be spending WAY too much time cooking and running around getting specialty ingredients.
Find your family’s top meals to mix it up and have a rotation of a few things they like for breakfast and lunch. This way you keep your basics on hand at home and each week, only need to get a few things.
This also saves you time because, if you are making similar meals each week, you pretty much know what to get at the store. When I run to BJ’s each week to get my groceries (their produce is a great deal!) I know that I could literally shop blindfolded since I get many of the same ingredients.
Have a Family Meal Prep System
Since I do the meal prep for the whole family and all of the meals, I know that I need help to make sure it gets done. There is nothing that makes me feel more accomplished than a full fridge of food each Sunday!
Ask your kids and spouse for help each week to get it done. Some weeks I get up early to get it done before church (if we have afternoon or evening plans) but most often, it happens after church while everyone is sitting around relaxing. I tell my husband I need 2 hours where he is in charge of the kiddos so I can be in the kitchen.
So often as women, we try to do everything and not ask for help and then get frustrated or angry when we don’t get the help we actually didn’t ask for. Because y’all can I tell you….. Our husbands are not mind readers! We have to be explicit about our needs and we can’t get upset if they aren’t met if we weren’t clear. (I know, I know, we just want them to ‘know’ but it doesn’t work that way!)
You could get your meal prep done in stages but trust me when I say how much easier it is if you can get that straight 2 hour time chunked for you. So ask for help and put on that apron!
Create a Structured Meal Prep System
This #1 way I am able to get my meal prep done in 2 hours or less is because I have a system I follow each week. I’ve created a checklist for you if you want to follow a similar system but, you can always adapt it to hit your own needs. This checklist includes the order that I make everything in and then I mix up my meals based on what’s prepped.
I prepare foods for breakfast, lunch, snacks and sides and most days, dinner is cooked in the moment. The only time it isn’t is when I am using a freezer meal or the crock pot and make the bag of food in advance.
My suggestions to make this streamlined are;
- Start with anything that has to cook in the oven for a longer time (for me I roast sweet and regular potatoes as sides for our meals so I can just reheat them when needed since they take about 1 hour)
- Season up and cook any meat on your stove or in the oven (ours is normally baked chicken breast and ground turkey that we toss in salads or lettuce wraps)
- Work on any sides that have to go on the stove top. You only have 4 burners and I recommend using all four at a time. While you get these things on the stove, you can still be browning up meat and multi tasking. (these could be things like rice, quinoa, and hard boiled eggs. I might also steam up some frozen veggies so they are easy to grab for the kids lunches during the week)
- While all of the hot food is cooking, you can now prep the cold stuff. If you start with the cold stuff, it’ll take twice as long while the hot stuff cooks. Since your stuff is already in the oven and on the stove, you can stir things up while chopping veggies for your salads or other meals.
- Each week I make a simple egg and veggie frittata or egg cup so after the veggies are chopped, I whip it up and toss it in the oven with the potatoes. I tried making omelets in the morning fresh but honestly, I really couldn’t spare the 10 minutes while the littles were running around. Frittatas heat up super easily and taste yummy!
- Take those chopped veggies and prep up some salads so you can grab and go during the week
- Wash and cut up any fruit you need for the week.
- Assemble meals in advance in tupperware or bento boxes. These are my fav bento boxes and you can check out more of the tools that make meal prep easier here.
Fill your fridge with meal prepping
If you’ve just spent this time multi tasking (carefully I hope!) in the kitchen than your counters are probably filled with food, your sink piled high with dishes, and your kitchen smelling great.
The last item in getting this done is to prepare and assemble any meals you can in advance. The easiest way that I have found to take care of myself and have meals ready (many of them I eat one handed while nursing the baby) is to have them all packaged out.
I always end my meal prep with a full fridge. I take some time to clean out anything old and we typically do a ‘empty the fridge’ Sunday for lunch and dinner so we can start fresh. Organizing your fridge will also help your kids get their food more independently as well.
My two year old know exactly which section the fruit is in and, if the fridge is open, knows where to go to grab what she needs. The more you get into the habit of keeping an organized fridge, than the easier your kids decisions will be too when it comes to food.
So take the time, organize and assemble, load the dishwasher (probably more than once unfortunately) and take a deep breathe. You just kicked booty and prepared for the week, saving yourself a ton of time in the moment!
Meal planning and preparation is most definitely a skill that gets better with time. When I started I would have loved to be as efficient in the kitchen as I am now. Give yourself some grace and know that you’ll get quicker and develop a system that works for you.
My hope for you is that you come up with a system that works for you and your family, one that saves you TIME, wastes less food, and keeps you on your grocery budget. And while you are doing your prep, take some extra time for you, put on a positive podcast and get in a good mood!
I’d love to know how your meal planning goes so make sure to comment below with what you typically meal plan and, drop your email if you want the exact step-by-step checklist I use to meal prep fast!
More Meal Prep and Planning Resources
Meal Prep Cookbooks and Tools