If you’re anything like I used to be, the concept of creating a simply healthy meal plan is a little bit fuzzy. And when you start to throw meal prep and a weekly food planner in there, it gets even crazier.
So… you’re supposed to cook food for a whole week all at once – how does that work? Where are you supposed to put it all? How much do you make? Do you just make a sh*t ton of one thing and eat that every meal? Or make five different dishes in one go?
YIKES! It’s so easy to let meal prepping get way too complicated, and I can tell you from personal experience that once things get complicated, we avoid them. And planning meals and doing weekly meal prep can be so helpful when you find a good system, so I wanted to give you some meal planning help.
Over the past several years, I’ve worked through some serious stress and anxiety around planning meals and trying to stick to healthy eating guidelines. I have burned a lot of quinoa and thrown away plenty of slimy kale in my journey to finding a system that works. Does anyone else think slimy greens are the worst? Another topic for another time, but man do I hate when my kale gets soggy.
In my book, the first step to meal prepping is a tiny mindset shift: instead of calling it meal prep, think of this as batch cooking. You’re not prepping every single meal for an entire week, you’re just prepping the basic ingredients in batches to actually cook or assemble your meals later in the week. You with me thus far?
Okay, so now we know that we’re batch cooking, and are (hopefully) less overwhelmed now that we’re not stuck on the idea of cooking for 15 different meals in one afternoon.
I break my meal prep/batch cooking routine into five steps:
Planning + Listing
In this phase I’ll go through my cookbooks or think back on favorite recipes. I’ll think about what produce is in season, or anything I’ve been craving and start to list recipe ideas for the week. I usually plan to have 2-4 lunch and dinner options and 1-2 breakfast options. Usually my breakfasts are smoothies, but if I’m feeling like batch cooking some protein waffles or grabbing yogurt to make parfaits, I’ll add those to the list.
Once I’ve picked all of my meals and jotted them down on our weekly food planner, I look through the plan and make my grocery list. I sometimes have to cross reference with our fridge and pantry to see what we’ve got stocked, then make notes to get the rest. I always keep organic frozen fruit and veggies on hand – because they’re easy to cook and keep forever – and the majority of my list is either bulk items like grains and beans that we need to stock up on and produce.
Off to the grocery store we go! The husband and I will sometimes comb through the weekly ads of our local grocery stores to see who has deals on what we’re making – it makes it into kind of a game. Once we get there it’s easy peasy to get everything we need with our list, and allows us to be mindful of any impulse buys. We definitely still indulge, but having a list lets us make intentional, informed decisions about what we add to our cart.
Once you get home, you should immediately create some order in your kitchen by placing your groceries in different spots.
Have a bunch of produce you’re going to chop for snacks and stir-frys? Pile those up in a corner by the cutting board. Grabbed a few ingredients to whip up a new sauce or salad dressing? Yup, those go together too. Planning to cook off a bunch of protein? If it’s something that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, pull out a pan or pot and put the protein next to the stove.
This organization gives you a visual road map of the tasks you’re going to knock out during your batch cooking, and is a sure fire way to make sure you don’t forget anything.
Chopping + Baking + Prepping + Cooking
Okay, this may look like it’s four steps in one, but it’s really not! This is just the ‘doing’ phase of our batch cooking.
This is where the magic of batch cooking comes in: remember, you do NOT have to make 5-10 different meals right now.
On Sundays when we batch cook, I’ll usually chop 3-4 c of veggies into strips to have with guacamole or hummus for snacks, sauté 4c of veggies for salad toppings, cook 4-5 c of grains (brown rice, quinoa), make 3-4 c beans (black beans, chickpeas, great white northern beans…) and 8 oz seasoned tempeh to use as protein throughout the week. Sometimes I’ll make a veggie casserole or some stuffed peppers that I can easily reheat for lunch and dinner through the week, and I’ll make a few mason jar parfaits or protein waffles if I know I have earlier mornings in the next week.
Then we’ll make 2-3 sauces to use during the week, based on the recipes we’re making. If we’re planning an Indian dish we’ll make a curry sauce to add to sautéed veggies and beans, or maybe a ginger sauce to go over a stir fry. Tahini dressing is great over quinoa and broccoli, too.
Once you’ve done that, you suddenly see that you have the basic ingredients for so many meals, and you can now just throw them together in 10 minutes or less.
Just like the zombie apocalypse, we want to contain our batch cooked goodness when we’re done, so that everything will stay fresh and delicious throughout the week. I use glass tupperware and mason jars for everything, and would recommend avoiding plastic containers. If nothing else, they hold onto smells + flavors and will contaminate your food. Plus, plastic has been linked to hormone disruption and possibly cancer, so glass is a safer bet.
I love Pyrex containers and Ball mason jars – but anything glass will do! Stop by Marshalls or TJ Maxx for a good selection at a discounted price, if you need to stock up.
Put each of your ingredients in a separate container and store them in your fridge. If you like, you can make double batches of sauces and freeze half, so you can make sauces only twice a month. Isn’t that great?
Organize ingredients in your fridge however you like – I prefer arranging either by whole meal (i.e. my grains, protein, veggies and sauce for a stir fry would all be on the top shelf) or by ingredient type (i.e. all proteins together, produce together, etc.).
If you’re saying to yourself, ‘yeah, okay Chelsea… but those five steps sound like a ton of time and work! So much for not being overwhelmed,’ I totally get it. It does sound like a lot, and it will take you longer when you first start out. But these days, it takes me less than 30 minutes to make a plan and a list, and we’re done batch cooking in 1-2 hours. Those couple hours on Sunday save me so much time during the week, and it’s incredibly comforting to know that I have healthy, delicious food options that require little preparation waiting for me at home whenever I need them. It is definitely a process to learn to create your own simple, health meal plan, but if you follow these steps you’ll be well on your way to finding a routine that works for you.
Want more help, or to chat about your meal planning and prepping? Schedule a FREE discovery call with me, and we’ll chat about how to get you meal prepping like a pro.