Here we are, we’re heading into the summer, and summer for a lot of us is busy. Well, life is busy, but mainly I feel the summer gets even busier because kids are out of school, the days are longer, and we’re trying to squeeze, at least I am, trying to squeeze as much outdoor activity as I possibly can in the 5 minutes of summer we get here in Boston. And one of the biggest ways that I’m able to save time is meal prepping.
What’s stopping you?
I asked this question on my Facebook page the litany of reasons why people do it and the reasons why people don’t, there were a lot of commonalities and a lot of different reasons why people don’t do it. For me, when I first started losing weight, I didn’t know anything about meal prepping, and when I started, the trainer I was working with at the time was like, “You should prep at least your lunch.” I was like, “What are you talking about?”
I remember as a kid my mom would cook meals in the beginning of the week and she would freeze them or use a crock-pot because she was a working mom, the last thing she wanted to do is come home and cook dinner after a long day. I always thought it was a time saver, but I wasn’t cooking for a family, most times I’m cooking for myself. And of course, you always throw together sometimes crappy meals, sometimes not the healthiest meals, or find any place that is willing to deliver it to you in 30 minutes or less, that’s what you’re eating.
I know that so many of you agonize over meal prep, and some of the things I heard was, “I can cook it on Saturday, the thought of eating four-day-old chicken – yuck! Or, “I cook it, and by the time I get to whatever day I’m supposed to have it, I just don’t feel like having that anymore.” Honestly, I know that meal prep takes less time than you think. Most of us spend more time planning a vacation than we do what we’re going to eat, and then we spend more time regretting the choices that we made. Anyone ever make a meal and you just regret it? Last night I was like, “Hm.” It was an okay dinner, but I traveled all weekend, I kind of quickly went to the grocery store, and I’m going to say I wouldn’t even give myself a C, it was like a D for dinner. Luckily my husband ate it, he didn’t complain about it so two snaps up and a tic-tac to you honey.
Plan it out
The first thing when it comes to meal prepping is you have to make a menu. So that means you have to go to the grocery store. And trust me, I hate the grocery store. I’m not one of those people, you know you see those couples in the grocery store and I’m like, “How did you wrangle your man to come to the grocery store?” One person is pushing the cart and one is putting stuff into the cart, and I’m like, “Oh my god.” Me and my husband would be having one of those like knock-down drag-out fights because whenever we do go to the grocery store together, he’s like, “Why don’t we buy this? Why don’t we buy that?” He’s a five-year-old, 🙄 At least I can yell at him at the store and people not call DSS on me 😉. So, grocery shopping for me, I have to be organized to go to the grocery store because I’m not those people who go up one aisle and down the other aisle.” I’m like Mario Andretti, I’m like, “How fast can I get in and out of this place?” And ideally, I want to be in and out of that store in 30 minutes, and so I’ve gotten to the point where I know when my store isn’t that crowded, like Sunday afternoon around [3:00], boom, slide in there. Go during Patriots season, go during the first quarter of the game, boom, in and out. I’m all about. “How can I quickly and easily get in and out?” But in order to do that you have to have a list.
Eat first. Then shop.
Always Have Your Must Haves
When I go, I make sure that I eat before I go so, I’m not shopping hungry, and I have my list. I create a list throughout the week. When I do run out of the staple foods that I always have in the house I just put it on the list, so Half and Half, life is not good without Half and Half in my house, so it’s like my base level staples. And we all have those base level staples of things that you just enjoy to always have in your house. For myself it’s always having Half and Half, always having cottage cheese, always having one or two fruits in my house, always having one or two vegetables in my house, always having one or two good fats that aren’t peanut butter in my house, always having some type of brown rice, quinoa, barley, cans of beans, something so that if I’m in one of those times where I went away for the weekend and I didn’t get a chance to go to the grocery store I can quickly and easily throw together a meal but it’s not perishable. That’s the first step, you’ve got to hit the grocery store.
Build your staple stash
And then when I prep, it takes away the stress of, “What am I going to eat?” The stress of that is gone, it takes less of that mental energy. Today I was grocery store, I didn’t go with a list and I didn’t go with an idea, so I spent probably 10 more minutes trying to figure out, “What the heck am I going to eat tonight for dinner?” And then I just stumbled across taco shells on the end cap, and I was like, “Tacos.” I went to grab some ground turkey and grab some shredded cabbage off of the salad bar, and we’re having tacos tonight for dinner. I want you to start thinking about when you have a list versus when you don’t have a list, you get in that, “Wait. Uh, what do I do?” kind of situation. And it makes shopping faster, easier and you spend less money because you go in with a plan versus these hits or miss things. When you go hit or miss, how many times have you bought something that, one, you’ve never used it, or you bought it and it’s a perishable and five days later you’re tossing it in the trash? So, I want you to think about what are your basics and your staples that you always just want to have in the house.
Build around family favorites
And then decide your meals. One of the best things that I do is we all have those staple meals that your family likes. I’m laughing because we’re having tacos and it is Tuesday; Taco Tuesday. You have those staple meals that your family like, so build on what your family likes. If your family likes chili, if your family likes tacos, if you’re family likes Italian, just figure out those meals that your family likes and start to incorporate that regularly into your diet. I remember as a kid Friday was pizza night, so maybe you still stick with that Friday is pizza night. Maybe now that the weather is nicer out, you’re grilling outside more often. Figure out what do you have in your house as I’m planning so that way as I’m writing out my list I’m not duplicating and I’m not running out to store multiple times a week. I go to the grocery store one time a week, and if I didn’t get it in that week, guess what? I’m not getting it. It takes a pretty big thing to get me to go the grocery store more than one time a week. I don’t like the grocery store so much.
Let someone else do it
And for those people who are like, “I don’t like the grocery store” nowadays in most major cities you can either easily get a home delivery from several sources. I know here in the Boston area there are three places, Peapod, Instacart and then actual individual grocery stores will deliver within a certain mile radius of the store. There are several grocery stores, at least here in the Boston area, that you can order online but pick it up there, so at least all you’re doing is throwing the packages into your car. For those people who you have young kids and there are the five-year-old who are like, “How come we can’t have sugar pops, and how come we can’t have ice cream?” you can do that, grocery shopping that way, and that way you’re not worried about unbuckling and strapping in and all of that good stuff. It keeps the kids strapped in the car, throw the groceries in the trunk and off to the races you go. Or don’t even bother with getting them in the car and they all just arrive magically with elves at your front door.
Look to the week ahead.
First of all, you have to go to the grocery store, you have to decide what are the meals that you’re going to have. And then create a calendar. I take a look at my week. Every Saturday I sit down, I take a look at my calendar and I’m like, “Does my husband have a business meeting? Do I have a business meeting? Is there travel?” So, I know how many meals I am actually going to make for that particular week. Then I also will decide, “What am I going to have?”
My main thing I prep is lunch, so I look at it and I say, “What do I want to have for lunch?” And primarily I rotate through either I’m having a big-ass salad, which is all the veggies and I grill some protein, or I’ll be having leftovers. So, I’ll grill breast of chicken and then I know that I’ll have a couple of things left over that I’ll be able to eat and have a salad on the side. I know that a lot of people say to me, “Oh, I don’t know what I want to eat.” Or, “If I cook it on Sunday, I don’t want to eat X number of day-old chicken.” And I get you, I hear you. So, if you like it quasi fresh, I’m a big proponent of you double cooking, so I would cook my dinner and I would have it for my lunch. Or you could cook two dinners in one and that way the next day you’re coming home and all you’re doing is heating up the leftovers so that you’re only cooking a handful of times a week versus cooking every single day.
Variety is the spice of life (and meal prepping)
There are little tricks and hacks that you can do to alleviate your time in the kitchen. I’m not that person who is lining up the Tupperware things and putting all the same meals in it, I don’t do that because I’m with you, I like variety and so for me my variety comes in I double cook. I have dinner and I make it into my lunch for the next day. The other thing I like to do is I’ll make two different proteins, I’ll make two different starches, I’ll make two different vegetables and I’ll just mix and match that way, and that way for me it gives me enough of that variety that I need so that I don’t feel like I’m eating the same thing day after day after day. Now, I know that plenty of you will be like, “What’s wrong with you eating the same thing? I could do it all the time.” I hear you; I get it. That’s you. When I eat the same thing over and over again, I feel like I’m in a prison. I feel like I am a prisoner of war of my own making, and so I need as much variety as I possibly can.
Prepping hacks to reduce time
There are also several themes. Pinterest is my bestie, and a lot of people say, “I don’t know how to cook,” or “I don’t like to cook.” I’m no Martha Stewart. I have no aspirations to go out back and pull a sprig of thyme off of my home-cooked herb garden and go out to my chicken coop and grab freshly hatched eggs. I have no desire to do that. All of that happens for me at the grocery store, it’s magic, magic gets to the grocery store. I know there are farmers, I know all that stuff, but it’s like sausage, do you want to know what’s inside? I don’t. You just go. I enjoy the smell.
If you go on Pinterest type in “easy chicken” and a plethora of recipes will pop up. And for me I’m not one of those people who spend hours in the kitchen. I’m like, “If it has more than five ingredients, it’s not for me, it’s just not for me.” If it takes more than an hour, it’s not for me. I’m like, “How can I be in and out?” As it is now, I struggle, I struggle. I work from home and I struggle to get food on the table by [8:00]. I got no excuses, but I’m all about, “How quickly can I get my food done?” And if you have all the time in the world, rock on with your bad-self sister girl, but I don’t. I don’t want to spend all that time in the kitchen. And when I used to have my old house, I didn’t have air conditioning, so I needed to be in and out of that kitchen as fast as possible because it was hot as (insert your favorite hot vocabulary word). 🥵
When I was doing my research for the show, I said let me just toss out some themes because I’m not a theme person, I just will punch in the protein that I want to cook for that week. Sometimes I haven’t had fish in a while, so I’ll go on a fish run or I’ll go on a shrimp run. They have Meatless Mondays so you can type in “Meatless Monday” and come up with a number of plant-based meals. What I find is my husband is definitely a carnivore and he’s like, “You go meatless, but where is the protein in this?” He’s that shy about asking about that. He’s like, “It’s good, but I’m still looking for the protein.” So, you can go Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesday, we’re doing that tonight. You could do Wellness Wednesdays where it’s like if you’re trying to get your family to start to eat healthy maybe you can incorporate some salads on Wednesdays. Also, it’s summertime, so I know I eat a ton of salad. I was in Miami this past weekend and I had three salads that had the most common ingredients, but I never thought to put them together. It was quinoa, corn, tomatoes, and shrimp, and some mixed greens; heavenly. I got to recreate that at home. It was heavenly, and I was like, “Why don’t I have quinoa more often?” It was heavenly. But I digress.
You could do stir fries, you could have a day that you just have sandwiches, you could have stew night. My crock-pot is my best friend. I know everyone is into this Instapot. I haven’t tried it, but same dip, crock-pot, throw all your stuff in in the morning. Nowadays they’re fancy. You can set a timer and then it’ll just put itself on warm until you get home. Instapot, I think it cooks things in like 3.3 seconds; it’s like the microwave of crock pots if you will.
Themes also keep you on task. So, for those people who are like, “Oh, I don’t know if I’m going to like what I decide”, if I haven’t pre cooked it and I just have the ingredients it gives me that flexibility to be like, “I feel like Italian tonight.” And you can make whatever it is for Italian, so you get that flexibility, you get that spontaneity. But again, you also can say, “I’m just going to double the recipe so I’ll either have dinner for the next night or I’ve lunch.” And that way, again, the flexibility, the spontaneity is still in there.
As you are going down this path start to collect recipes that your family and likes. I have a whole drawer full of recipes that have been the two thumbs up. So, when I’m getting organized on Saturday I kind of go through my recipes and I’m like, “This was good.” I do have cookbooks; I have a gazillion cookbooks. But now with Pinterest I just go through my pins of healthy recipes and I have notes of what were hits, what were misses, and go through there and just cook that way.
You could also focus on what is in season. Here in Boston we have several farmers markets, but it’s on Friday, so every Friday I go down to the farmers market and I’m like, “Okay, what’s here?” And I buy some fresh vegetables, and then I go to my Pinterest and say, “What the heck do I do with this now?” But I don’t over-buy, I only buy a couple of things so that way I’m not wasting it because it’s fresh, fresh stuff, so the shelf life ain’t all that long, so I just want to make sure that I’m using it within a couple days.
Don’t Wing It!
My calendar is my saving grace. I want that to be the theme. I know right now you’re like, “It just seems like too much work.” But I’ll tell you, how much energy do you spend asking yourself, “What the heck am I going to eat?” And then how much energy do you spend when you beat yourself up because you went out and you ordered not so healthy takeout. So, if I just sit down for maybe 30 minutes and say, “Okay, what does this week look like? What do I want to eat? How many meals do we need?” Boom! Go through my cabinets, what do we have in the house? What do I need to get? And once you start to get into the rhythm of it, it becomes a habit, and then you have a nice routine of this is how we create our meals for the week. Now it’s a routine. And it’s the habits that create the routines that create the consistency that creates the results.
The number one reason why so many people say to me they fall off the wagon is because they wing it. And trust me, I’m really good at winging a lot of stuff, but I found that I can’t wing health. I need to make a decision that if I want to be healthy, I have to do these things so that I can fit into my pants, that’s my goal, I just want to fit into my pants. So, if that’s one of your goals, you want to fit into your pants, you want to look in the mirror and be like, “How you doing?” You want to be able to go on vacation and not freak out that you have to lose 400 pounds in order to go on vacation, and oh my gosh, you’re pulling and prodding all over your different body parts. This is the way, spending 30 minutes to plan out your week of food is going to go a long way with take taking off the unwanted pounds and keeping you feeling healthy and happy at the end of the day.
Like I said, more people spend more time on where we’re going to go on vacation than what am I going to eat. I don’t know if you’ve seen the TV show, it’s called Camping with Jennifer Garner. It’s her and a bunch of friends on camping, and she was like the quintessential organizer, she had a binder for a binder for a binder. I’m not asking for that level of detail. I’m literally like a pad of paper and just write out what you are going to do, that’s all I’m asking for. And these are just quick hacks, figure out what day of the week you’re going to go to the grocery store, decide what the heck it is that you’re going to eat, plan in there for any potential snacks. I buy everything pre-chopped, sliced, diced – I don’t chop a vegetable at all – and cook double.
Love to hear some of your best meal prep tips.