Meal Prepping for Beginners
Meal prepping has been one of the most effective stay at home mom strategies I have discovered. For many reasons, which we will get into shortly, it is a fantastic way to manage time, money, and overall health for stay at home moms. That being said, everyone can benefit from the positive outcomes that meal prepping can offer. It’s not just for the extremely organized, or those interested in specialized diets for bodybuilding. Whether you are cooking meals for one or two, or a family of 5, meal prepping can save you time and money and keep you on track with your healthy eating goals. Let’s talk a bit more about how and why meal prepping is so effective.
What is meal prepping?
If anyone out there is completely lost, meal prepping is the process of planning out your meals for an extended period, grocery shopping for all the ingredients, and cooking them in advance. Those of you who follow me here at Sane Momma will know that I am a huge fan of batching tasks. Meal prepping is one way to do just that.
Does meal prepping mean that you have to eat healthy food? No.
Does it mean that you have to make everything from scratch? Absolutely not.
Meal prepping is just a way to sort out your meals in advance so that you don’t have to worry about them one by one.
How can you save time with meal prepping?
I know, the thought of cooking a week’s worth of meals all at once sounds like more work. Not to mention, if you work during the week, spending an afternoon cooking on the weekend may not sound too appealing.
The first thing to realize is that there are a million and one ways to practice meal prepping. You can plan out a week’s worth meals using hot pockets and Totino’s Pizza Rolls if you want! There are a variety of pre-made options that we all, moms in particular, need to take advantage of sometimes. I’m no stranger to the microwaveable mashed sweet potatoes at the grocery store.
Granted, pre-made meals are often less healthy and have a bigger price tag, but it all depends on what your goals are. When I was working, I probably would have gone this route. We had more money to spend and I would have done just about anything to avoid cooking. Plus, before I had my son, weight control was less of a concern.
Related Post: Simple Time Management Strategies for Stay at Home Moms
If I’m still cooking a week’s worth of meals, how does doing it all at once take less time?
This is where your meal prepping strategy comes into play. Let’s say you want to make chicken and vegetables three nights this week. When you batch the task of cooking all three of these meals at once, you can likely complete them all in the same amount of time that it would take to complete one. If the other two nights are going to be chicken caesar salad, you can go ahead and cook the chicken when you are cooking the chicken and vegetable meals.
Boom! You have 5 nights of meal prep done. But there is one limitation to meal prepping that you need to know before you get started…
I can’t emphasize this enough…
Meal prepping is not effective if you don’t plan to eat similar foods throughout the week. That doesn’t mean the meals have to be the same, but the ingredients really do. Like my example above, chicken and vegetables and chicken caesar salad are two very different meals, but the fact that the meat is the same makes meal prep that much easier.
If you want a variety of chicken, steak, pork and seafood throughout the week will likely find that meal prepping is not an effective method (unless they can somehow be cooked at the same time). I use chicken a lot for frugality reasons, and I have found ways to cook a variety of meal options to mix things up. By adding the cooked chicken to salads, stir fry or soup, you can completely change the meal, while continuing to use similar ingredients.
Will meal prepping really save you money?
The answer to this depends largely on the meals you select, but more than likely it will at least save you some money, with the potential to significantly cut your grocery budget. If you plan to select all whole foods and cook from scratch, when you normally eat out or buy pre-made/pre-prepped items, then yes. Meal prepping will save you a bundle. If you are looking to meal prep with the use of pre-made selections from the grocery store, you will save less, but you will still save.
When you practice meal prepping, you go to the grocery store one time. You have a list and you buy exactly what you need and that’s it. Not to mention, you will actually use all the food you bought. How many times have you brought home a bag full of produce that was on sale only to see it go bad a few days later because you or your family didn’t eat it in time?
As you throw away all of those once delicious strawberries, you are literally throwing your money in the trash. Meal prepping eliminates this problem. Everything you buy has a purpose.
Will meal prepping help me lose weight?
The short answer is that, yes, meal prepping can help you lose weight. It all depends on the meals you choose, the portions you cook, and whether you add any snacks or indulgences. When done right, meal prepping can be an incredibly effective way to lose weight.
Meal prepping allows you to select your healthy meals ahead of time and only buy what you need for those pre-selected meals. Assuming that you aren’t also stocking your pantry with unhealthy snacks, it will likely be easier to just eat the meal that you have prepared for yourself than to go out and buy and indulgent treat.
Given this, you are much less likely to fall off the wagon with your diet plan. This is why those healthy meal delivery systems work so well for some people. You are making it easier to eat healthy than to eat poorly. Plus, if you spent time mapping everything out, shopping, and cooking, you’re going to want to eat what you have prepared to justify the time spent.
Additionally, if you have previously been eating processed foods or ordering out often, switching to a meal prepping strategy where you cook your own meals from healthy ingredients will likely result in weight loss, even if you aren’t being particularly strict with portion sizes. While I can’t promise any specific results, I can tell you that I have had great success with meal prepping and weight loss. I used it all throughout my weight loss journey. You can see my results here.
So, how do I get started?
If you’re ready to get started, the process of meal prepping is an easy one. Simply grab a pen and paper and write down your first meal. Then think about if those ingredients could be used in another meal – that’s meal number two. More than likely you’re going to be able to think of a few others pretty quickly and fill out your week, but if you are struggling to come up with ideas, here are some of my favorites make-ahead meals:
Chicken Meal Prep Ideas
- Chicken Breast with Roasted Veggies
- Salad with Sliced Chicken Breast
- Chicken and Rice (Low-Carb Substitute: Cauliflower Fried “Rice”)
- Chicken Quesadillas on Whole Wheat Tortillas
Steak Meal Prep Ideas
- Grilled Steak with Mashed Potatoes (Low-Carb Substitute: Mashed Cauliflower)
- Salad with Steak
- Fajitas with Whole Wheat Tortillas
- Fettuccine Alfredo with Steak (Low-Carb Substitute: Zucchini Spiral “Pasta”)
Sorry, I don’t have any vegetarian or vegan options listed. We eat meat in our household and I wouldn’t even know where to start without it. If you know of any great meal prepping options for vegetarians or vegans, I would love to hear about them in the comments!
What else do you need to know?
Check out these helpful tips before you get started. Trust me, you won’t want to make some of the same mistakes I did!
Meal Prepping Tips
Research some easy make-ahead meals and try something new
Check out these great links for some meal prep foodspiration!
Before planning your week, check your pantry
Strategically going through your pantry and refrigerator to find meal components can reduce your food waste, ultimately saving you money.
Make note of the meals you and your family love
Did your hubby love the baked chicken thighs you made? No need to tell him how easy it was (I’ll give you the recipe at the end of this post), but make note of it so you can make it again! Just try to leave a little space between repeating recipes if you can so no one gets burnt out.
Get creative and have fun with it
Some of my best recipes were created when I was trying to come up with a meal prep solution. Even when we take a break from meal prep, we still love to make them from time to time.
Side Note: I totally recommend taking a break from meal prep now and then. Sometimes, you just need to take a break from planning.
Invest in a Crock Pot or an Instant Pot
Talk about making meal prepping easier! Throw a giant roast in the crockpot and you can have days worth of shredded meat. Or better yet, google instant pot meal prep. Go on…I’ll wait. (but come back when you’re done!)
Schedule your take-out days, if that’s your thing (i.e. Pizza Fridays)
Leave room for days where you don’t have to worry about dinner. I think everyone needs this, even if they aren’t meal prepping. Knowing that on that one day, dinner will come to you, is a wonderful feeling.
When in doubt, make soup!
I discovered this little gem of wisdom when my husband and I were trying to lose weight for our wedding. We both worked and cooking elaborate healthy meals each night was exhausting. I discovered that I could throw just about anything into a crockpot, add some chicken bouillon and let it cook itself! This comes in handy when you have a weird selection of food in your pantry that needs to be used.
Write the weekly meals on the calendar
Writing your meal plan down on the calendar not only helps you remember, but it tells your family what to expect. Of course, as I like to talk about in my time management posts, writing something down also means that you are holding yourself accountable. You’ll be more likely to stick to the plan when it’s written in ink.
Save even more money by meal prepping based on what’s on sale each week
This tip might take a little extra planning, but if your primary focus in meal prepping is to save money, more than to save time, then this is a fantastic way to do it! Grab your local grocery store ad and go to town! Stock up on items that you can freeze and use them for future meal prep weeks if you need to, just get that sale!
Prep as soon as you get home from the store
I’ll admit, this takes some discipline. By the time I get home from a grocery trip with my toddler and lug all the groceries up a flight of stairs, I’m ready to plop down on the couch. But, if you can make yourself do it, it is well worth it to chop your veggies, and portion out the other ingredients. You already have everything out and ready for prepping, you might as well! Then, when it comes time to actually cook the meals, the hard part is over.
Cook extra and freeze it for later
If you’re already making a big batch of soup, why not throw another batch in the pot right after that one? Since you probably don’t want to eat the same soup all week, you can save this second batch for a couple of weeks from now, making your meal prep for that week even easier!
Don’t be too ambitious
I swear, every time I start a new meal plan or diet plan, I go way overboard. About two days in, I’m through. Meal prepping doesn’t mean revamping everything. Just pick some simple meals that you normally cook and try to find the ones that share ingredients. If you really do need to revamp your entire recipe collection, try to only incorporate one new recipe a week. Making a new recipe for each night will undoubtedly leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Have a backup plan
Sometimes, things just don’t pan out. Always have a backup plan. What’s mine? Well, my husband is Italian so I can’t go wrong with Spaghetti and meatballs. Granted, my backup spaghetti sauce (Classico) and frozen meatballs don’t even begin to compare to his Italian Nana’s recipes, but they will do in a pinch.
Remember that recipe for Baked Chicken Thighs I promised? Here it is!
This is seriously the best chicken I have ever made and couldn’t be easier. Enjoy!
- Rinse and pat dry 4-6 chicken thighs (bone-in).
- Pour a thin layer of olive oil into a glass baking dish and place chicken thighs on top, skin side up.
- Stick a pat of butter under the skin of each chicken thigh.
- Top with salt and pepper.
- Bake at 350 for at least one hour until the top is golden.
What’s your favorite go-to dinner recipe?
Let me know in the comments below and I’ll see if I can come up with a way that you can incorporate it into a meal prepping plan!
Subscribe to Sane Momma to Recieve your free printable meal planning worksheet!