Meal prep and planning ahead can help ensure your family has healthy, nourishing meals and snacks, even when life gets busy. Here are some tips and recipes to help!
Life always gets busier for our household once September hits. School is in full swing, along with all the various activities and practices my kids participate in. Youth group starts up again and this year I have two college commuters rushing out the door in the mornings to their own classes. To top it off I return to coaching my daughter’s basketball team in a few weeks.
With all that happening, it’s easy to get sucked into eating out more often than not, or grabbing whatever is quickest and most convenient to curb the hunger, instead of sitting down and eating a nourishing meal together.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If your family is busy, like ours, there’s a lot you can do to plan and prep your food days, weeks, or even months ahead to ensure your family has healthy, nourishing meals and snacks – at least most of the time.
I have a confession to make here – while I do some meal prep in advance, it’s never been my strong suit. And that causes us a little more disorganization with our meals. Without planning and prepping we tend to eat out more, spend more money on food, waste more food, and not eat as well as I would like. So I turned to some online dietitian colleagues of mine for help, and I want to share their meal prep ideas and menu plans with you. I’ll throw in some of the things I do in my home as well. Here they are:
Utilize your freezer
- One of the things I do every fall is stock my freezer with homemade meatballs (recipe yet to come) and chicken that I’ve grilled and then sliced, diced, or shredded. I also cook a few pounds of lean ground beef and freeze it as well. Doing this saves me a lot of time when I need cooked meat for a recipe. It’s easy and quick to put together tacos, chili, chicken soup, meatball subs, or a variety of other main dish recipes.
- When freezing use quart or gallon size freezer bags. Be sure to get out as much air as you can. Seal, label, date, and freeze. If you keep an inventory, mark it on your sheet so you know how much of each item you have available.
- Garden fresh tomatoes are still available and now is the perfect time to roast them and turn them into sauce for freezing. You can make plain sauce, or sauce already seasoned to your liking for your favorite recipes. Freeze in airtight freezer containers. See How to Roast Tomatoes for Sauce and Freezing for a simple tutorial.
Repurpose canning jars
- Measure out dry ingredients for baked goods into mason jars, label, and store in your cupboard or pantry. This saves time when you want muffins or other baked goods in the morning (or other times) since your dry ingredients are already measured out.
Use your crock pot
- Crock pot meals are a staple for our fall and winter meals. I can put ingredients together in the morning and it’s ready when we get home in the evening. Or I can prep oatmeal in the evening for a quick hot breakfast in the morning, like this Cherry Vanilla Overnight Oats
Plan your menus ahead of time
- This is one of the most important things you can do to help put a healthy, balanced meal on the table when your schedule gets crazy. Plan your own menu or try any number of menu plans available online.
- Dixya from Food, Pleasure and Health has some great tips on How to Simplify Meal Planning.
- Jessica from Nutritioulicious lists her top meal planning tips in this guest article at Real Mom Nutrition: 5 Tips for Better Meal Planning. She also has a Meal Planning Pinterest board that has lots of great ideas to inspire your meal planning. And on her blog you can find a post each Monday with a new meal plan for the week.
Set aside time for meal prep each week
- Taking an hour or two each week to chop veggies, brown meat, boil eggs, or cut up fruit – whatever you need to have done for the week – will save you valuable time the rest of the week, making healthy meals a little easier to prepare during the busy times.
- Meri at Real Living Nutrition has a great slide show with tips to help you Get Ahead With Weekly Food Prep.
- Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean has several posts where she shares her strategies for healthy food prep. She also has a terrific e-book available for purchase, The Ultimate Guide to Food Prep, that specifically focuses on meal prep. Inside she has valuable meal prep information, ideas on how to approach common struggles related to meal planning, and printables to help you with our meal prep.
- Mandy of MandyEnright.com offers meal prep workshops for private individuals or groups, and they can even be done via Skype. She will help you prep 10 meals that you can refrigerate or freeze for later.
Choose recipes that allow easy pre-prep or can be made ahead of time
- Ricotta Berry Oatmeal Cups from Jessica Levinson
- Baked Butternut Squash French Toast from Amy at Amy Gorin Nutrition
- 15 On The Go Breakfast Ideas from Kelli at The Hungry Hobby
- Peaches and Cream Overnight Oats from Jessica Levinson
- Breakfast Cookies with Apricots and Dates from Marie at Healthy Ideas Place
- Split Green Peas Falafel from Dixya at Food, Pleasure and Health
- 5 Ingredient Orange Maple Salmon from Jessica Levinson
- Chipotle Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili from Dixya at Food, Pleasure and Health
- Easy Restaurant Style Baingan Bharta (Roasted Eggplant) from Shahzadi at Desi~licious RD
- Pumpkin and Kale Lasagna Roll-ups from The Healthy Aperture
- Quick and Easy Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Pasta from Jessica Levinson
- Sun-dried Tomato, Spinach, and Goat Cheese Baked Oatmeal from Jessica Levinson
- Everyday Frittata from Katie at Nourish Breathe Thrive
- Easy Mini Frittatas from Marie at Healthy Ideas Place
Do you have a helpful tip for how you pre-prep your healthy meals? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!