Meal Prep Ideas to Inspire You!
Going back to school this year looks a lot different than any other school year. While many families will be starting off the school year remotely, others are planning a return to school on a full-time or blended schedule. For a parent, sending your child back to the classroom, in whatever capacity, can be stressful and daunting. That is why it’s important to simplify your life and cut down the time you spend cooking by using meal planning, or meal prep, as I like to call it.
Why meal prep?
What is the point of meal prep? Why not just wing it and make food as you go? Well, whipping together five days’ worth of breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners can be very time consuming. Life is just so much easier if you plan in advance what your meals and snacks for the week will be. You can shop for all the ingredients during your weekly grocery shop, instead of having to dash out to the grocery store at the last minute. Meal prep also helps you eat better and save money. You can also make extras to eat on days when you don't feel like cooking.
Meal prep basics
When planning your weekly menu, try to choose at least a few recipes with similar ingredients. This will help you save money and prevent food waste. I meal plan from a wealth of free resources available online. I recommend sticking to a few favourite blogs or cookbooks, and using Pinterest boards or bookmark folders to keep track of the recipes you want to try that week. For example, when I’m planning my meals from online recipes, I create a bookmark folder on my browser with the date, i.e. “Meal Plan September 19-25”, and then simply place my weekly recipes there.
Five benefits of meal prepping
- Save time: By investing some time on the weekend, you will avoid having to plan and prepare each meal during the week, saving you hours of time.
- Save money: By only purchasing what you need, you’ll save money and reduce food waste.
- Minimize clean up: Cooking dishes or prepping ingredients ahead of time makes weeknight clean up a breeze.
- Reduce stress: After a long day, the last thing you want to think about is what to cook for dinner. By preparing ingredients or meals ahead of time, you give yourself a much need break, and make better food choices to boot.
- Create healthy eating habits: Healthy eating is all about being prepared. If you have good food ready to go at home, you’ll be less likely to grab high calorie take-out.
Shop like a pro
- Be Efficient: Choose a time of day when the grocery store is less busy (early in the morning or late in the evening).
- Make a List: Organize your list based on the most efficient path through your local grocery store.
- Buy in Bulk: Save money by purchasing non-perishable items like legumes, seeds, nuts, and grains in bulk. Supermarkets often have specials on things like tinned tomato, canned tuna, and bulk rice. If you have enough storage space, take advantage of these specials and stock up on these staples.
- Freeze Meat/Poultry/Fish: Minimize the constant visits back and forth to the supermarket or butcher by freezing red meat, fish and poultry on the day you buy it. The night before you want to cook it, defrost a portion in the refrigerator.
- Invest in Storage Containers: Whether you decide to cook the week’s meals in one go, or prepare the ingredients for each meal in advance, you will need airtight storage containers of varying sizes, and reusable freezer bags.
Pre-cook meals or pre-prep ingredients?
The choice is up to you. Both will save you time and money. Typically, I prepare ingredients in advance during warmer months when I eat a lot of salads. I can chop a host of vegetables in one sitting and create my own salad bar during the week! But during the winter months, when I crave soups, stews and other hot dishes, I tend to cook these more complex dishes on a Sunday in order to enjoy more time on weekday evenings with my family.
Meal prep ideas
Here’s a few things I do for my weekly meal prep:
- Prepare containers with dry ingredients for oatmeal.
- Chop up a variety of vegetables
- Rice cauliflower.
- Bake a spaghetti squash.
- Roast some sweet potato, yam or butternut squash.
- Make a batch of zucchini noodles
- Cook a batch of chickpeas (If you don’t cook your own, have canned on hand.)
- Cook a batch of lentils.
- Bake a package of extra-firm tofu.
- Bake some chicken.
- Bake some salmon.
- Cook a batch of a grains like quinoa or rice.
- Freeze veggies for smoothies (cucumber, kale, zucchini, squash, cauliflower).
Tips for prepping snacks
- Buy fresh fruit for snacks on-the-go. My favourites are apples, banana, pears, berries and grapes.
- Make one or two healthy energy drinks or protein bars. At the end of this article, I include one of my favourite energy drink recipe
- Stock up on nuts. My family’s favourite nuts for snacking are almonds and cashews but anything goes!
- Keep packaged snacks as back up. I like Simply Protein Bars.