10 Steps to Start Meal Planning & Prep

Step 1:

Take note of what items are nearing expiration or starting to be on their last legs before ending up in the garbage; these should be on your menu for the upcoming week.

Example: Strawberries that are starting to get soft, you can freeze them for smoothies; Broccolini that is starting to wilt, you can steam it and add to a pasta dish later in the week, etc.

Step 2:

Keep in mind you will need some containers that are freezer safe, some that can go from freezer/fridge to oven, and smaller containers for items that should be added or mixed in at the very end (nuts for a salad, chia seeds to be mixed into milk, etc.).

If you’re looking for containers, Dollar stores and sale sections of the grocery store have great deals. Foil containers are great for prepping casseroles or larger portions of items that need to be heated in the oven. Glass containers work great for holding protein that you will freeze with the marinades and for single serve lunches and salads.

Step 3:

Choose the store(s) for the week and make list of sale items you plan to purchase – make sure to include fruits, vegetables, protein and any pantry staples you may have noticed you’re low on.

This serves a few different purposes. First, it will keep you overall costs down to purchase items that are only on sale; second, each week the sale items are different, so you’ve got built in variety from week to week; third, you can plan your week ahead with a few days to spare, as sales flyers are generally released/posted midweek, ahead of a weekend shipping trip.

Not everything will always be on sale, and you can always consider getting two of a pantry or freezer item when it is on sale, as they can last longer on the shelf, and you’ll always have what you need to pull together those last minute crave-worthy meals or feed guests when your plan needs a small adjustment!

Step 4:

Don’t forget to account for any dinners our or lunch meetings that you won’t be packing or prepping food for that week.

Keep your grocery list close by and review your recipes, not only for prep instructions and times, but also for any ingredients that might need to be added if it’s not already accounted for on your shelves or your grocery list.

Consider when you’ll be doing your larger prep day and how your week might look, so that you can make sure that your plan and prep time is doable, and not overwhelming.

It always helps to have a couple of pantry/freezer staple meals ready to put together each week, for those days that things just don’t go the way we anticipated. Some examples might be:

  • Freezer meatballs (either from the store or homemade) that you can quickly toss with some jarred sauce and a box of pasta
  • A dozen eggs, frozen bacon and frozen hash browns for a quick breakfast for dinner
  • Rotisserie chicken, off the bone and shredded, then frozen in containers; add a package of flour tortillas (frozen or refrigerator), some shredded cheese (again, frozen or refrigerator) for a quick quesadilla
  • Or, another use for the rotisserie chicken could be a chicken soup with some chopped frozen vegetables (the corn/carrot/peas variety works great here!) and a box of chicken broth

Step 5:
COMPLETE YOUR MEAL PLANNING GRID (provided during consultation, or you can create a simple spreadsheet that can repeat week after week).

Make sure you include side dishes for meals, snacks, day prior prep (i.e. defrost chicken), day of prep (i.e. rinse and drain rice), etc. so that you can use this as a guide for your week and you aren’t trying to remember every detail!

Use your grid to keep track of what recipes everyone liked and others that shouldn’t make the rotation or needs an adjustment; note which meals should be shifted to a weekend instead of a weeknight meal. This will remain an archive for future weeks, so you can repeat a recipe that was a hit or not have chicken every day for two weeks.

Step 6:

On your meal planning grid, make sure to include which items you’ll prep when. Keep in mind, your goal is to minimize the prep and work you have to do all week (anticipated 20-30 minutes prep time per day), and do a majority of the prep on your longer prep day (anticipated about 2 hours).

When your two-hour (or longer) window is on your calendar, put on your favorite show, podcast or audiobook and

Step 7:

I find it’s best to go to the stores earlier in the day, when they are quieter; with fewer lines and people to bump into while you’re trying to maintain your list tracking. And, then you aren’t spending hours in the store when you can be at the pool or meeting a friend for coffee.

Keep in mind that the store may be out of stock on a particular item, and you may either need to replace with a substitute or shift up what you’ll be making slightly. And, if you see something on store special or clearance that you weren’t initially planning to get, but it just looks so good…don’t hesitate! You likely won’t regret it, and can quickly/easily adjust – whether you remove something from your cart, or stash the frugal find for a future meal, it’ll get used!

Consider using a freezer/cold bag in the car to transport your items if you have a couple of stops to make or want to keep things frozen/cold during the warmer months. Once you get the groceries home, it helps to do a quick pass of washing anything that can quickly be washed and put away for the week and placing items for the larger prep day in similar locations so that you can easily gather them when ready to prep.

Step 8:

Get ready for all the prep. Make sure you have your cutting board and knives; containers and lids; and put on your favorite show, podcast or audiobook to enjoy while you peel, chop and divide for the week ahead.

Produce: Wash and dry anything that you didn’t get in the firsts pass on shopping day, and put the items away that don’t require chopping or slicing (think strawberries or other berries, grapes, etc.). Prepare remaining produce for the week, for example, shred all the lettuce for salads or tacos, cut and cube the watermelon or cantaloupe.

Fresh protein: If you purchased something like chicken breast or pork tenderloin that needs marinating, place it in a freezer container or ziploc bag with the marinade before freezing and defrosting later in the week. if you purchased ground meat for burgers/meatballs, prep it and flash freeze or cover and put it in the refrigerator to cook in the following day or two. Keep in mind that if you won’t be using your meats/poultry/seafood within 2 days of bringing it home, be sure to freeze it and defrost it in the refrigerator 24 hours before using it.

Pantry staples / dry ingredients: measure and stage items for use in recipes later in the week. For example, prep flour to coat and saute chicken tenders or make cookie dough and place it in the baking dish so that all you have to do it bake it the night of – fresh baked goods in 30 minutes, with just a few minutes of preparation earlier in the week, when you have more time!

Other preparation: If you’re creating overnight oatmeal cups or chia pudding, you can prepare most of these on your larger food prep day; if you’re making breakfast burritos or wraps for on-the-go breakfasts or lunches, you can get these set and either freeze or refrigerate for later in the week.

Step 9:
DAILY PREP: this shoud be about 20-30 minutes each night.

The time should be a combination of getting dinner cooked and on the table, but also preparing for the following day. For example, you’ll prep the dinner salad while the grill is heating up, and heat fries in the oven. When you’re cleaning up after dinner, you can pour the milk in your chia pudding for the following morning or defrost your breakfast burrito in the fridge, and lay your chopped salad for the following day and store it all in the fridge ready to pull and pack in the morning as you go out the door.

Do you/your familyl drink coffee each day? If it’s hot coffee, prep and set the coffee maker, set out the mugs and have it ready to go in the AM. Do you pack lunches for school each day? Get the bags and containers ready to go so that you can pack and send everyone out the door. Cereal for breakfast? Set the bowls, spoons and cereal boxes out for a quick pour and add milk situation.

Bottom line, the daily prep and maintenance is necessary, but saves so much time each morning and when you get back home before dinner.

Step 10:

As you run out of staples and pantry items add them to a list on the fridge, or a go-to spot so that you can use this as the start for your following week’s shopping list. Use the last lemon? Add it to the list! Running low on garlic powder? Put it on the list. Making a run to a warehouse store for bulk items? Check out the list and add anything that you noted was running low, especially if you only go to specific stores at certain intervals.

This also helps when making your weekly list for things that are on sale, you may not be out; but, you can stock up and save on your stock-up costs.

Questions about meal planning, food prep and implementing these processes? Reach out to me leave a comment below or email me. I look forward to meeting you and helping you achieve your meal prep goals!


Published by Alexis Arvis

Business Owner, Blogger, Aspiring Home Renovation Planner

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