Top Hot Weather Food Prep Ideas

Meal Plans and food prep doesn’t look the same every season – especially the summer months when none of us want to heat up the house more than we have to, stand for hours at the stove or spend time cleaning the kitchen up when everyone is running around the backyard and enjoying the longer days outdoors.

Planning your meals around the fresh produce that is abundant and foods that are amazing right off the grill helps to reduce food waste, time cooking and preparing and limits kitchen clean-up. Read more tips below for making meal plans and food prep a breeze, whether it’s a regular weeknight or a weekend outdoor party and the weather is calling your name.

Batch cook grains once a week
Grains like quinoa, farro and barley are a fantastic base for so many salads and bowls. You can use them throughout the week in any meal, just by adding a few fridge or grilled ingredients along the way. See some ideas below:

  • Quinoa Yogurt Parfaits – suggested recipe from Katie Biegel/The Kitchen here
  • Quinoa, Corn and Avocado Salad – suggested recipe from What’s Gaby Cooking here
  • Farro, Chicken and Corn Salad – suggested recipe from Cooking Classy here
  • Farro Salad – suggested recipe from Gimme Some Oven here
  • Barley Salad – suggested recipe from Geoffrey Zakarian/The Kitchen here

Batch grill produce a few nights a week
Bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant, onions, potatoes, broccoli/broccolini, just to name a few – can ALL be grilled in larger quantities to use one night, and then repurposed throughout the following few days. If you don’t have a grill, you can also roast the same vegetables at a high heat (400 or so) instead. Grilling just keeps the heat outside. Ideas below!

Batch grill chicken, seafood, fish and steak a few nights a week
Grilling chicken in double batches means fresh marinated/seasoned chicken for dinner one night, and using leftovers for salads, bowls, sandwiches and more later in the week. Same for steak, seafood, fish and pork. Grilled fish is fantastic on fresh salads the next day (fish should be eaten within 24 hours of cooking for best flavor). Grilled seafood is a great chilled appetizer the next day. Grilled steak – a fun change of pace for your panini or salad the following day, or as a topping for nachos. Remember to freeze your meats with marinades mixed in so that they marinate while defrosting, saving time. Or – I highly recommend the What’s Gaby Cooking line of spices at Williams-Sonoma. Some recipes to try when batch grilling below:

Green Salads, Mix-Ins and Dressings
Prepping all of your salad elements when you bring your groceries home or on your larger prep day each week means you can pull the containers out, put together a salad and move on with your afternoon. Remember all of the protein you’ve grilled throughout the week? That’s an easy add-on for a boost of flavor and protein. How to make salad assembly easy:

  • Chop all your lettuces, rinse and place in a bag or container with a dry paper towel to capture any remaining moisture
  • Slice and chop onions and place in a small container
  • Cut fresh corn off the cob or defrost frozen corn in the refrigerator
  • Toast and chop raw nuts and store in an airtight container
  • Shred and crumble any cheeses
  • Prep dressings and store in mason jars in the fridge
  • Shred radishes, carrots, zucchini, etc. and store in separate containers
  • Chop celery, jicama, etc. and stoere in separate containers

Salads can be mundane if you eat the same salad each day, but with multiple ingredients and dressing options each week, you can keep things interesting and try different taste profiles. A few salad recipes and dressing ideas below:

Other Salads –
Cook and chill salads such as chicken salad, egg salad, pasta salad, potato salad, etc. are great weekend prep to eat throughout the week, combining with some of the options above as well. These types of salads can be a meal on their own or a side dish for one of the nights you grill, or mixed into one of the grain bowls, green salads, etc. Try a few of the recipes below for cool, refreshing meals or sides when the summer temps start to rise:

Keep me posted on some of your summer favorites, and if you use any of these tips, let me know how they work for you! I know we’ll all get new ideas throughout the season, so I may consider this Part 1, and share more tips, recipes and recommendations as summer ramps up.

If you have any questions, or need any additional guidance as you continue your meal planning and food prep journey, commend below, email me at planpreppackplate@gmail.com and be sure to follow me on Instagram for more recipe ideas! I look forward to connecting with everyone again tomorrow!

Alexis

Get Out of Your Head.

79,233.
That’s the number of steps I’ve taken since I welcomed in the next year of my life seven days ago. It is true what they say, the first step is the hardest.

33.
That’s the distance I’ve covered (in miles). The miles of phone calls with friends, podcasts that entertained me and some quiet time for my random thoughts, memories and questions in life.

410.
That’s the number of minutes I spent outdoors. May not seem like a huge deal in a given week, but for me it’s a huge step forward, finally recovering from the toxic place I was in for so long, in the name of “success”, slowly learning that I do deserve better.

21.
That’s the number of meals I prepared and didn’t default to eating out or skip them altogether. Probably sounds ridiculous, as someone who focuses on meal planning and food prep – but, my focus on meal planning and food prep is closely tied to my activity level – the more active I am, the better I am about preparing healthy meals and not thinking so hard.

I mean, let’s be honest, don’t we all want immediate gratification and visible progress? 100%. Do I feel like the world should know that I’m making progress without reading about it on a blog? 100%. But, I will to be patient, and I keep going because I can – and I haven’t always been able to say that.

Like I’ve said before, I didn’t grow up with physical activity and fitness as a priority and I have many of the scarring memories of being the slowest person in gym class, the least played person in little league and being picked last for recess games. I loved growing up with family always around, and I cherish the memories around the dining room table(s) talking and laughing and eating all the food! It’s what drives me to want to give others that same experience, with easy to prepare food around the table; and, turn to food as a reward or way to celebrate something great.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gone in spurts of working out since I was 18 years old, and then taken long breaks in between. And, each break came with a larger backstory or problem… when work got busy, and I didn’t work in a place that taking a break to work out was acceptable or encouraged (which is a whole different blog post!); or, friends/family planned activities that I put ahead of working out because I didn’t want to be “that one” who had to get her workout in, when no one else thought that was a priority (yet another blog post in the future!); or, plain exhaustion/pain that I let overwhelm me to the point that I didn’t feel I deserved to have a healthy life.

The one thing that I used to have in my life, that I didn’t have in the same way this time, was that small contingent of people, who knew me differently, and who didn’t let me wallow in my own self-pity – who would tell me to go and get it done. Not to think about it, not to listen to everyone (and my own head) who said to skip it, and to just go do it. I had to find that in myself on my own this go-around.

I have to make my own self get out the door and meet the step goal I set for myself. I have to tell myself it’s worth it even though I am not a super model after week one. I have to get my own self out of my own head. I want to get back on my bike and cover more miles, I want to put my rollerblades back on and feel the breeze whipping around me – but it’s all starting with just walking. No pressure for number of minutes or miles, only to cross 10,000 steps each day, however those happen.

I know those who supported me before are still out in the world, even if we aren’t able to be in the same place as each other anymore, and would be right by my side if circumstances were different. And, though I have gotten myself back on track, it’s not without the voices of those few people in the back of my head reminding me to not think, not dwell, just get one foot in front of the other; just to give it another try and not to give up.

So – for anyone else who is out there, trying to find their courage to not try anymore, but to do something – know that you have me to rely on and to get you from “trying/thinking/talking” to “creating/having/doing”. I will be the one who tells you to get out of your head, get outside and get it done – whether it’s a workout, a meal plan or a life-changing idea – just like those who have always done the same for me. We all need support from those who know life is about taking risks and making things happen, not just talking about them.

Week 1 of my 52 week challenge to not stay stuck in where I was, is done. Steadily moving into Week 2…a little less cerebral, and a lot more active and proud that I made progress even if it’s not as clear to the rest of the world. Get outside, take in the sunshine, the budding flowers and you’ll thank yourself.

As always, let me know about your big plans, your food prep and any questions I can help you get answers to as we all take one day at a time. Heading outside to find a new walking path!

Alexis

10 Kitchen Items for Easy Meal Prep!

Meal prep sounds easy and doable until you realize you don’t have some of the things that make it worth the time, effort and don’t make you want to just order out! The list below is the set of basics I found helpful when getting into meal prep, and I promise to share more items that I use frequently as we continue to talk meal prep, healthy meals and workouts – keeping in mind what will make things as streamlined as possible!

Slow Cooker (I have two of these and I use them ALL THE TIME) –
The only way to cook while you work or have fun! There are so many sizes and features, but the one feature I think is critical is a digital timer so that you can set more precise cook times, especially if you might be out longer than the cook times needed.

Half Sheet Pans (I have eight of these, they are constantly in use) –
Whether you need to freeze cookie dough quickly, roast some vegetables, bake some chicken, transport food to/from the grill or make a bag of french fries….these pans are so versatile AND can go in the dishwasher! They are not non-stick, so you will need a bit of canola or olive oil spray to keep things from sticking.

Non-Stick Skillet Set (I am loving this one these days, and you can find them at Marshall’s) –
These pans heat up quickly and evenly, are a breeze to clean. I use mine to cook the best scrambled or over-medium eggs, and heat up leftovers without anything sticking, and without having to use a microwave. Obviously, I can’t use these to heat leftovers when I’m not at home, but when working from home or on the weekends, these pans are a permanent fixture on my stove. And, on those large food prep/cooking days, they are a quick clean-up and reuse pan, which I can’t say for all of my beloved pans!

Cutting Boards (I have a couple of sets, similar to this set) –
Having a few boards helps you cut produce and raw meats without any cross-contamination; helps keep the counters clear (you can pick-up the boards and move them easily), and you can cut/season your proteins and vegetables right on the cutting board and carry them to the grill (if it’s grilling season!). And – being dishwasher safe, you will be able to sanitize your cutting boards between uses. If you happen to have a wood cutting board as well, it makes a great serving platter or cheese board, if you are short on serving pieces when you’re prepping for company!

Mini Waffle Maker (I’ve had this one for years, it’s fantastic) –
If you’re buying toaster waffles and hash brown patties all the time, invest in this $10 waffle maker. It cooks individual waffles up in minutes, and you can freeze them for the week (we usually make a batch for a weekend breakfast, and freeze whatever we don’t eat). It also works with tater tots or shredded hashbrowns to make homemade (season as you’d like!) hash brown patties – another great make and freeze breakfast item.

Desktop Food Warmer (I’ve used this one for a few years, and have the larger size as well) –
After all of your hard work prepping food for the week, don’t settle for waiting in line for the microwave or trying to maintain multipe thermoses to keep meals warm. This food warmer is perfect to heat up a breakfast sandwich (in foil) or a bowl of soup – all while you work on your latest report. No excuses to skip lunch again!

Glass Jars with Screw Top Lids (I bought a set of large and small of these, they last forever) –
These jars work for almost anything – storing dressings, veggies and dip, salads with dressing (just make sure it’s on the bottom!), pudding, overnight oats, chia pudding, the list goes on. They are also diswhasher-safe and durable – I don’t recommend dropping them on the ground, but they can withstand a bit more rough handling than regular glass. They also make a great vessel to hold last minute gifts, like those cookie kits we’ve all received before (just find a recipe online!)

2Qt. Beverage Containers (I have multiple of these, they are durable and long-lasting) –
Use these containers for making cold-brew coffee, mixing lemonade or iced tea, holding sangria, leftover beverages, etc. Also great for taking where glass containers aren’t safe or allowed, such as on boats. Having a few means you can store a few different beverages at once, and are great for parties.

Freezer and Fridge Containers (these are the ones I’m currently using) –
Whether freezing or refrigerating your prepped food, these containers are able to withstand various uses. and have tight fitting lids so that they can transport easily without spilling on your way to the office. As an aside, it does help to have a few smaller and plastic containers for condiments and smaller portions.

Permanent and Wet Erase Markers
For marking all of your prep, if using ziploc bags (for meats, etc.) use a permanent marker to keep track of what the item is, when it was purchased and any other instructions, such as preparation information if there is a marinade, has a coating, etc. For your reusable containers, make sure to use wet erase markers so that you can reuse the container for other items. Make sure to wipe it off BEFORE you put them in the dishwasher so that the marking doesn’t stick.

What are your favorite meal prep items? Anything on this list also your go-to? Make sure to let me know in the comments below and continue to follow me on Instagram and Facebook for the latest meals and recipes coming out of my kitchen!

Alexis

Top 10 Breakfasts for Busy Mornings

Who skips breakfast or spends hundreds a year on coffeeshop breakfasts because it’s just too hard to make breakfast at home on your way to work or getting the kids out of the house? That was me, until I found a few easy prep ahead meals that took minutes to make grab-and-go breakfasts each day. Take a look at the options below, give them a try and let me know what works and what your favorites are! Suggested recipes are linked below, but feel free to use a recipe you already have or find on your own as well!

Overnight Chia Pudding (I use this recipe by Giada DeLaurentiis) –
You can make 3-4 servings at a time, storing in airtight containers in the fridge, ready to grab and go! To keep yourself from getting bored or burned out on the same thing every day, you can:

  • Change the fruit/nut topping combinations each day
  • Use chocolate (dairy or non-dairy) milk
  • Make it more like a parfait by layering the mix-ins before eating

Instant Oatmeal (not the kind in the packet! I use this base recipe by Inquiring Chef) –
This will save you time, cash and unwanted sugar/additives. Homemade instant oatmeal gives you the chance to keep variety top of mind during weekday mornings as well as when traveling (camping, airports, road trips, hotel stays). And – the toppings/mix-ins are truly endless!

Freezer Breakfast Sandwiches/Wraps
Whether your favorite breakfast sandwich comes from a fast-food drive-thru, local coffee shop or your preferred diner….Take a look at the ideas below to make your favorites at home, freeze them up and have them ready for a quick zap in the microwave or toaster oven. The bonus will be that you can try new and different flavors depending on your mood, use the below as a starting point to create your very own breakfast creations!

Bakery-Style Muffins (These from Happy Money Saver are a great place to start!) –
Did you know you can prep muffin batter, scoop it into muffin liners in a muffin tin, and freeze them raw before baking? It’s a game-changer for weekday breakfasts, especially if you don’t enjoy a drier muffin after it’s been baked and frozen. Imagine prepping 2-3 kinds of muffins, freezing the batter in individual muffin liners and everyone being able to choose their own muffin choice as they run out the door? I recommend baking a few the night before so that they are easiest to grab-and-go the next day.

Breakfast Cookies (I use this recipe from What’s Gaby Cooking) –
Cookies for breakfast? 100% on board with this! Another great option to prep ahead, pop in the freezer and bake up the night before so that you always have fresh baked items ready to go. Whether this is for a morning rush out the door or a mid-morning snack, cookies don’t have to just be an indulgence, they can be part of your every day routine! Obviously, as with all the recommendations here, you can adjust or swap out the mix-ins to keep things interesting and try different flavors to keep everyone satisfied, and not bored.

Poptarts (I love these from Half Baked Harvest, but there are a few different options on her website that are great, take a look around!) –
I don’t know about you, but there was something about ripping open the weird aluminum foil cellophane and biting into a half crackery, half cakey sugar explosion that made the day. These days, I don’t enjoy sugar in the same amount as I used to – so I appreciate recipes like this one that can be adjusted and aren’t full of random additives and chemicals. And – you guessed it! They can be frozen once baked and defrosted quickly (or they are quite good when still a bit frozen) for an on-the-run breakfast or afternoon pick-me-up. As the theme continues down the list of options, the flavor combinations can be changed for each batch for variety, without 10 different boxes falling out of the cabinet, and you know you’re serving up something healthier for you and the whole family.

Protein Toaster Waffles (this is my favorite brand from Aldi!) –
Freezer/Toaster pancakes and waffles are a staple in many homes – why not make them at home when you’re batch prepping and freeze them yourself – saving cash, unknown ingredients, and the one and only customizable options of prepping them instead of buying them! I use a box mix for the base, and add things like vanilla, chopped fruit, chopped nuts or extracts to change them up if I need something different. I prep the pancakes in a griddle pan (1/4c measure) and I prep the waffles in a mini Dash waffle maker, let them cool on wire racks, then freeze for the week. They take moments to toast up – boost the protein with a little peanut butter or almond butter; or make a pancake roll-up adding a few berries in the middle!

Egg Bites (I’ve used this one from Giada DeLaurentiis / Food Network for years) –
We once made these for a 100 person cocktail party, and they were a huge hit. They are the perfect size to pop in your mouth one at a time, and if you’re not careful, you can eat a whole pan before they even make it to the freezer! These can be made and stored in the refrigerator for the week, or made in larger batches and frozen, just put a few in the fridge the night before if you happen to remember. A quick warm-up in the microwave or toaster oven, and you’ll be on your way with a protein-filled breakfast that will be the envy of all your co-workers (once you’re back in the office). So many options, whether meat filled, cheese only, veggie filled, cheese and veggies, a great use for leftovers and full of flavor – definitely meant to be on the weekly rotation!

Smoothies (too many recipes/combinations to post!)
I can’t say there is a specific recipe for smoothies, and I’ve come to love mixing up whatever I have in my fridge or freezer to make a unique smoothie for the morning or a midday snack. You can prep everything but the milk in a freezer pack/bag and have it as a quick dump and blend situation if you want to prep a bunch at the beginning of the week or month. I also find that warehouse stores have the best deals on frozen fruit, if you can fit that much in your freezers! I find the ratios that tend to work best for a balanced fruit/veggie smoothie are:

  • 1c milk (dairy or non-dairy, I prefer Almond milk for smoothies)
  • 1c fresh or frozen spinach (I freeze my spinach so it doesn’t go bad in that crisper drawer!)
  • 1-1.5c frozen fruit (this would include if you choose to add a banana or avocado)
  • 1-2T agave (only if the fruit isn’t sweet)
  • 1T Chia or Flax seeds (optional)

Granola, with or without yogurt (I love this recipe, but feel free to find your favorite one!) –
This recipe works as a dry granola to eat without milk or yogurt, or mixed into yogurt and topped with fresh fruit, or eaten like cereal with milk (dairy or non-dairy) right out of the bowl. Perfect for traveling via air, car or train, and filling for those long morning meetings that don’t give you a chance to get up and stretch your legs. As with all the other recipes and ideas shared today, granola, when made at home is versatile and can remain fresh and new with different combinations of dried fruits, nuts and oats. Let me know what your favorite flavor combination is!

Please let me know what your favorites are from the list and ideas above. Keep me posted on what you make throughout the week and what works well for your family. Do you have a favorite grab and go breakfast that you want to share? Please comment below! And, if you need more ideas or different recipe guidance than I shared above, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m here and willing to help ensure that your mornings are smooth and easy getting yourself and everyone else out the door!

Alexis

Week 19 Meal Plan

Anxiously awaiting the warmer weather here in Chicago…and enjoying all of the fresh produce. Our famer’s markets are opening in the next few weeks, and I can’t wait to visit and find new items to try and to share with all of you! As usual, I’m pulling from some of my favorite chefs to use this week’s grocery haul and freezer pulls, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Facebook for my in the moment results, adjustments and ideas!

Monday
Baked Sweet Potato Skins, topped with corn, sour cream, onions and guacamole!

Tuesday
Chicken Enchiladas from What’s Gaby Cooking, Everyday California Food cookbook

Wednesday
Pink Cacio e Pepe from Eat What You Want, 125 Recipes for Real Life cookbook

Thursday
Sushi Night!

Friday
Chicken Rice Bowl, hopefully on the grill!

Saturday
Grilled Salmon and grilled vegetables; seasonings TBD

Sunday
Family Dinner – Grilled Pizzas! A variety of crusts and toppings for the group

Breakfasts
Greek Yogurt with Fruit and Honey
Breakfast Sandwiches
Smoothies

Lunches
Leftovers
Wraps
Mixed Green Salads

From One Day to Day 1

How many times do you talk about things that you want or need to do, but somehow find every way to not actually make it happen? I am an expert at putting every single thing in front of what I actually want or need to make happen for my own future and happiness.

I know I shared about birthdays last week, and my struggle to find joy in my own birthday, for many reasons. And, one of those was the element of reflection that I felt the pressure of each year, and nagging feeling of not being where I want to be as each year passes.

This time around, I’m determined to have a different story to share as I celebrate my birthday in 2022. I’m no longer stuck in a job or company that controls or dictates my future. I am creating my own company, that focuses on my and my client’s health, wellness and self-care through fitness (sharing experiences), meal planning (for healthy choices and budget) and food prep (to save time for more fun activities).

Meal plans and food prep have been a consistent part of my life for most of my adult years, and that comes easily for me. Fitness and workouts, which I do consider something we should all be doing for our health, not because we “deserve it”, have always been inconsistent for me. For a majority of my life, I associated taking time to workout as something I had to earn, or do when I didn’t have something else to do (work is more important, family is more important, school is more important, etc.), which is a behavior I learned as part of a less active family and centering our entertainment around food and family/friends. I would go in spurts of going to the gym daily and eating healthy meals every day, but then slip when I allowed my mindset to determine my actions. I am determined to change this once and for all in the next 365 days.

My goals (in addition to maintaining meal plans and food prep) for now are:

  • Get outside >30 minutes a day (barring dangerous weather)
  • Walk >10,000 steps a day
  • Swap one snack a day with a smoothie (perfect for food prep too)

I accomplished Day 1. I had my Fitbit set-up (even had a new one since my old one broke a few weeks ago), and got it done. Took a little bit of realignment of mindset….I had errands to do, I had work to do, I had calls to make, I had normal activities to complete. But, I found my friend who doesn’t live here also planned to walk, so we coordinated; and I did it. We talked for a couple of hours, and I walked the whole time. I completed 3.5 miles and had my first 10,000 step day in months (barring any event days).

Day 1 wasn’t so bad, the weather was beautiful and I had a quieter day (despite my long list of “to-do’s” that clearly were not as urgent as I made them in my head, so I could take in the sunshine and blue skies, and catch up with my friend on hundreds of topics, the way old friends can do, and by default seemed to make better meal choices, which benefitted my fridge and budget, using ingredients before my big shop for the week, as well as used fruits and vegetables that probably would have gone bad otherwise.

I work on my mindset daily to help support my goals and to increase my chances of having more days that aren’t “Day 1” again. There’s nothing wrong with starting over again and again, but I’ve done that enough that it’s time for me to have days 2-100 and beyond, before there’s another Day 1. Will I be able to do it? I don’t know, but I hope so – and I’m invested in making this year the healthiest and happiest year yet, with some surprise (happy) changes that might come along too.

Tell me what your goals are for 2021, can I help you achieve your goals, whether with planning meals or helping show you the way to saving time in the kitchen so you can also be outside and with family/friends? Comment below or email me so we can work together to make this next 12 months different than before!

Alexis

Birthdays…Love Them or Leave Them?

Birthdays are a hot debate in our family, how about yours? Some of us wish we could skip the day altogether and some of us enjoy a celebration for every day of the month we were born.

We’re taking a small tangent from the meal planning and food prep (which in my book is part of self-care), to talk birthdays. May seem like a random detour, but it’s more a reflection as I am building a life and process to help people, which changes the course of life as I’ve known it in years past, and meal planning is just one part of how we all can live more full and calm lives. Before I take some time with family and friends, I thought I’d talk about it, and learn more about how all of you think of/celebrate your birthdays every year…here it goes!

I am on the side of quiet self-care and maybe my favorite dinner, though I don’t like to bring attention to it or myself. And, I admit that sometimes I set myself up for failure to celebrate me…whether I spent the day focused on all that hadn’t gone well or changed in the previous 12 months, who forgot or choses not to reach out to wish me a good day, or worked at my desk to prepare for a huge meeting, or allowed others to put parameters on how we would spend my day.

This year, I am making sure things will be different, and hopefully be the start of celebrating life, and all that has happened to get me to this place. I am not at the job that destroyed me anymore; I’m building the life that I’ve wanted for so long, but was too scared to think I deserved it. I am not chasing something that seemed to good to be true, I’m creating what is best for me; and holding those I love and care about as close as possible, even if from a distance.

I also decided, after such a difficult season of life from the end of 2020 until I left the place that caused me so much pain, that I don’t want to build everything up and into a single day that I deserve to do what I want, be with who I want and have what I want. That is what we all should have every day, and have the support to achieve a life that is full of moments, not just a 24 hours and then it’s as if the day never happened.

So, how will you choose to celebrate your birthday this year? What will you do to change the narrative that has weighed you down before? What would you tell others if you’re one who celebrates life without reservations?

As I start this next trip around the sun, I see big changes coming up, in the form of small shifts for myself, and I can’t wait to take all of you with me as we figure it all out, one step at a time. Back to meal plans and food prep tomorrow, and talking about workouts/nutrition soon, but for now, it’s time to get ready for sushi and maybe some cake!

Alexis

Top 5 Freezer Items for Meal Planning

Meal planning and food prep rely on having a well-stocked kitchen. Focusing on the freezer items that you should always have on hand, and keep an eye out for in the sales flyers to restock/stock-up for upcoming weeks. Take a look, and comment on any of your favorite must-have freezer items for meal prep below!

Item #1 – Vegetables

Corn, Peas, Green Beans (I prefer the thin/french cut option), french fries, tater tots, chopped spinach, hash browns (shredded and cubed). And, any others that might be part of your weekly cooking routine.

My freezer staples shift seasonally, especially in the spring and summer when fresh vegetables are on a consistent rotation on my grill or in salads. you purchase 20 ears of summer corn for a BBQ, and 4lbs of tomatoes for a huge salad, but everything gets rescheduled?

My summer produce overflow recommendations –

  • Spinach – freeze raw to include in smoothies or sauté with some olive oil, salt and pepper to
  • Bell Peppers – Grill or roast them, perfect prep for winter tacos and fajitas or to add to soups and casseroles
  • Potatoes – roast and grill them, freeze to use as a side dish, defost and mash them for fresher mashed potatoes. Bake and scoop out centers; freeze skins to use as baked potato skins for the Sunday sports viewing parties!
  • Carrots / Root Vegetables – grill or roast them, and puree for soups, stews, casseroles or a quick side
  • Tomatoes – Roast with some of the carrots/root vegetables and onions, then blend until smooth for a quick tomato/pizza/pasta sauce throughout the winter

Item #2 – Fruit

  • Fresh berries – cut (if larger) and freeze in freezer bags or containers to use in smoothies or as a topping for ice cream, all-fruit popsicles, oatmeal and add to water for some different flavors
  • Bananas – Cut into quarters and freeze. You can make banana bread, add to smoothies, mash into overnight oats or rice pudding
  • Blend any fruit combination with a small amount (up to 1T) of agave nectar or honey and freeze in a popsicle mold for fresh fruit smoothies anytime! I recommend this popsicle mold
  • Citrus Fruits – squeeze juice into a measuring cup and divide among silicone ice cub trays to freeze and use in recipes that need citrus juice in the winter months, in water, lemonade, mixed drinks and colorful/flavorful ice cubes

Item #3 – Protein Pieces

  • Chicken and pork – bone-in and boneless, and buy in bulk when on sale, just separate into 1lb packages once you’re home! Consider preparing a few multi-purpose marinades, like this one from What’s Gaby Cooking or this one from Giada DeLaurentiis; that you can add to a couple of the freezer containers before freezing so that as the chicken defrosts on the day it will be cooked, it marinates, saving time and extra steps during the busy weekdays.
  • Fish, such as Salmon, Cod, Red Snapper, Tilapia – Freeze in individual filets. These make great pieces to grill with a simple spice rub or quick marinade, and fish such as cod is fantastic for fish tacos.
  • Seafood, such as shrimp, scallops and calamari – generally seafood comes frozen, so you can pop them right in the freezer and season/marinate it as it defrosts the day you’re cooking it.
  • Ground meats – if you’ll be making burgers or meatballs, these can be prepared during your longer prep day, and frozen, still raw, so that you can cook them on the specific day. This helps for planning for larger parties or gatherings as well, frozen meatballs just need a quick bake/saute, and tossed with pasta and tomato sauce.

Item #4 – Larger Proteins, such as pork shoulder, chuck roast, beef tenderloin and whole chickens

  • Crockpot chicken broth that will yield the broth as well as rotisserie-style / cooked chicken to freeze and use for future recipes
  • Crockpot BBQ Pork for a Sunday Night dinner and a few dinners during future weeks. Add buns and coleslaw and you’re set!
  • Crockpot or Dutch Oven Beef Chili, beans or not, for a weekend project and lunches throughout the week

Item #5 – Grated/Shredded Cheese

Cheese can be expensive! Buy frequently used hard cheeses and grate/shred them (it’s cheaper and tastes/melts better this way too!) on your larger prep day and freeze to use in the future. Don’t worry about leaving in the refrigerator where it can become soggy or moldy, and, you’ll always have the cheese you need available without having to stop at the store on the way home or start a recipe only to find the refrigerated cheese didn’t hold up over the previous week or two.

Some meal ideas for all the shredded/grated cheese:

  • Topping for spaghetti dinners
  • Lasagna filling and toppings
  • Stuffed meatballs or hamburgers
  • Grilled cheese – and it melts more evenly than slices from the deli
  • Enchiladas and tacos
  • Risottos
  • Cheese Sauce for french fries, nachos, baked potatoes, etc.

Questions about how to stock your freezer or use what you already have to make room for new items? 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!

Alexis

Week 18 Meal Plan

We’re back to sweatshirts and cozy meals in the midwest this week. Take a look at what is on the meal plan below, we’re taking a “wing-it” approach to this week’s meals, we’ll see how it goes! As usual, I’m pulling from some of my favorite chefs to use this week’s grocery haul and freezer pulls, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Facebook for my in the moment results, adjustments and ideas!

Monday
Grilled pork chops with roasted broccolini. Simple and classic dinner for the start of the week.

Tuesday
Turkey Burgers and Spiced Sweet Potato Fries.

Wednesday
Taco and Fajita bar. Mix of proteins, vegetables and all the toppings for this week’s family dinner.

Thursday
Chicken Rice Bowl. We’ll be using leftovers and a variety of toppings for our bowls this week!

Friday
Spicy Bacon Fried Rice, inspired by What’s Gaby’s Cooking.

Saturday
Happy Hour

Sunday
Mother’s Day

Breakfasts
Greek Yogurt with Fruit and Honey
Egg Sandwiches

Lunches
Salads
Wraps

10 Steps to Start Meal Planning & Prep

Step 1:
INVENTORY WHAT YOU HAVE ON HAND – PANTRY, FREEZER AND REFRIGERATOR

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:
LOCATE CONTAINERS AND THEIR MATCHING LIDS!

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:
REVIEW THE SALES FLYERS WHEN THEY ARE POSTED/RELEASED

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:
PLAN YOUR MEALS AND SNACKS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

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:
CHOOSE AND SCHEDULE YOUR SHOPPING AND LONGER PREP DAY(S)

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:
SHOPPING DAY!

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:
LONGER PREP DAY

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:
ADD TO AND KEEP ONGOING SHOPPING LIST UPDATED

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!

Alexis

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