It might seem like a pain, but a few hours on the weekend will save you a HUGE amount of time during the week. It is also really cost effective – think about all of the food you won’t be wasting. I don’t know about you, but I always feel super guilty about throwing away unused produce. It probably goes back to when I was little, didn’t want to finish the food on my plate, and my mom would threaten to wrap it up and send it to those in need. On one occasion I may have told her to just send it.
Anyway, there’s no better way to say it -preparation is the key to success (and savings)!
Picture it: It’s Monday morning. You’re rushing around the house trying to get pets walked and kids out the door. You’re running late yourself so you grab a banana thinking that will hold you throughout the day. It doesn’t. So you go to your office vending machine and grab a Snickers and diet Coke, because that’s what the commercials advise. Well, now you’ve set off a chain reaction of not so great choices. You feel sad, hungrier, and tired.
Now, Picture it: It’s Monday morning. You spent a few hours on the weekend prepping your snacks and meals for the week. You packed your lunch the night before. You are rushing around the house trying to get everyone settled and ready for the day. You grab your lunch before you run out the door. You find yourself hungry around 10am so you start munching on fruit salad to hold you over until lunch. You are loaded up with healthy foods that will give you energy throughout the day. You feel happy, full, and energized!
You see what I did there? But, seriously, just do it…
So, where do you start?
- Variety is the spice of life! I spend a good chunk of time looking for fun and different recipes and looking for others on Pinterest and in a few of my favorite cookbooks. I suggest you pick a few new things to try each month to combat boredom.
- Create a meal plan for the week. This can be done on a white board, piece of paper, your phone, etc. I usually create a plan for 7-10 days and then create a grocery list based on the items I don’t already have on hand.
- Don’t forget to include snacks. I always shop the produce aisle to stock up on sustainable fruits and veggies. Sustainable – as in , you can slice & dice on Sunday and they will last until Friday. I go for strawberries, pineapple, grapes, cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, apples, and the like. Nuts are also great, and Larabars!
- You will need foil, plastic wrap, plastic bags in various sizes, and plastic storage containers (Just when you thought you had enough, buy more – they will never go out of style!). You can get all of these at the dollar store (or Target) to save some money.
Shop till You Drop
- I like to go grocery shopping at odd times when I know it won’t be overcrowded and I can be in and out in under an hour – usually Sunday before 8am. Then I come home and prep until about noon.
- If your grocery store has a scan as you go system, bring your own reusable bags and take advantage of it. This will cut down on time during checkout and will also reduce plastic waste (win-win).
- Work the parameters of the store first – produce, meats, frozen veggies, eggs, etc.
- Only go down the middle aisles if ABSOLUTELY necessary. This will prevent any unnecessary processed foods from jumping into your cart. They have a habit of doing that, you know.
Slice, Dice, & Box It
- Divvy up your portions as soon as you get home. If you wait, it won’t happen. Trust me.
- Cut up your fruit and veggies and box or bag them. I like to portion out enough for the week, plus two. You never know when you’ll get a case of the munchies, and its better to – you guessed it! – be prepared.
- Separate your meat by serving size – ¾ of a cup. Wrap in foil and freeze accordingly – if you will be cooking for two, freeze two portions together, etc. (Tip: I like to write the date and designated meal on the foil with a sharpie so I know what it is and when to take it out of the freezer.)
- Separate crackers, pretzels, nuts, etc. if you bought any, into plastic bags by serving size on the bag/box. These items can be stored in a small, shoe box size plastic bin for easy access.
- NOTE: Make sure to keep all produce utensils / cutting boards separate from those used for meat. Always clean surfaces with a good disinfectant and wash dishes with hot, soapy water. Cross-contamination is a BIG no-no. You wouldn’t want to get sick from improper handling of food – that’s just silly!
Meals & Starters (Below you will find some of the items I make on a typical weekend.)
- Chopped Onions: Small dice a bunch of onions and freeze them. This way, when you come to a recipe that needs them, you just have to grab a handful – stay one step ahead.
- Sweet Potatoes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and smill dice four (or more) large sweet potatoes. Place in two (or more) baking dishes. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake for 35 minutes or until soft and golden. (Save one dish for Sweet Potato Chocolate Chili and use the other for a nice sweet potato hash or other meals throughout the week.)
- Sweet Potato Chocolate Chili: Check out my favorite recipe from the whole smiths.
- Sweet Potato Hash: Another favorite recipe from Delicious meets Healthy.
- Spaghetti Squash: Preheat oven to 350 degrees (you can bake at the same time as the sweet potatoes). Cut squash in half lengthwise and place flat down on a baking sheet. Bake 45-60 minutes, or until top of squash is soft. Scoop out the seeds. Scrape out the “spaghetti” with a fork. (Use as a side dish, “spaghetti” and meatballs, or even as a breakfast bowl.)
- Emergency Meatballs: Check out this great recipe from Stupid Easy Paleo. (Use with your spaghetti squash for a spin on a traditional Italian fav.)
- Zucchini: Slice zucchini into thin coins. Slice up some onions, lengthwise (not diced/chopped). Add to a pan with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and other seasonings. Cook until golden brown and tender. (Use as a side dish or yummy additive to scrambled eggs.)
- Cauliflower Rice: Cut the florets off the cauliflower and add to a food processor. Process until the cauliflower starts to resemble grains of rice. At this point I like to bag it and freeze until ready to use. To cook, place the “rice” in a frying pan with a little cooking fat. Sauté on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Use this as a side dish or main event – like chicken fried “rice.”)
- Scrambled Eggs: Cook 3-6 pieces of bacon and set aside. Use the grease to make your eggs – this is totally OK! Add some chopped onion, peppers, spinach, etc. to the pan and sauté. Add eggs (I usually do 3 per person) and cook to desired doneness (I like them really done). Sprinkle bacon over eggs or serve on the side. (Use for breakfast – pair with a nice fruit salad and/or sweet potato hash.) NOTE: I don’t make scrambled eggs too much in advance, usually the night before. They can get a little weird if left too long in the fridge. Use your judgement.
- If you leave it ALL for the end, this will be the worst part of the whole process.
- Clean up as you go, discarding fruit and veggie waste, meat wrappers, etc. so that at the end all you have to do is wash your dishes and disinfect your surfaces.
See, it’s really not that bad.