What is Meal Prep?
Welcome to Advanced Chaos Management: Meal Prep!
I define meal prep as any work you do for your food ahead of time. Meal prepping can be a lot more flexible than making rows of identically filled boxes in your fridge. I think there are varying degrees of meal prep. Simple, which is washing, slicing and portioning. Medium, which includes everything in simple and making some batch recipes or sides. Then there is advanced where you prepared whole meals ahead of time.
My checklist is designed to help you with simple or medium meal preps and is a great way to get started.
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Is Meal Prepping Right for You?
You don’t have to meal prep, no really, you do not have to meal prep. It is possible to keep your weeknight dinners under control without meal prepping.
If you are overwhelmed by cooking I recommend holding off on meal prep until you can handle basic and simple recipes. I know I overextended and overwhelmed myself in my early meal prepping attempts, so I can tell you from experience that it wasn’t worth it. Wait until you are comfortable with basic cooking skills, like cutting and measuring before you start.
If you don’t have time, you shouldn’t add to your stress with meal prep. You might not have a whole afternoon to devote to prepping your food for the week, especially if your weekends are for preventing burning out at work or spending quality time with your family.
If you just don’t want to, then don’t meal prep. I’m not here to change your mind, but I encourage you to check out my other Chaos Management techniques. You might find something that works better for you than meal prep.
If every minute of your weeknights counts, then I think you should meal prep. Even simple meal prep can help you save 10-15 minutes for many recipes. I know it helps me on my crazy nights.
If you just like having things ready to go, then meal prepping might be ready for you. Having everything prepared gives a real confidence boost, which can matter a lot in the beginning. All those containers filled with brightly colored healthy food will give you a sense of pride.
If you want to try more complicated recipes on a weeknight, then I think you are on the right web page. Many recipes have steps that you can do ahead of time, which can turn a 1.5 hour-long recipe into 25 minutes.
I believe just about anyone can handle this level of meal prep, which is the left column of my Meal Prep Checklist. It’s where my husband and I started with meal prepping. There are three main tasks: washing, slicing and portioning.
Many fruits and veggies can be washed ahead of time a stay fresh throughout the week. I love having prewashed apples ready to eat because then I’ll actually snack on apples, not cookies. Produce for recipes that I’ll make later in the week or batch prep during my meal prep get washed here too.
Some fruits and veggies you shouldn’t pre-wash because they don’t store well after wetting, like berries or potatoes.
This step is all about making sure you have exactly what you need when you need it. I put what I need in a labeled Ziplock or other food storage container so when cooking time comes all I have to do is cook. I know I have the right amount of chicken to dump into my instant pot and the right amount of veggies for my sauce.
Labeling is the most important part of this step. I write when and what, like Tuesday Lunch. I also like to use a red sharpie so the print jumps out at me. But other colors can be fun, I had a nice pink sharpie for a while but it ran away during my last move.
Mix Seasonings and Marinades
Premixed seasonings and marinades can speed up cooking. Mixing seasonings, like taco seasoning, ahead of time is especially helpful because you can use some of them on a variety of recipes for many many weeks.
For many marinades, you can mix them on Sunday and then pour them into your pre-portioned ziplock of chicken on a Wednesday. Which is so much simpler than running around before or after work with measuring spoons.
This level includes everything in simple and then the entire right column of the worksheet. What is different is that I’ll make portions of a meal or ingredients that can reheat well, freeze well, or both.
An example of this is baked potatoes. Potatoes are a favorite in my home. Baked russets and sweet potatoes are some of my favorites for reheating. I might also prep a small portion of prebaked chunks for post-meal prep fondue while I’m at it.
A dump recipe is basically when you put everything into a ziplock and when you are ready to eat you dump it into something, cook, and stuff face.
First, you put a bunch of stuff in a ziplock then store it in your fridge or freezer. When it’s time to make it, then you dump it into or onto the respective instant pot, crockpot, or cookie sheet. All you need to do is heat appropriately. These are wonderful recipes.
Making oversized batches ahead of time can streamline both your meal planning and your cooking. My favorite things to make batches of are meatballs, waffles, and pizza dough. It doesn’t add much time to double a recipe and store it in the freezer to be eaten over the next few months. Then if you make a little extra for your freezer every week, you will have a fully stocked freezer without an overwhelming meal prep list.
This level is where you’re prepping whole meals ahead of time. Some people prep literally a whole week’s worth of food, others just a few meals for their week.
I’m not a big fan of this method for two reasons. First, at my current skill level for the food I like, it would take me at least a day and a half to cook enough food for a week’s worth of daily meals. Second, though I might love leftovers, I have found that by the end of the week the food doesn’t taste so great. That might be the recipes I chose, my fridge, or even my ability to prep them. But sad food on Fridays is just depressing. The closest I would consider doing for this would be to make a few dump recipes or a tin of lasagna.
It’s not for me, but it could be for you if you are very good at prepping food quickly. If you really enjoy freezer meals and leftovers. Or if you only have the time to pluck something from the fridge and then immediately eat.
Meal prepping is a great way to help you help yourself. I have found it extraordinarily useful, and you might too. I would love to hear about your meal prepping experiences down below in the comments. Also, to get your free meal prepping checklist and other Chaos Management worksheets, sign up for my email list.