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If the words “meal prep” make you panic, this post is for you.
I tried my first hand at meal prepping when I did a 21 Day Fix in 2016 before I got pregnant with Emmy. If you aren’t familiar, a 21 Day Fix is a diet and fitness plan that lasts 21 days and requires some hardcore planning to meet the dietary goals each day. Basically, there are color-coded containers meant to measure out categories of food (veggies, fruits, carbs, healthy fats, proteins, dressings) and each day you’re allotted so much of each. The plan itself is intimidating because it does require a lot of planning and prep, but it really works well for me to reset both my eating habits and my weight when I’m carrying a little extra. Overall a healthy, realistic mix of diet and exercise and I definitely recommend to anyone.
This post isn’t really about the 21 Day Fix (but I can do a post on that if you want me to! just email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org)… it’s about prepping meals ahead of time so that you can live your busy momma life without those “oh shit – what’s for dinner?!” moments! If you don’t have those moments, then we can’t be friends ;).
Anyway… I’m not currently doing a 21 Day Fix but I am trying to eat healthier and make my life easier, so I recently did a round of dinner meal prep and wanted to share with you! For this post, I’m basically recapping a set of 20 slow cooker dinners I prepped in one day, sharing the free resource I used to plan/prep, what I learned, what would’ve been helpful to know, what to skip, and why I’m pumped about it.
Here are the basics on meal prep for busy moms:
WHAT IS MEAL PREP
Meal prep is assembling meals ahead of time to make it easier to get them on the table, reduce money spent on groceries where you have tons of leftover ingredients you’ll never use, and just generally make your life easier. Win/win/win.
WHAT DID YOU MAKE?
I found this resource from New Leaf Wellness (no, this isn’t sponsored!) and she has done a TON of work to make meal prepping as easy as possible. Some of her plans are FREE which is incredible and include ingredient lists, label templates, instructions to freeze, instructions to cook, serving sizes, etc. The plan I followed is the 21 Day Fix Slow Cooker Freezer Meal Plan – it’s 21 recipes that can all go in the freezer, and all of them are cooked using a slow cooker. AWESOME. She’s also got the same plans for Whole 30 and KETO if that’s what you’re into.
WHY MEAL PREPPING IS AWESOME
- no making dinners from scratch every night (!!!)
- I don’t even have to cook the recipes I made using this meal plan – just pop them in the slow cooker!
- you can save lots of money if you shop sales/buy in bulk for the ingredients
- I’m more likely to eat something/stick to a plan/not opt for fast food if my food is already prepped/the money and time have already been spent
HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
I didn’t plan/shop too far in advance so I wasn’t shopping sales but I spent about $300 on the ingredients I didn’t already have. I did already have a lot of the spices, oils, and seasonings, so if you don’t have all that, expect it to cost a little more.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE?
I spent about 6 hours from start to finish, NOT including shopping. Six hours ÷ 20 meals = 18 minutes/meal. I also had all 3 of my kids home with me, which didn’t help my efficiency. It would also go much quicker with a friend/partner so one could chop/cut while the other assembled.
(NON) Pro Tips
- Make sure you have enough freezer space before you start to prep. This may sound silly but to freeze and store 20+ meals, you’ll need a deep freezer UNLESS you can make one at a time, freeze it flat, and then have enough room to store 20 flat, frozen meals. If you don’t have the space for 20 meals, scale it down! Don’t let lack of space get in the way of prepping.
- Print out your lists – I’m all about doing things online and on my phone but in this case, having a hard copy is so much more convenient.
- Take inventory before you shop – go through the entire list of ingredients before you shop and make sure you have enough of what’s required; it’s also helpful to know that I already had X ingredients instead of buying yet another can of bouillon cubes or jar of curry. Buying stuff like spices or oils that you already have also drives up the cost of meal prepping, so a little homework beforehand will be worth it! I went through my list of ingredients and highlighted what I had.
- Read the recipes – not just the ingredients – before you shop. I didn’t realize that in several of the 20 recipes I made, I could’ve used a pre-made ranch packet or taco seasoning packet. This would’ve saved some time 🙂
- If you are short on time, opt for already-diced garlic or already-chopped veggies… the chopped veggies are way more expensive, but, time is money! I would 100% buy a huge thing of diced garlic for the next round of prep, though – inexpensive and it took forever to mince/chop garlic for almost every recipe. You could also use a food processor, if you have one.
- Buy as much as you can in bulk – we bought a huge gallon of diced tomatoes, a bag full of garlic heads, about 10 lbs of yellow onion, and all the meat we could find at Sam’s Club.
- When you’re putting the food into bags, put the bags in a pitcher or bucket to keep the bag open and avoid it tipping over. Amazon also sells bag stands, if you’re ready to get serious about meal prep ;).
- Lay your bags flat to freeze – this makes it MUCH easier for the ingredients to thaw, versus freezing everything in one giant hunk of ice.
- Squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before you freeze it.
- Double bag everything. You didn’t spend that much money for the bag to leak and your whole meal to go bad.
- Label the bag with what’s inside/instructions or whatever BEFORE you put food in it 🙂
- You can put raw meat in with raw veggies/sauces/whatever. No need to brown/cook stuff before you freeze it, as long as you’re cooking it when it’s time to serve it.
- Be prepared for your kids to freak out. The first slow cooker meal I prepped/made was a spaghetti squash with meat sauce recipe and Quinn threw an absolute tantrum that her spaghetti was different. Instead of letting it ruin my night or taking it personally, I boiled up some “regular” pasta for her and she totally ate the meat sauce with it.
- If you start to freak out/get overwhelmed, take a break! Or ask someone to help. Honestly, planning makes it not so overwhelming and you can just take it page by page <3