One of the big changes I made last year was I started meal prepping. Before you write this post off as off-topic, hear me out. I had changed jobs. I was eating out all the time. I was stressed and would come home and have a glass of wine and eat ice cream. At some point, I had a business dinner and none of my suits fit. Not even the one that I bought two sizes of pants for in the off chance I put on some weight. I had put on a serious amount of weight. While planning my meals out and eating healthier helped me shed some of the weight, I became less stressed. Meal prepping made me less stressed and helped me stay organized.
I was shocked but it makes perfect sense. I even talked about meal prepping leading to a less stressed life in my article: 5 Tips to Be More Organized and Less Stressed! Let’s talk about why.
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Meal Planning Eliminates the Guess Work out of Dinner
Before Meal Planning: M-F I would get home and be exhausted. I had just worked all day and probably decided to skip the gym because I was so tired. I’d get home and we’d have barely any groceries. The ambiguity of “What’s for dinner?” used to be just long enough for my exhaustion to set in. It wasn’t long before I was convincing Mr. PaperGazer to get Taco Bell with me. Some days, Taco Bell left me extremely satisfied. Other days, I felt guilty and mad at myself for not making healthier choices.
After Meal Planning: I still come home after the same chaos and exhaustion as before except now I know exactly what I’m going to eat for dinner. I start cooking. Within an hour or so I’m eating. Now, something about cooking and moving on to the next “task” keeps me feeling accomplished and productive. After dinner, I’m able to relax. Meal planning doesn’t mean that you have prepared each meal. Sometimes, I plan to go out for lunch. But, at 10:15 am when I start to get hungry, I don’t have anxiety about where I’m going or what I’m going to eat.
Step 1: Planning the Meals for the Week
On Sunday (sometimes Monday because we grocery shop on Tuesday), I plan what we are going to eat for the rest of the week. This includes my lunches during the work week. Since Mr. PaperGazer doesn’t eat vegetables and I can be picky, I have a great list of recipes that we both like. I highly recommend making a list like this, even if you aren’t picky. Why? Because when you are planning your meals for the next week, you can just browse your list. It’s a great way to keep from eating the same thing week after week.
Once I have picked out a few recipes, I turn them into a meal plan.
Mine isn’t usually this glamorous but check out this adorable meal planner from Erin Condren:
Since the recipes I usually use are from my list of go-to’s, I usually know what ingredients we need and if I’m going to have any leftovers. Pro Tip: You make a ton of chicken at the beginning of the week really easily in an InstantPot or CrockPot. As the week goes on, you can use this already cooked chicken for chicken salad, an enchilada casserole, and chicken soup (really the options are endless). This is a great way to avoid eating the same thing at every meal. Additionally, I would suggest making vegetables and sides that you can cook all at once. For example: You can roast carrots and broccoli and cauliflower all on the same baking sheet.
Once I’ve outlined what I think we are going to have for the rest of the week, I make my grocery list.
Step 2: Optimized Grocery Shopping
Having the meal plan and the recipes identified before we do grocery shopping ensures that we actually buy the ingredients we need and that we don’t buy junk that isn’t on the list. Take your list of meals and write down all the ingredients you will need. (For spices, I usually just write the name of the spice. Once I have a list of all the spices, I double check that we have everything.) If I don’t I’m sure to put it on the grocery list. Starting a recipe only to realize you are missing ingredients is frustrating.
For the last 6 months, we have been using Kroger ClickList. This service allows you to fill out your grocery list and set up a pick up time. While there is a $5 service fee for using ClickList, I feel pretty strongly that I have eliminated more than $5/week of food waste by meal planning. Had I gone into the store, I definitely would be more likely to buy $5 of food I don’t need. This service could be a lifesaver for people with kids — going to the grocery is an ordeal if you have to haul 3 kids and a cart.
Amazon offers a service similar to this, called AmazonFresh. Click here to learn more about AmazonFresh and sign up for a free trial!
Step 3a: Cooking — Side Rant about my Instant Pot
If you already have an Instant Pot, you understand. Feel free to skip to the next section. If you don’t have an Instant Pot — let me tell you quickly how this one device has changed my outlook on meal prep.
I cook almost all my meals with my Instant Pot. I’m not going to win Chopped anytime soon. For a long time, my lack of kitchen enthusiasm limited me to crock pot meals. They were easy and required minimal skill. You could set them up and you’d come home to dinner. But, I struggled to remember to get the CrockPot started in the morning.
Then, I had a friend mention her Instant Pot. For those of you who do not know what an Instant Pot is… It’s an electric pressure cooker. These aren’t your grandma’s pressure cookers that would blow up the house. These are twenty first century pressure cookers. Those crock pot recipes I used to make that took all day? I can now make them in less than 30 minutes in my Instant Pot. This is all of the ease of a crock pot combined with the timeliness of old-school oven cooking. (I’m not opposed to the oven, I just am not very good at cooking…) The appealing ease and quickness of the Instant Pot was enough for me to order one. Now? I’m totally hooked.
I use my Instant Pot for almost all of my meals. Also, Instant Pot has a cult-like following, which means TONS of recipes. Check out my Pinterest board with recipe ideas to get started!
Step 3b: The Actual Cooking
This will vary depending on what you are going to eat during the week but here’s how my cooking goes.
- Cook hard boiled eggs in the Instant Pot. I do this first because they are really easy and it gets me in the mood. Also, you only add water to the Instant Pot which means once the eggs finish, clean up is non-existent. You can even throw them on this silicone steamer and lift them out all at once.
- While the eggs are in the Instant Pot, chop and start your veggies for the week. Some weeks I just make a massive thing of fajita veggies, other weeks I roast a few different kinds. I get the veggies all set up and started.
- Take the eggs out. If you are going to cook rice, now is a good time. Throw that in the Instant Pot.
- Once the rice and veggies are done, portion and put in glass containers. Glass is great because its 100% safe in the microwave and comes clean. No icky stained plastic!
- To finish, I make a bunch of chicken. I like to do this with minimal seasoning and then season each day differently. This distracts me from the fact that I’m eating basically the same thing every day. I also love chicken and turkey sausage. Mr. PaperGazer likes fish. We make different proteins and throw these in the glass containers.
Step 4: Clean Up
In case you didn’t notice in the above, you used very few pots, pans and dishes. While the protein is cooking, you can clean anything you used for the veggies and rice. While I like to make chicken tikka masala in the Instant Pot, its the messiest recipe of my entire meal prep. No problem! I saved it for last. This keeps things moving in the kitchen and me from getting tired.
The InstaPot has a seriously cult-like following. There are tons of recipes online and entire cookbooks dedicated to Instant Pot cooking. Just a quick search for Instant Pot recipes will give you some good ideas.
Find out what works for you and your family. Just because Sally from marketing comes in with a ton of variety doesn’t mean you have to. If you don’t mind eating the same thing every day, go for it. Find something that you can stick with easily. Again, meal prep and planning is supposed to make your life easier!
Do you meal prep? What are some of your favorite recipes? Comment below!
If you liked this article. Check out 4 more ways to Reduce Stress here!