Ok, so after you’ve meal planned and grocery shopped, then what do you do?? You’ve got all of these delightful new ideas and foods in your kitchen, but my guess is you are going to have some trouble figuring out where to start. At least I did. I’m easily overwhelmed as it is, so I’m going to just assume that some of you out there are like me.
First, you’ll need to get organized. Hopefully you have space in your fridge and pantry, but if you don’t now is a good time to do a quick “clean and purge”. Let’s start with you pantry.
- Are there any items that have expired? I am notorious for purchasing canned goods and then not using them before the expiration date. What I’ve found to be helpful is to rotate older items to the front each time I bring home a new item. For example, if I buy diced tomatoes, I’ll place them on the shelf behind any diced tomatoes that I already have. That way I’m always using the older item first. During these re-stocks, I also check the dates.
- Are there any open items that are stale or you know you aren’t going to finish? My husband is a stickler for foods having to be fresh. He’ll throw out what I consider to be a perfectly good bag of chips because he says they taste stale. But seriously – if you have open chips, cookies, and crackers – do a quick taste test. If it’s stale, toss it. If there are items in here you know you aren’t going to finish, toss these as well. This will help to clean up your shelf space!
Now that you hopefully have some extra space, go ahead and place all your shelf-stable items in our pantry. If you’re like me and store your starches and some vegetables in here, I would make sure to keep your onions away from your potatoes. They don’t work so well together and cause each other to ripen much quicker than if you keep them separate!
Now, let’s move onto the refrigerator. Follow the same logic as what you did in the pantry. Make sure that you are storing your fruits and vegetables at the correct humidity so they don’t spoil quicker than you can use them!
Once you have your food put away, now it’s time for the fun part – food prep! I write out a list of items that I want to prep first, just so I have a plan of attack. Every week, I make my lunches and snacks ahead of time so I can just grab and go. If possible, I also prep my breakfast so I’m not rushing in the morning before work. I also choose the main meals that I can make ahead of time. You can prep the entire meal (proteins included), or if you’re worried about meats being dry you can just prep the sides ahead of time. I’ve done it both ways and it really is just a personal preference.
A word of caution – regardless what you’re making, you’re going to get dirty and so is your kitchen. Just be prepared! The first time I meal-prepped, it looked like a tornado had landed and just destroyed all my pots and pans. I know it sounds awful – especially if you’re the type who likes to clean as you go – but it’s going to be ok. Don’t clean as you go because that just slows your process! Just mentally prepare to knock out the cooking part, then load up that dishwasher afterwards. Or, if you have a willing spouse/roommate, recruit them for the task!
I typically start with prepping my snacks. Every afternoon, I either have fruit salad or fruit with Greek yogurt. I bring out all of my fruits and bring out the necessary storage containers and utensils to chop them up. I have mini, 1.2 cup Tupperware containers that I use for my fruit and yogurt. I also bring out my smaller cutting board so I can chop everything up. Depending on what’s in season or on sale, my fruit salads will vary. I am a big fan of blueberries, pineapple, and strawberries so I try to have this as often as possible. Unfortunately, pineapple can get expensive so I don’t always have it available. I also like to include cantaloupe or peaches, when they’re in season. During the summer months, I’ll buy a seedless watermelon and make that last for an entire week! The only fruits I won’t prep ahead are apples (they’ll turn brown and YUCK) and bananas.
If I’m having Greek yogurt, I’ll measure out my serving and place it in separate Tupperware containers. Sometimes I’ll mix in vanilla extract or cinnamon for a little kick. If I’m having some other snack, such as veggies and hummus, I’ll store the veggies in Ziploc bags and hummus in my small blue containers (21 Day Fix). If I’m making boiled eggs, I’ll peel these ahead of time and also place them in Ziploc bags with a bit of salt and pepper. I typically store all my snacks either in sandwich meat drawer or on the top shelf in my fridge. This makes them visible and very handy when I’m looking for a quick snack!
Moving on to lunch. I have always been a salad girl, so I fell in love with mason jar salads. I will admit that a first I was hesitant, but I didn’t give it a fair shot at first with only 2 mason jars. That’s not even enough to get me through Wednesday! Come mid-week, I was making my salads again for the next two days, and then doing it again for Friday. That wasn’t helping me get ahead at all! Once I invested in 5-6 mason jars, I found it much easier because I could make all salads in one sitting and one mess!
I don’t know if you’ve tried these, but here’s the basic breakdown: dressing on the bottom; followed by your starches, proteins, or hard veggies (they won’t get soggy from the dressing); and topped with your more sensitive veggies and fruits. Now, you can get as fancy or as simple as you want. When I first started, I stuck to the basics and only use dressing, tomatoes/cucumbers, and lettuce. Now that I’ve been doing this for awhile, I’l started to get creative by adding some chicken, fruit, and quinoa!
I make one dressing for the entire week and place 2 T in the bottom of each mason jar. I decide whether or not I’m using a starch or protein in any salads and portion these out. These will go next so they can block the dressing from my vegetables. Next come the fruits and vegetables. I always include tomatoes and cucumbers. Depending on the theme of my salad (i.e. fruity vs. savory), I may add carrots, celery, or bell peppers. If I’m having fruit, I’ll place this with the vegetables in the jar. Finally, I top my salad with the greens – either kale or spinach. Then you screw the lid on and you’re all set to go!
Finally, let’s tackle dinner! I will typically prep my meals ahead at least through Thursday. Sometimes we go out to dinner on Friday, but if we don’t I typically come straight home and have a bit more time on my hands to prep a meal in comparison to the weeknights. I first look at my recipes to see what side items are shared amongst the meals. As I mentioned in my Meal Planning 101 post, I am a big fan of sharing starches throughout meals. This is because it’s easier to make 1 big pot of rice or quinoa versus 1 cup of quinoa here, 1 cup of rice here, 1 cup of potatoes there, etc. Let’s just eat the same starch all week and roll to a new one next week!
For this week, I’ve planned to use quinoa for my starch of choice and rice for my husband. I have a rice cooker, so I can cook his rice in there and make my quinoa on the stove. If I am having pasta one night, I won’t pre-make this because I find re-heated noodles to be very rubbery. Besides, it only takes 10-12 minutes to boil some pasta! I have also planned to roast zucchini and squash, so I slice both of these up on a larger cutting board. I bake these in the oven on a cookie sheet coated with coconut oil spray. I typically season the slices with rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper.
While the side dishes are cooking, I also begin working on my proteins. This week we are having Spicy Beef Taco Quinoa Bowls, Chicken Parmesan with zoodles or spaghetti, Italian meatballs with spaghetti, and chicken with wild rice. That may sound like a lot, but it will make enough for about 2 meals each, getting me through the days!
- I cook the ground turkey with taco seasoning in a frying pan on one of my larger burners. Once this is completed, I simply store it in Tupperware.
- For the chicken parmesan, I prep my egg wash and breadcrumbs. I actually made my own whole-wheat breadcrumbs this week by chopping up some of my bread in a food processor! I don’t know why I haven’t thought of this before! Once the chicken is coated, I place it in a small frying pan that’s coated with olive oil.
- For the chicken parmesan and spaghetti, I use a clean sauce recipe from my Fixate cookbook. I have a larger saucepan that I always use for sauce, and it fits perfectly on my other small burner! Once the onion and garlic are softened from the olive oil, I add the sauce ingredients and let it simmer on low for about an hour.
- I also use a recipe from my Fixate cookbook for the meatballs. I mix all the ingredients together and form small meatballs. I typically bake these in the oven on a small cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Finally, the chicken and wild rice! This is actually one of the easiest recipes. I place water and rice mixture in a casserole dish. Next, I place my chicken in the rice mixture and pop it in the oven!
As I mentioned, I’ll sometimes prep my breakfast ahead of time. I usually have eggs and veggies, an omelette, or some sort of oatmeal. All of these I make fresh because I’ve found that re-heated eggs and oatmeal are not tasty. However, I can at least portion out my oats in a container so it’s one less step in the morning. I also prep my veggies (mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach/kale) ahead of time in small Ziploc bags. I do want to note that you can make overnight oats the night before. I’ve tried a few recipes and will be sharing my thoughts/feedback about them in upcoming posts!
And there you have it – that’s how you meal prep! As each dish is completed, I place it in storage containers or cover with lids and foil. Unless the dish needs to be mixed together, I typically store each component separately. A good example of this are the Quinoa Bowls. I’ll store the quinoa in one container, taco meat in another container, and beans and corn in a third container. All of my dinner items will typically take up my large fridge shelf, and sometimes I have to store the overflow in one of the drawers. I find it’s a small sacrifice to pay for not having to make a meal each work night!
Now – who’s ready to come do my dishes?