Wishing for more sanity and less stress when you think of what you're going to eat this week?
Or do you get anxious over the thought of your next grocery run, indecisive as you stand with the refrigerator door open figuring out what to eat for dinner?
Then you're in the right place, friend. Think of this post as your reminder that simplicity is better than setting grand expectations (especially with food).
In the world we live in today, recipes and prep recommendations come at us daily and honestly, the consumption of all this information (on top of all the other things we soak in mentally), it can make what should be a simple endeavor quite overwhelming. Hopefully this post doesn't add to noise, but affirms that what you're doing is enough (and also, a few tweaks to make it feel better).
Questions like am I even doing this right? Should I be eating more of ...? Should I stop using ...? could flood the space that should be made clear for food.
The main reason why we are encouraged to "meal prep" at all is to save time and have ready to go meals without a thought when the hunger strikes.
before we get ahead of our shelves, let's clear the air...
The primary message of this post is to bring us back to the basics: have ready to go food, less of it gone to waste, and more money saved.
Give yourself moments to just take a breather from information overload and simplify the often over-complicated idea of planning meals and shopping for all the things. And you know what, let's remove the shame we add into our relationship to food while we're at it.
Note: I don't have a huge house to feed, so a majority of the below might not sit well with someone who has, say, 9 or more people in their home. I do hope there are some words that can be taken and applied, but also understand it won't resonate with everyone and that's okay.
now, time to debunk some common food prep fibs:
one of my favorite things to do when I'm introducing anything new is to deconstruct the former beliefs that left a bit of a singe on my self awareness (and assumptions of the world with it). Same goes for food, let's break some things down:
1) The best time to prep your meals is at the beginning of the week.
Is it nice to have your shopping done and meals prepped before another week begins? Absolutely. But it doesn't always have to be Sunday or Monday. You can determine when your week starts - especially if you still have some food left, don't feel obligated to go the store just because of the day.
2) You need to make a grocery list before you go shopping
Okay okay, if you need a few specific items, do your thing. My ideal situation is to roam the isles with some ideas of what we typically grab in mind (some protein dense food, snacks, more snacks, grains, fresh produce, some instant and frozen goods, and whatever Sequoia puts in the cart) and (the important part) take my time doing it. There shouldn't be a rush when shopping for the food you're going to eat. If you have small hands accompanying you, grab something to keep them occupied. If you're hungry, grab a snack to eat while you shop and pay for it later (I do this almost every time).
If it turns out you forgot an ingredient like a specific spice, replace it with something you already have (and hey, you might end up having an ever better dish prepared).
3) You need storage containers to prep best.
Maybe people haven't used these words exactly, but we see these structured kitchen spaces with organization up the whazoo, and cut up vegetables in glass containers lined up nice and neat and that picture just isn't practical or realistic for some. I have a few glass containers for leftovers and chopped produce, and I'm still building up my pantry storage with no hurry to make it my version of perfect. Do what works for you, Zip Lock bags, plastic mismatched containers - whatever you have to hold your chops will do!
Now for Some Pre-Prep Steps
#1 Go Easy on yourself
I think the biggest problem with meal prep is we become our own worst enemy when we don't do it as planned or we don't measure up to par with the results. Loosen the rules of typical meal prep a bit (for example, maybe you don't thaw the meat the day before, but you set time the next day to thaw it quicker - like place it between 2 sheet pans).
Gradually loosen the pressure you might hold over this week's expectations of food. You don't have to make a meal from scratch for a majority of the things you eat. Modern day, we have the ability to cook instant meals with healthy alternatives as an option. I used to make breakfast, lunch and dinner fresh, every single day after I got married (until I got pregnant) because my perfectionistic mind told me I had to eat fresh to be well. That is a lie. We'll talk on that more later.
#2 Make a Semi-Clean Slate
It's not practical to say empty your cabinets and refrigerator of all the food inside before you go grocery shopping, but I do feel there are benefits with intentionally using what you have left before you replace it with more. And when you bring in the fresh, move the food you had before toward the front of the shelves, and add the new items behind them.
#3 Prep the Prep Immediately
If possible, don't wait until the next day or two to cut up the
vegetables or shred the rotisserie chicken. Put the snacks in the designated spaces, cut the vegetables, roast the potatoes, cook the rice or quinoa. Your tomorrow self with thank you for putting in the effort while you were already in the kitchen vs. when it feels like you have to drag yourself in there.
Not all meals are created equal, so they don't all need to be prepped ahead of time. Just make a mental note to make the thing in the first place.
#4 Put the Bowl Theory into Practice
This is a Kimber theory, where it's believed that when a meal is curated to be in a bowl that consists of a variety of color and nutrients, it is more likely to be made and eaten. This has been a go to practice of mine for years, and it lifts the burden of meal planning specifics by a good amount. The variety of things you can put in a bowl is wild - let that imagination with food and spices soar, here.
#5 Combine the Instant with the Fresh
Not everything can be freshly home made all the time. So when planning out your meals, grab some instant options and mix in some freshly made goods with it (like seasoned-roasted vegetables). A must try is some chopped carrots roasted with olive oil and Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute. That stuff makes anything taste heavenly.
#6 Do some Recon before you Shop
Check out the store's website (if they have one) to see if they have any sales going on the day you go shopping. If there happens to be a sale on a different day, consider going then to save some extra bucks.
Another part of your "research project" (or just more intentional thought processing) is to go to multiple stores, given they're near enough one another. This is something I've been doing for several years because one store just isn't going to have everything or sell what I need at the best price when comparing it to the store next door.
One stop won't sell diapers, while another one does, but they don't sell the milk our family drinks, and then there's another one across the way that sells meat at a more affordable price than the others.
If you have a one stop shop that works well for you, wonderful. If you happen to be like me and shop at four stores to get the best bang for your buck and supply, fantastic.
p.s. look at grabbing the store brand items over the popular name brands (a lot of the them have the same ingredients, so go ahead and reach for the bottom shelf and save some coins, honey).
#7 Store the Goods Properly
Reasoning for this has two parts (this is for the post-grocery run): 1) when we unload our groceries in an "organized fashion" (for example, bins and containers to sort and separate dried foods in the cupboards, and jars and plastic dividers in the refrigerator), we can easily see how much of something we have left, and are more likely to reach for it than when it's in a shamble (how many times have I opened my untidy cabinet and found something that expired a month ago pushed in the back? Too many.)
2) Doing this right away keeps the food fresh for a longer period of time (for example, store your berries in glass jars or cups after you rinse them and place them in the fridge, rather than have them stay in their plastic containers you bought them in). And it never hurts to look up which produce should stay in versus outside the fridge at room temperature for longer lasting food.
#8 Shop Seasonal Produce Only
I know it's hard - especially when all you want is the thing that would be cheaper in the Fall, but is $5/lb right now. When I first heard of the practice to shop in season produce only, I got a little annoyed - but when I actually follow it, money is saved, and we try new things that we end up falling in love with.
Moral of the story: look for items that are in season, pretty confident zero regrets will be had (p.s. chocolate is always in season).
#9 Limit your Options
One of the trickiest things I find with grocery shopping is purchasing too much. Not necessarily because I shop hungry, but because I want a variety. With that comes the risk of half the amount we purchase going bad (this literally happened last week...). So when you're standing in front of several options and you just want them all (but don't need them) ask yourself the following:
When will this be consumed? (immediately or later as a "back up meal")
How much of it would be eaten in reality?
Could it hold well as leftovers?
#10 Store brand is not a bad option
I used to think store brand automatically meant bad (even though I was raised on buying the cheapest option available). You save money by doing so, and if you compare the ingredient list with that of a popular name brand, odds are they are the same.
In case you need a little extra guidance on what to prep and how to store it, here are my go to foods and containers:
Go to Foods (literally, every week)
- Quinoa: love to make a couple of cups of this in chicken broth at the beginning of the week and interchange it with brown rice for meals. Fluffy, savory and delicious.
- Frozen Brown Rice: find in the freezer section (I get mine from trader Joe's or Sprouts). each box comes with 3 bags of rice, and easily serves 2-3 people per bag. Just microwave for 3 minutes and you have a good base for a bowl!
- Sweet Potatoes: The technical name is probably garnett yams - but it's the orange potatoes, not the yellow ones. I'll chop these into 1 inch cubes, lay them out on a baking sheet prepped with parchment paper, drizzle some olive oil and salt and pepper before baking in the oven at 475 for 20 minutes (flipping halfway)
- Seasonal Veggies: I'll cut these up and store them in the fridge to include with most lunches and dinners. when it's time to eat, I'll cook them on the stove top for 3-5 minutes with some oil and seasoning
- Add dark greens: with most bowls I put together, I'll toss in some of the loose greens I have stored away.
- Current instant food favorites:
- Nasoya Thai Basil Vegan Dumplings are incredible over brown rice and coconut
- Kevin's Natural Foods: we get ours from costco because you get more for much less. So. So. Good.
Go to Containers
- Plastic Cabinet Containers: these containers from Target are the best one's I've seen for the price (why does it have to cost so much just to be organized?). I use them for Sequoia's snacks, cereal and sugars.
- Glass Containers: this is the glass set I have and it's everything I needed for leftovers, meal prep, and even to store other things in the cabinet.