Meal Planning for Dummies

Picture this:

You have great intentions on Sunday. You’re going to eat healthier starting this week! Less sugar, more veggies, less take-out, more cooking. You’re not even over-complicating your goal, but come Wednesday night, your energy has faded and you call for pizza.

This happens to me all. The. Time. Hi, I have two kids, a husband that works long hours, and only a finite amount of energy leftover at the end of the day. Sometimes, pizza is all I can do, but I have a few strategies to prevent this crash and burn.

On the weekend, probably during afternoon nap time, I gather up my cookbooks, open up my Instagram saved posts, take a look ahead at my calendar, and I make a meal plan. I’ve adapted a template for my needs, including a column for “prep,” and I just fill the thing in. I leave spaces for date nights, plans, leftovers, and when I know that I need a break from the kitchen. On busy days, I select recipes that I know will be fast and simple or something for the Instant Pot or Crock Pot when I know pick-up will get in the middle of cooking. On slower days, I pick recipes that I’ll enjoy making and taking my time with, because often cooking can be meditative and relaxing for me. Sometimes, I just have a protein to grab out of the freezer and roast some vegetables- no recipe required. Sometimes I meal prep, lately I don’t. You will find what’s right for you over time, but here are some game plans to help you out.

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Meal Prep Madness

When to use it: You have a calm Sunday, an hour or two to kill in the kitchen, and you know your week could benefit from some preparation

Why it rocks: You’ll have a quick meal ready in minutes, you’ll up your vegetable intake, and it’s really easy to have something ready for the kids. If you’re single, you won’t have massive amounts of leftovers and you won’t get bored of the same thing every night.

How to do it: Focus on veggies! Simply roast or sauté the following (or chop and keep raw) to have ready for a quick side dish at breakfast or dinner, or to throw together with a protein for a nutrient-packed ingredient meal for lunch, topped with a favorite homemade or Tessemae’s salad dressing for healthy fat.

  • Greens- pick 2 (i.e. kale, chard, romaine)
  • Cruciferous veggies- pick 1 (i.e. broccoli, cauliflower)
  • Starch- pick 1 or 2 (i.e. sweet potatoes, squash)
  • Other- pick 1 or 2 (i.e. zucchini or something for a “garnish” like roasted tomatoes or caramelized onions)

Then, pick a protein that you can repurpose throughout the week (i.e. Instant Pot chicken or basic ground beef) and make a big batch.

Optional: Cut up your fruit for easy access. Make a salad dressing. Make one big recipe that will get you a few dinners or something that can easily be repurposed to combat boredom.

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Batch Cooking

When to use it: You have a crazy Sunday ahead of you and/or are too tired/unmotived to do a huge prep.

Why it rocks: No meal prep marathons, but with all of the benefits.

How to do it: Pick your options!

  • Roast double the vegetables- pick a cruciferous veg and a starch or greens and a starch to pair with a double of a tasty protein. This takes very little extra time to prep and you’ll have potatoes for breakfast and kale to go with your lunch.
  • Pick one-pan recipes that make plenty for lunch the next day or dinner. If you get tired of leftovers easily, pick something that can be repurposed. I love using Nom Nom Paleo’s Kalua Pork recipe and using the leftovers for tacos later in the week.
  • Make a big frittata for breakfast full of veggies and simply heat leftovers the next day.

Optional: Combine this with just 30 minutes to an hour of prep on Sunday and you are golden for the rest of the week.

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Take it Easy

When to use it: You have ZERO time or f**** to give. Or your kid is drawing on a wall and you need the food to cook itself. Or for an emergency meal during your Whole30.

Why it rocks: You can throw things on a pan and let things cook themselves. You get to flex your culinary muscles without putting in much effort. Dinner takes 10 minutes to put together and 30 minutes of hands-off time.

How to do it: Take out your sheet pan, throw some chicken or sausages on it, cut up whatever veggies you have in your fridge, roast in a 400 degree oven until it’s cooked, slather with a sauce if you desire (Tessemae’s Caeser dressing on all the things). If you have little to no creativity in your body, check out some of these.

Optional: Get a ButcherBox subscription and have great quality grass-fed and pastured meat in your freezer for easy meal options. (No kick-backs here, I just love their product.)

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Shortcuts!

When to use it: Great for that emergency meal, Friday nights, and when you just don’t feel like eating what you have. Put these in your meal plan when your meal prep foods have run out.

Why it rocks: Tasty food QUICK.

How to do it: Two options!

  1. Give yourself a hand by incorporating healthy pre-made options into your rotation. This takes a bit of grocery shopping and label reading finesse. Buy food that has minimal additives and preservatives. I love Yai’s Thai curries (again, just a great product).
  2. Freeze those really big batch-cooked dinners. I find that soups and chilis are the best here. Let the food cool, label with what it is and the date you made it, and put it in the freezer. Keep a freezer inventory so you don’t forget you have it. Take them out on your busiest days.

 

All four of these can be used in combination all week long when your energy levels and time varies. The most important rule of meal prep is to be flexible! Just because you have something down for Tuesday, doesn’t mean you have to get it done on Tuesday. Or, just because you’re meal planning or prepping, doesn’t mean you need to make a gourmet meal every night. Find the groove that works best for you and be proud of yourself for taking a step in the right direction!

 

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