Sundays are my day for meal prep. I like to prepare for the week by chopping veggies, cooking a big batch of grains, maybe hard boiling some eggs, roasting a chicken, or cooking up a big batch of soup! For me it’s a relaxing ritual to spend a few hours in the kitchen knowing I’ll be setting myself up for a successful week. I usually catch up on a few podcast episodes while I’m working and then admire my beautifully organized refrigerator/freezer shelves, full of labeled containers. Ahh…
Batch cooking or doing a weekly food prep can save you time and money. You can prepare whole recipes like this Millet Spring Roll Salad or Gluten Free Banana Bread or you can prep individual ingredients (roasted potatoes, steamed broccoli, cooked grains) so it’s easy to throw together a healthy meal on the fly. I prep both whole recipes and standalone ingredients, trying one new recipe a week and sticking with standards for the rest.
Having foods prepped and planned helps keep us on track to make healthy food decisions. When you arrive home late and hungry (or hangry?) you’re less likely to order delivery food when you know you have cheesy poblano tamales waiting for you in the fridge!
Wondering where to get started with your meal planning? I’m here to help! I’ve got some guidelines, a few helpful tips, and some recipe recommendations!
Guidelines to keep in mind for meal prepping
I always clearly label/date everything, especially if I’m putting it in the freezer. If you use a zip-top bag, write on the label with a sharpie. If you’re using a plastic/glass container, slip a piece of tape across the lid and write on that.
I keep my labels simple with a quick description and the date I made it. Example: “GF/V Peanut Butter Cookies 5/20/18” or “DF Lemon Chicken Barley Soup 5/20/18.” It’s helpful for me to add dietary notes particularly for frozen items. If I made it a few weeks ago and don’t remember the exact ingredients I don’t want to say something’s gluten free when it’s not!
Use recipes you know and like
Maybe this goes without saying but only prep recipes you like! If you want to get adventurous, try one new recipe a week but don’t overwhelm yourself when meal planning for the first time.
Keep portions in mind
Whether you’re meal prepping just for yourself or for a family, portion accordingly.
Tips & Tricks
Flash Freezing is your friend
You've made a double batch of your famous chocolate chip cookies and want half for today and half for next week. The best method here is flash freezing. Using a disher or a spoon, portion out balls of cookie dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Pop the unbaked dough into the freezer for at least 15 minutes or until hardened. Now you can store the individual portions in a freezer bag and they won't stick to each other. Don’t forget to label with name, date, and baking instructions!
Flash freezing also works great for freezing fruits, vegetables, or individual servings of cooked grains/beans. Try using a flexible silicone freezer tray for individual portions of cooked grains. After they freeze solid you can pop them out to store in a freezer bag.
Safely store and defrost your leftovers
Liquid expands when frozen so make sure to leave about ½ - 1” of headroom in your containers so they don’t overflow or crack your containers. Always make sure to let hot liquids cool in the refrigerator before freezing.
Putting hot stuff in your freezer isn’t a good idea for two reasons: one, hot items will bring up the temperature in your freezer, unnecessarily overworking the cooling mechanisms. Two, freezers can’t cool hot items quick enough, leaving your food in the temperature danger zone (between 40 - 140°F) where bacteria can grow.
When you defrost frozen items you have two safe options: one, defrost slowly in the refrigerator. Two, defrost in a cold water bath, changing the water every 30 minutes until food is defrosted. The refrigerator method great, but take can up to 24 hours. The water bath method requires a bit more attention but will defrost items much quicker.
Leaving frozen food on the counter is not a good option. Remember that temperature danger zone I mentioned? Slowly defrosting on the counter will leave your food in that zone where unwanted bacteria thrives.
Keep dressings/sauces separate
Go ahead and make that big batch of Millet Spring Roll Salad, but keep the dressing separate so your ingredients don’t get soggy.
Avoid food fatigue - eat some now and freeze some for later
Just because you made a 12 serving batch of Lemon Chicken Barley Soup doesn’t mean you should eat all 12 servings in a row! Avoid food fatigue by storing a few servings in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. Your future self will thank you.
For breakfast, it’s super easy to make a batch of steel cut oats to eat for the week or use small containers/jars to prep Easy Overnight Oats. For something a bit more indulgent, make a loaf of banana bread or a batch of Oatmeal Waffles to enjoy throughout the week. The banana bread will be great on its own and you can store the (flash frozen) waffles in the freezer and toast in the morning. Done!
Both this Lemony Chicken Barley Soup and the Poblano Cheese Tamales are perfect for batch cooking. Make enough for a few days, leaving some in the refrigerator and freezing the rest for a future meal.
This Sunday I think I’ll prep a dozen hard boiled eggs, a loaf of banana bread, roasted potatoes, and a batch of the Millet Spring Roll Salad. I also have on hand some cut veggies and some Paleo Muesli to snack on throughout the week. What are you going to prep to make this week awesome?