How was your first week? Did you even start? Perhaps you need some guidance on how to quickly get your meal prep in order. Here are quick tips to meal prep in 3 hours or less! Let's work!!
#1 Carve out time and stick to it
Don’t throw in the towel with food prep just because you don’t have 8 hours to dedicate on a Sunday. It is about doing what works for you. I go into each weekend with a plan and do my best to stick to it. Trust me, I don’t want to spend all day cooking on Sunday either.
Depending on my schedule and energy level, I plan 1 ½ – 3 hours of food prep a week. Sometimes if I am on a roll and want to incorporate some bulk freezer cooking I will add in more time. However, I find that if I am just prepping for the week I don’t need more than 3 hours.
My goal is to start around 9:00am or 10:00am and finish no later than 12:00pm or 1:00pm. If I am really pressed for time and need to stay on track, I will set the timer on my phone.
I do this every Sunday. It is part of my routine. I do my best to stick to this food prep routine because, unfortunately, I will struggle if I don’t.
If Sunday is going to be busy for me, then I move my food prep to Saturday or Monday depending on my schedule. However, I rarely go a week without doing any food prep.
#2 Clean Out the Fridge
Before I do any food prep I clean out my refrigerator. I toss food that has spoiled (hopefully not much) and bring to the front anything that needs to be eaten up right away.
In my experience, cleaning out the refrigerator is a good first step and will start you out on the right foot and streamline the rest of the process.
If I begin my food prep session without cleaning out the refrigerator, I guarantee I will end up wasting time. Trying to find space or fumbling over food that needs to be tossed while in the middle of prepping my food can really distract me. For example, if I put together a week’s work of mason jar salads and a few jars of overnight oats, and then can’t find room because my refrigerator is disorganized, it will completely throw me off my game. So I make sure to have my refrigerator organized before I even begin the food prep process.
In my experience, I find it actually helps to have this done before you go grocery shopping. However, if you didn’t get a chance, then definitely do it before you start prepping your food.
#3 Start With a Clean Kitchen
Again, this step is about setting yourself up for success. If you have dishes in the sink, food on the counter, and groceries waiting to be put away that is going to hold up the process. When your kitchen is clean and organized you can get a clear vision of where everything is and what you want to do first. Chaos just causes confusion. Confusion causes frustration, which can lead to a slowdown in progress.
Keep in mind this can be done the night before to add more time to your clock. I always try to clean my kitchen before bed no matter what day it is. But if I am prepping food in the morning I make it a priority to have my kitchen ready the night before. I load and run the dishwasher. This is important because you want to start a food prep session with all dishes and utensils clean. It is frustrating to need a spatula, measuring cup or a knife and it is sitting in the dishwasher dirty.
I love walking into a squeaky clean kitchen first thing in the morning.It makes me feel goooooooood.
#4 Have ingredients and supplies ready
Nothing slows progress down more than missing an ingredient, container, or lid. Been there done that and I can’t tell you how frustrating that is. After you clean your refrigerator and kitchen, lay out all your ingredients. I try to group everything by recipe so I can quickly move through each one. Again, being prepared will keep time running smoothly. It’s when you have to stop and look for a lid or run to the store to grab garlic is when you start to lose time.
#5 Have consistent weekly food prep tasks
Don’t feel like you need to eat new recipes every week—I don’t even do that. If you have then time to, then go for it, but if your time is limited, then I recommend sticking to what you know. I have a standard rotation of recipes and food prep tasks I do every Sunday. If I have time to do more I will, but these are the foods/recipes I prep each week:
Mason jar salads: These are a must! In fact, if I only get my mason jar salads done, I feel accomplished and ready to start my week.
Snack area: Snacks are a big deal! I like to eat a couple snacks a day, and kids will head right to the refrigerator as soon as they get home from school. So having this snack area stocked and ready with healthy choices is essential.
Steel cut oats: I love a hearty breakfast and this oatmeal does the trick. It keeps great in the refrigerator or you can even freeze it. I usually make a batch on Sunday.
Smoothie ingredients: I need my morning green smoothie! Sometimes I will make smoothie freezer kits or freeze them ahead of time but mostly I just make sure I have all the ingredients I need for the week.
Breakfast burritos: I make these every other week. Homemade breakfast burritos are much healthier than the drive-thru.
1-2 meal starters: Having shredded chicken, taco meat, meatballs, or other meal starters makes it easy to throw together recipes during the week. Plus, they are super easy to make so every Sunday I will make 1 or 2 meal starter recipes.
This will take me about 2 hours depending on the recipe. However, this time frame does not include if I am using my slow cooker for one of the meal starters.
#6 Include No-Cook Recipes and Other Meal Prep Tasks
I think this is the part where people get nervous about meal prep. It is common to think that food prep means cooking every recipe you want to eat that week in one day. Sure you could do that—if you wanted to and had 8 hours to spare—but it is certainly not necessary or the only way to food prep. I actually recommend incorporating a few no-cook recipes and other food prep tasks into your food prep day.
Some examples include:
- Trim and chop chicken to be “recipe ready” later in the week.
- Wash and cut up fruits and vegetables.
- Cut up cheese for snacks.
- Shred cheese for recipes.
- Portion out nuts for snacks.
- Prepare tuna salad or hummus to eat for lunches or snacks.
I know this is technically cooking, but breaking out your slow cooker in a time crunch is helpful too. You can prep ingredients the night before so it’s ready to go first thing in the morning, or you can start a recipe to cook overnight. Make your slow cooker work for you.
I use my slow cooker to make shredded chicken recipes, shredded beef, meatballs, or other meal starters that will help get dinner on the table quick during the week. Or if I plan to make a slow cooker recipe early in week I will prep the ingredients ahead of time, place them in the crock, and store it in the refrigerator. Or if I don’t plan on making it until later in the week, I will store the ingredients in large freezer bag and place in the freezer.
In order to quickly prepare food ahead of time, you will need to multitask. For example, I know my steel cut oats will take about 45 minutes to cook. So while those are cooking I can put together mason jar salads and organize the snack area. The same goes with other recipes and food prep tasks. In the 2 hours I have scheduled to food prep there shouldn’t be any time I am just standing there staring at the clock. Nope! There is always something to do!
Take these tips and win this week! I'm holding you accountable!