One of the most time-consuming tasks that you do during the week, especially when you have kids, is cooking! There is no doubt about it. This is why I prepared this guide for you on how to start meal prepping so you can start saving hours every week.
If you cook lunch and dinner every day and prepare everything from scratch, it can easily take you about 2 hours a day, not to mention cleaning up the dishes after that.. This sums up to at least 14 hours a week! (Which is about 2 days of work? OMG.) You can also read my post on How to Get More Done in a Day.
So, how to start meal prepping? Do you need to go ‘cold turkey’ and not cook anything fresh anymore?
If you haven’t done meal prep before, you might have some concerns about investing that extra time on your weekends. You might also think that preparing meals in advance and freezing them will not turn out so well as if you cooked fresh meals. I get it. I had the same concerns, and this is why until recently, I didn’t really want to start doing meal prepping.
However, once I‘ve decided to really commit to tracking my time for a whole week, I just couldn’t ignore the fact that I was wasting my time, and I could really use this time to do so many other things or just go for a walk.
So, the decision was made! But I knew that if I really wanted to make it work for me, I would need to follow these 2 things –
- I would need to start with just one type of meal that I can prepare in advance and freeze. Just a small step so it will be really easy for me to complete. If it’s a too complicated project, then I wouldn’t even start.
- If I am going to do that, there is no way I am spending hours in the kitchen every weekend cooking, it just doesn’t make sense to me, and I need to find some shortcuts to do that.
My weekends are the days that I want to spend time with my family, working on my side hustle, going for walks and meeting friends. And if I really don’t want to do something, it will just never work because I will end up procrastinating, so this project would have to fit my schedule as well.
Let’s start with the action plan that saves me a lot of time during the week. Once I started doing that, I was thinking to myself that even if I didn’t have a side business and “only” had 1 job, I would still do it, because, for me, I feel that it’s much better to be free up time for myself or to have coffee with a friend or watch a movie with the kids then stand in the kitchen for hours! So let’s dive right in.
How to start meal prepping
The first step to meal prepping – Get used to ordering your groceries online
This is something I’ve been doing for about 5 years now, and I will never go back to walking down the aisles of the supermarket. Years ago, I used to like it, it was my own quiet time, leaving the kids with my husband and going to the supermarket to do my weekly shopping.
It could even take me 2 hours, to check up on what’s on sale, compare products and buy ingredients for the meals I am going to prepare on the weekend. Sometimes, I could find that one of the ingredients I need has run out from the shelves, then I had to stop and think about what can I make instead, so I had to go back to some of the aisles and take other ingredients (not to mention having to remember everything that is on that other recipe..) – exhausting!
Sometimes I was just so tired, and I had a lot on my mind (all these thoughts about everything that I needed to do) that I was staring at the shelves too long trying to decide on the right pasta or rice… When did I stop? When I’ve realized how precious my time is and how I wouldn’t want to waste it on things that don’t matter at all (like the kind of pasta I’m buying…). Once I started building my side hustle and tried to make use of every hour that I had wisely, this is where I stopped going to the supermarket. What is a side hustle all about? Click here.
If you are not used to ordering online, then it will take some time to get used to it and find the supermarket that has the most user-friendly website to order from, but it is so worth it once you do.
If your favourite supermarket doesn’t have the option of ordering online – then you will have to start ordering from another supermarket.
I always book a delivery date that is in 3 or 4 days ahead (and not for tomorrow); why? Because that way, I can still change my order and add things I forgot at the last minute. This is so useful.
How to Save Time Meal Prepping – Always order frozen veg
Always have frozen veg at home (on top of the fresh veggies).
My 3 favorite frozen vegetables are –
The stir fry vegetable mix – so I can prepare them with rice instead of spending a lot of time cutting them myself.
Broccoli and cauliflower mix to prepare a very quick quiche.
Baby peas – because they are sweeter than the usual peas and the kids will usually eat them without arguing about it.
Batch Cooking (this is how to start meal prepping the right way!)
So here is how I don’t spend time over the weekend on meal prep.
If I am already cooking something during the week or on the weekend – I will just make more of it and divide it into separate meal-size containers and freeze it. However, you can’t do it successfully with all meal types, and therefore, I am trying only to prepare meals that I know I can freeze easily and will come out from the freezer tasting like I’ve cooked them just now.
So, here are the meals that I’ve been making double the amount and freezing the leftovers for later –
Bolognese sauce – cooking double the amount has only increased the time of cooking by 5 minutes; however, it gave me additional 10 meals! And no additional cleaning time.
Pizza & pizza sauce – every time I make pizza, I make 3 large ones, so I can freeze what’s left of it and take it out from the freezer later during the week, put it straight into the oven to heat it up for 10 minutes and that’s it.
I also started making double the amount of the pizza sauce because making the sauce is what takes most of my time when I make pizza (I buy the pizza base in the supermarket), and it freezes very well. I freeze the pizza sauce using half a cup of ice cubes silicone tray, and I can take them out easily when I want to make a pizza (half a cup of sauce is enough to make 1 large pizza).
Other sauces that I always make twice the amount of the recipe are –
tomato sauce for pasta
lasagne tomato sauce
Vegetable soup – I usually have vegetable soup for lunch (that includes beans and rice) about twice a week. Peeling and cutting more vegetables can take me additional 10 minutes and again, just doing that makes me about 6-8 additional meals to put in the freezer.
If you still don’t have a big pot, this is the time to buy it. I use an 8-litter pot of good stainless steel quality (18/10) and it’s a very good investment for the long run.
Oven-baked chicken breast – this is really a no-brainer to put 2 trays in the oven instead of one and then just freeze the chicken in meal-size containers (it also saves you on electricity because the oven is already working, so why not make the most of it).
How to freeze 8 individual-size meals in just 2 containers
Plan in advance how you are going to freeze all this food.
I used to make a big pot of soup and then get stuck standing in front of my plastic containers’ drawer, looking for the right sizes (not too big and not too small) and then trying to find all these matching lids. A nightmare!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left the pot outside to cool and said to myself, ‘ok I need a break; I’ve been cooking for the past hour, or so; I will come back in 30 min and put that in the freezer, and then what happened? I forgot to come back until hours later!
So just be aware that not just cooking takes time but also putting all this food in the right containers.
A few months ago I found on Amazon these ice cube trays that I can use to freeze multiple 1 cup portions in one container, it worked so well that now I have 4 of these.
I am using 2 trays to freeze my vegetable soup (this is 8 soup meals) and 2 trays to freeze my Bolognese sauce (8 meals for 2 people, which is 16 meals!). This is very quick, I don’t need to come up with so many plastic containers of the right size and I am not wasting my time finding matching lids anymore.
Order takeaway once a week
Hey, aren’t we talking about how to start meal prepping? What’s takeout got to do with it?
I say it’s better to be smart with your time.
This is something I took from a friend of mine a long time ago, and you can do this with no guilt whatsoever. That it’s ok to order your family’s favourite food once a week and go to bed early. I started implementing that in the middle of the week to have a bit of a break. Now, we have Mexican food every Wednesday night for dinner and once in 2 weeks, we also order Pizza on Saturday night, so I don’t work too hard cooking on the weekend as well.
Also, every time I order pizza, I just order 1 or 2 extra and put them in the freezer, just in case I‘ll need them. That works great on very busy days, if I get back late from the office or if one of my kids invited a friend for a playdate.
Have all my recipes in one place and handy
I used to have one recipe book that I wrote recipes in, and I was also using several cookbooks to look at other recipes I’ve been making for years, so every time I used my chicken recipe for example I had to go to the kitchen cabinet, open up this book out and look for that specific recipe (not to mention when the book wasn’t there and I had to waste time looking for it…), for years I’ve been doing that, while I was thinking how easy it would be if I had everything in one place!
One day it happened. I’ve made myself a nice cup of coffee and just wrote all of them in a new clean recipe book.
I know you might think it only takes you a few more minutes to reach out to one of your recipe books and open it up, but I’ve come to realize that there are some things, that I am doing over and over again and are a real waste of time, so if I can eliminate them completely, I would be happy to do that!
Keep recipe ingredients in a separate list to make your shopping even faster
I use an additional separate list of ingredients for all my recipes. It is much easier to look at these lists when I do my shopping than trying to take everything out from a recipe (it just takes too much concentration!).
Have a separate list of your day-to-day easy recipes that you are making on a regular basis and it will save you a lot of time in creating your weekly shopping list.
Complicated recipes are out!
I stick to the easiest recipes that –
- I know works best with my children
- Won’t take long to make
- I can freeze easily.
Decide not to make complicated recipes. Meal prep is all about time-saving.
I know sometimes you would want to make something special or try out a new recipe. That’s fine. Just remember that in order to be successful at your meal prep project and save hours a week, then on a daily basis, you would have to let go of the time-consuming, complicated recipes and just pick a few easy recipes that your family loves and are happy to eat over and over again. This is the most efficient way to go when you think about how to start meal prepping.
Listen to an audiobook while you are cooking
Cooking, similar to walking, is something that can easily be done while you are listening to an audiobook (especially if this is a recipe that you’ve done 100 times already). I’ve noticed that I can easily listen to an audiobook or a YouTube video if I don’t really need to concentrate on my cooking, cutting vegetables, making pasta, washing the dishes… all of that can easily be done while I am learning something new.
I am using my earbuds to do it so I can move around the kitchen easily without having to deal with earphone wires. I would definitely recommend you sign up for an Audible membership (I’ve signed up for the Audible Premium Plus membership). That way, you will be able to listen to at least 1 book a month with no effort at all! From the last audiobooks I’ve listened to in the past few months, I would recommend you to start with Brian Tracy’s book – The Miracle of Self Discipline (Brian Tracy’s voice is so calming:) listening to his books will calm your mind for sure).
From all this guide on how to start meal prepping, my best tip for you would be just to pick one of these things that I’ve mentioned above and try it out.
If you are thinking of starting a side hustle while you are working at a full-time job or you are already building your side hustle and feeling overwhelmed, making small changes with how you spend your time will have an enormous effect on how your days will look and how much progress you can make with what’s really important to you on a weekly basis.
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