When my husband asked for permission for my hand in marriage, he told my parents he promised to always have a snack on hand for me. They all laughed, but they all knew it was true. I get hangry. Always have, always will. My kids get hangry as well. Being a mother, working full-time in some seasons of life, or part-time in others, I have found that spending the time planning my shopping list, and then some time prepping and cooking some meals for the week, is the difference between a grumpy evening or a pleasant one.
Below is the SIMPLEST way to prepare multiple meals ahead of time. I usually spend time on Sunday, between an hour or two, cooking, chopping, and pre-packaging. I cook or prepare lunches and dinners for a family of four, for about 3-4 days worth of meals. I also try to buy organic or grassfed when, or if, possible, but I am never above a good old frozen pizza made from bleached white flour and pepperoni. We also tend to take advantage of the kids-eat-free deals around town, or enjoy good old takeout, so there are 1-2 nights I do not cook during the week.
I follow a really simple blueprint–prepare protein(s), grain(s)/carb(s), and fruit/veggies. Make room in the fridge to store them. Have different sauces, dressings, spices, or toppings on hand.
Prepare one or two main proteins that are cooked plain, so that you can add spices or sauces during the week when you serve them. We typically grill or bake 6-8 chicken breasts, sometimes more if my husband wants chicken and salad for lunches. If I go to Costco, I will buy a rotisserie chicken that lasts us for one dinner, and 1-2 lunches. I sometimes save the carcass and make bone broth to sip on during flu season or to make chicken noodle soup. I also like to keep a bag of frozen meatballs on hand, frozen fish that can be cooked quickly on a night I am home earlier, or I will prepare some ground turkey with taco seasoning to use for tacos, burritos, or taco salads. Hard boiling eggs is also great for lunches, snacks, or quick breakfasts.
Grains & Carbs
Also prepare a grain, or carb of some kind, again, cooked plain. I will make a large batch of brown rice (about 3 cups) or a pot of pasta that I toss with olive oil and leave plain, so that we can add pasta sauce later, or Italian dressing for a cold pasta salad. My kiddos like the rice plain with a little butter or salt, but you can also use it to make a simple fried rice with leftover chopped veggies and a few scrambled eggs. Yum!
Fruit & Veggies
Last, I prepare a TON of veggies, both cooked and raw, and wash fruit that can handle it (aka grapes). I will cut up cucumbers into coins or strips, peel and cut fresh carrots and celery, and roast cauliflower and broccoli. The raw veggies are typically bought according to what is in season, or what might be available as organic, and I use those in our lunches, or as a simple side with ranch for the kids. I will wash grape tomatoes and seedless grapes so they are ready to go for snacks or packing in lunches. I also like to used canned green beans or corn as a quick and easy side.
So there you have it. This way of meal prepping can lead to being able to easily put together a quick and healthy meal on a weeknight when everyone just wants to eat. As I mentioned, we get some variety depending on what is in season or what we are in the mood for, or whether I decide to make an easy crockpot meal (such as chili, or BBQ chicken). I also package the food up in glass containers, or put the lunch stuff together in ziploc baggies so they are ready to throw into a lunch bag. The time invested in this process saves us a lot of money AND headaches, and I hope you find it helpful!
Happy meal prepping, friends!