This post has been A LONG TIME COMING. I've been talking about meal prep for what seems like months already and I've been wanting to write this for some time. I need to start off by saying that 1) my husband and I are foodies and really find joy in good food; and 2) I am a huge planner and thoroughly enjoy avoiding stress and anxiety in my life. I say this because both of these factors contribute to our (my?haha) decision to meal prep for the week so if this is something you're not into, totally cool. But if it's something you might be into, maybe I can teach you a thing or two? Here we go.
Stocking the Pantry
First, stocking the pantry. Here are things I always have in stock:
- sometimes: blueberries, blackberries, peaches
- yellow onion (red onion if we're bbq'ing - i love those grilled!)
- green pepper
- typically shallot
- italian parsley
- maybe basil and thyme (depending on the recipe)
- 1/2 gallon of milk
- parmesan cheese
- pecorino cheese
- heavy creamer (we add this to the kids mac & cheese)
- marscapone (we add this to the kids mac & cheese)
- unsalted butter
- basmati rice
- yogurt for margot
- jello pudding
- oat milk (me!)
- natalie's orange juice (the best)
- pellegrino sparkling water
- spindthrift strawberry sparkling water
- beer (brand varies)
- panther coffee beans
- chai tea (TJ has a good one)
- vanilla ice cream
- chicken nuggets
- cheese for impromptu hosting
- fig jam for the cheese for impromptu hosting
- bacon (TJ's has an amazing maple glazed that we LOVE)
- crackers for impromptu hosting
- Things I always have in the pantry
- salt and pepper!
- breadcrumbs (italian, regular and panko)
- tomato paste
- crushed tomatoes
- marinara sauce
- soy sauce
- olive oil
- rice vinegar
- red wine vinegar
- pasta! (buccattini, spaghetti, and penne)
- Annie's Mac & Cheese boxes
my fridge on a Sunday night
And then obviously, we buy the kids snacks like goldfish, pirate booty, PB/fruit bars, raisins, smoothie pouches and snacks for ourselves to have during the week. But that's the gist of it. I always have the above in my pantry or fridge. They're the things I see the most in recipes and the stuff I've used the most over the years so it's kind of like my arsenal of favorite foods and ingredients.
I go to the grocery store every weekend and stock up on everything I need (once a week!). I always go to Whole Foods (most of my food comes from here) but typically also go to both Publix and Trader Joes. TJ's is great for jars of things (like tomato sauce), frozen items (gnocchi, desserts, pizza, veggies), cheeses!, bacon, huge fan of their chai tea and their PB&J and strawberry bars (for my kids), and I always buy our chicken, ground turkey, and wine there. Publix is great when you just want regular brands and the food you grew up on, i.e., Jello, goldfish crackers, veggie straws (also their bakery items are top notch - cupcakes, cookies, you name it, I prefer it). And Whole Foods is everything else for me - I prefer their veggies and fruit as well as their fish and meat and honestly, the shopping experience is more pleasent for me than the other two (TJ's is a certified mad house and my Publix has the smallest aisles and is an uncomfortable place to shop at).
Onto meal planning. The goal for me during the weekend is to make my weekly meal process easy for the week WITHOUT ruining my weekend. I used to cook ALL DAY ON SUNDAY and one day I threw in the towel and never did it again. I was simply striving to make my week easier but was actually wasting my weekend and ultimately, that wasn't the goal. Eventually I managed to find a happy medium.
A Week of Meals
Sundays I typically head to my moms - she cooks on Sundays and we either eat there or bring food home. It frees up one meal a week and lets us focus on the rest of the week (sometimes we don't eat there, and if we don't, it's just another meal we have to consider). If we do eat there, Sundays will typically include cooking sides we can heat up quickly - rice, roasted veggies, soups and planning the week's meals (so I know what to buy at the grocery store).
- Monday + Tuesday typically share a meal. It's usually a pasta or a ground meat meal we can throw on rice or veggies. Think, a bolognese, a picadillo, a meatloaf. A meal that's versatile and can be eaten different ways. The slow cooker/insta pot also make good 2 day meals! Maybe a chili,
- Wednesday we'll go for an already prepared meal. Whole Foods has great pre-marinated chicken breasts and shish kabobs you just cook, no prep needed. Since we already have sides, this is an easy, cook on the stove or grill meal.
- Thursday is an oven meal. I'm really into sheet pan meals, ie., throw different food onto a sheet pan and stick it in the oven, because they're easy. I've learned that half the battle is not only the meal planning but prepping the meal so the easier I can make the prep, the more likely I'll actually cook. Think chicken, pork loin, shrimp thrown on a baking sheet with veggies. You can see some sheet pan recipes here.
- Sometimes though, you've gotta have a backup meal(s). We don't always make it through the week as planned (between work and the kids extra curriculars and night-time events for the both of us) and having things like frozen pizza, arroz con huevo (rice with a fried egg - a cuban staple), or a cacio e pepe (pasta with pecorino and pepper) is key to feeding our family sometimes.
I pull them from everywhere. I'm a huge cookbook fan and have a few favorites but I also pick recipes from pinterest (slow cooker, insta pot and sheet pan meals) and google. The key to picking recipes is to pick those with small prep time. I've made the mistake of picking some that look great and when I start prepping I realize it's an hour long ordeal that I don't want to go through on a Tuesday night.
I used to be such a stickler about the whole process but I've learned to do what I can and to most importantly, enjoy the process. I pick the easiest meals to make (minimal prep time) and just stock my pantry with an arsenal of basic ingredients and foods we constantly use and eat so I don't have to run to the grocery store during the week. Once you do it a few times it becomes easier and easier. Overtime, you figure out what recipes you like and then you can pick your favorites and rotate them over the course of a month. Like anything in life, it's a habit to pick up (and takes time) but once you pick it up, I promise it makes your life so much easier during the week!