Confession: I’m horrible at meal planning. Sitting down to plan a week or two of meals just kicks my butt every time. My sister Catherine just sent me some awesome-looking meal planning sheets she got at the Container Store, so I hope I can discipline myself to use them and build a new habit. In the meantime, I wanted to share something saves me in the kitchen, especially during the busy-ness of the school year: Monday food prep.
I feel like “Sunday meal prep” is all the rage, but Sundays don’t work for me to get house work or kitchen work done. Sunday mornings are for couch snuggles, devotional time in our pajamas, and lots of coffee drinking. Then we have church, a huge brunch, and mandatory whole-family nap/rest time (#priorities). That leaves enough time for a game or walk with the kids before football watching and a snack smorgasbord dinner kicks off. I love our Sunday chill and traditions and do not feel like giving any of it up to meal prep.
That’s where “Food Prep Mondays” comes in. I have the luxury of staying home with my kids, so I can fit an hour or two of kitchen work in on a Monday afternoon. And the longer I’ve kept up with the habit, the faster I am at getting a ton of the food prep done for our week. (Spoiler alert: it’s a messy and sometimes chaotic process, but I find it totally worth it).
Here are some things I do*:
- Wash and chop veggies except cucumbers (I think they taste better chopped fresh)
- Wash all fruit and veggies in lemon essential oil and water, dry and store
- Wash, chop, and dry a head or two of kale for smoothies and to throw in everything (I’m sneaky)
- Make hard boiled eggs
- Make protein energy bites for the family, and Keto fat bombs for me
- Bake a batch of protein-packed paleo muffins (My husband takes these to work, kids eat for breakfasts and snacks with smoothies several times a week)
- Make homemade bread (for kids sandwiches and for a side to soup dinner)
- Cook a big batch of brown rice in the Instant Pot (a ready-to-go carb for any dinner, also for adding in soups or stews). I do 3 cups of rice, 4-4 1/2 cups of water, and a tsp of salt. Cook on High for about 26 minutes, natural release for 10, fluff with fork)
- Cook a spaghetti squash and shred (Keto carb especially for me)
- Boil, peel, chop and store beets for smoothies
- Wash a head of lettuce (great for lettuce wrap lunches!)
- Boil 2-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts for about 20 minutes with a little salt and pepper, maybe a garlic clove and piece of onion. Drain, shred chicken and store for soups, salads, enchiladas or chicken tacos.
- Make a big batch of tuna salad for lunches
- Make a big soup, for one dinner and the leftovers for lunches (for Hubs and me)
- Brown up a couple pounds of beef to throw in chili, spaghetti sauce, egg roll in a bowl, or tacos (keep spices generic: salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder)
- Cook up a couple days worth of oatmeal (undercook slightly so it’s not gross when warmed up)
*Note, I don’t do every single one of these things every Monday, but I try to do at least a muffin batch, energy bites batch, boiled eggs, cook up a soup and a protein, and wash and chop produce).
The hour or two I put into Monday meal prep sets me up so well for the crazy of our work and school week. As soon as I finish these tasks and put the last Pyrex dishes in the fridge I literally want to do a happy dance around the kitchen because it’s such a relief to feel ahead of the food game for my family.
So it’s not exactly meal planning or meal batch cooking, but it’s food prep that translates into a solid game changer for how quickly I can throw together meals for the rest of the week.
We use the protein muffins and energy balls for kid and hubby snacks and sometimes also breakfasts (with smoothies), especially on the mornings we have to leave the house early. I also like them for hearty snacks before afternoon sports practice/games.
I love batch cooking soup because it stretches so far! It’s a comforting fall dinner with homemade bread, and then my husband and I eat the leftovers for lunches for several days.
I was inspired to batch cook protein to use for meals throughout the week by Melissa Joulwan in her book Well Fed. She takes beef, chicken, and other everyday proteins and explains how to batch cook in large quantities, and then she gives recipes for different spice profiles that can change that ol’ ordinary shredded chicken into Asian, Italian, Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Mexican, BBQ, you name it. It’s such a fun way to cook when you can change the same food into so many different things just by adding a different spice combination!
I try to do my Monday food prep either right after lunch, when my kids are playing before their afternoon read/rest/nap time. OR, I do it during their Quiet Time. If that doesn’t work, sometimes I do it after they go to bed at night, or start a little bit of it early in the morning before they get up, then finish the prep that night after kiddo bedtime. I also involve my kids as much as I can. My boys love to make the muffins, and even my 2yo daughter loves to throw the ingredients for energy balls into the bowl.
When I’m done with food prep, I have at least one, usually two loads of dishes to run through my dishwasher (or hand wash…but I’m lazy). But I feel like I get 3-4 loads of dishes worth of work done during this time. Everything comes out on the counter tops, every surface is messy, sometimes I have the oven, all four stove burners, the Instant Pot AND my crockpot all working at the same time (Insane. I know!) But then I don’t have to pull all those things out so many times throughout the week, and I love that.
My passion is building new habits for home slowly, one new skill at a time, so if you are going to give Monday food prep a try, can I encourage you to start small? Maybe start with baking muffins and chopping veggies on Mondays. After a few weeks, maybe make energy bites AND muffins while you wash and chop veggies. Or, skip the veggies and brown up some meat and make a soup or some rice for your Monday prep.
I imagine that if I had started doing a whole ton of prep at the same time, I would have burned myself out very quickly. This habit came slowly and naturally to me as I learned how much time it saved me over the long haul of a school/sports week.
The little way of grace, small steps that result in significant change, is my favorite way of learning and building a new habit.
Happy Monday friends! Make it a good one.