Alright! In the previous article, I went over what Meal Prep was and how to approach it for beginners, so it doesn’t seem intimidating and is flexible enough for a busy real life. Now we continue on with the specific steps I recommend to minimize your meal prep time and maximize your weekend time.
4 Steps to Meal Prep Success
You can guarantee yourself a healthy week of eating in just four steps by investing a couple hours over the weekend.
In the morning, plan out the next week’s dinners through at least Thursday night. I’ve made this even easier for you if you get my What To Cook Next Week emails (Coming Soon!). While meal planning, be sure to take into account that week’s evening schedule (kid sports, social dinners out, dates, etc). Make a separate list of building blocks that are necessary (see article #3 for Building Block Inspiration).
Visit your local Farmer’s Market (if you aren’t part of a CSA) and get an item or two of whatever’s in season, along with staples or stuff you know you need in your meals. Examples of weekly staples could be onions, garlic, kale/leafy greens, cabbage or radicchio, potatoes or sweet potatoes.
* Meal planning: 15-30 minutes
* Farmer’s Market: 1-2 hours, depending how foofy you’re feeling. 🙂 Skip this if you already have CSA veggies.
Hit your favorite local grocery store to get any other items you need for the week. Meats, dairy, pantry staples, along with any snacks and drinks. I have tips for local/regional buying options here.
Meal Prep your Building Blocks plus ONE Full Meal. Plan your cooking for mid afternoon, and you can eat the first portions of your full-meal prep for dinner that night. The meal I make on Sunday is usually a stew or chili, one that keeps/freezes well, and provides at least 6-8 servings.
* Grocery Shopping: 45 minutes to 1 hour
* Building Block and/or Full Meal Prep: No more than 2 hours
Your time commitment for Sunday shouldn’t be more than 3 hours. You still want to enjoy your weekend, even if you’re investing in an easier and healthier work week. I tend to go enjoy something in the morning like a hike, brunch, waterfront run, watch a soccer game, etc. Then I grocery shop after lunch, and plan my meal prep to start mid-afternoon, so that it dovetails into dinner.
Achieving Health Goals in 10 Minutes Per Meal
The above framework shows how, for around 4-5 hours per week, you can have a good amount of healthy, pre-planned, and pre-portioned meals all week long.
Whether you are in a Maintenance phase, Depletion Cycle (Calorie Deficit), or Rebuilding Cycle (Calorie Surplus), this is the foundation to success at any fitness stage.
The Bottom Line: Having delicious, nourishing, portioned food on hand – especially when you’re starving and stressed – is crucial to a healthy lifestyle. And meal prep is the secret key for busy professionals.
Your Weekly Meal Structure
This flexible weekly structure is what I base my meal plan around. Feel free to copy it, or adjust for your household’s schedule and cooking preferences.
This schedule has me cooking large-yield meals on Sunday and Monday, small meals on Wednesday and Friday, and not cooking at ALL on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – give or take.
Weeknight cooking is fun for families!
WEEK NIGHT SCHEDULE
Mondays: Cook Big. Make a 6-8 serving, family-friendly pasta, casserole or meat (like carnitas for tacos). This gives us 3-5 servings left over which we put in the fridge in preportioned individual containers.
Tuesdays: No Cook. Between soccer practice and orchestra rehearsal, its a busy night for my family. So this is usually a “Building Blocks” (no cook) dinner night – we may throw together quesadillas with meal prepped chicken or steak, or some pre-cooked pasta and on-hand sauce.
Wednesday: Cook Small. I try to make this an Entree Salad night, to be purposeful about eating more greens. Usually we can use pre-made “building blocks” for at least half it – like precooked faro or quinoa, pre-chopped lettuce and veggies, pre-made dressing etc. Isn’t it frustrating how some salad recipes can often have 10 ingredients that take over an hour to put all together from scratch?
Thursdays: No Cook. By this time in the week, my partner and I are usually growing exhausted of the work week and are ready to cheers Friday’s arrival. Because we don’t have any kiddos on this night, we usually do a Date Night out – frequently sushi, or we try a new place on our Portland bucket list. Regardless your lifestyle, relationship or schedule situation, I recommend you take one night a week that’s just for you. This night out really helps release the pressure valve from the week’s stress.
Friday: Cook Small or No Cook. We like to make Friday evening a fun, all-hands-on-deck, at-home night. We’ll frequently make (together), homemade pizza, taco bar, ramen, or kebabs. Friday is often my “try a new recipe” night. I may make a small trip to the grocery store Friday afternoon if I need fresh meat or produce. Sometimes if its been a stressful week, we just go out and cook at home Saturday instead.
Saturday: Cook Small or No Cook. I may make a roast or grilled meat and veggie platter, and open up a nice bottle of wine. Or, we may go out for dinner or over to friend’s house.
Sunday: Cook Big. In addition to any desired Building Blocks, make another 6-8 serving full meal. Eat that meal for dinner. Or sometimes, we just save the entire meal prep for the week, and go out for Mexican instead – especially if we didn’t go out Saturday night. Tee hee! (Don’t tell the health police – it falls into my 10% “life” category!)
Weekend nights are semi-interchangeable regarding the eating out – but we typically only eat out one weekend night unless there’s a special event going on like a friend’s birthday.
Grilled steak and alliums (onions) for a delicious weekend dinner.
Because we have this routine, I already know I usually cook a stew/soup and a pasta dish on Sundays and Mondays (interchangeable). I know Wednesdays I try for a big salad. I know Thursday is date night, and Tuesday is leftover night. As a result, I am able to quickly dial in each week’s meal plan. If I didn’t have this basic cadence, it would take forever to look up recipes from scratch with no framework.
This framework is super flexible btw. Just because you usually cook pasta on Monday night doesn’t mean you have to! Go out for sushi for a change! The basic structure is there as a foundation to be customized week to week.
You already have nights built in for not cooking that you can flip-flop for other nights if your schedule dictates it. This framework also allows for a social life, fun, and some flexibility to account for what you’re in the mood for. Just remember that in our family, we don’t tend to Prep breakfasts. We focus on Dinners and leftovers for Lunches.
But if you guys love breakfasts, do whatever works best for your household! Cook a dozen breakfast muffins as part of your Sunday meal prep, and most of the week’s breakfasts are taken care of.
Next up, check out our final article in the 3-Part Meal Prep series: Building Block Inspiration. Just to get you started. 🙂