Having a plan when it comes to weekly meal prep has been a must for me!
Without a solid plan, cooking meals was a frustrating and stressful daily task. I always felt scattered and often times I didn’t like what I had put together because it wasn’t health, was missing an ingredients, etc., which felt like a fail to me. Before I established a plan for my weekly meal prep, it was one of the most productivity-draining activities of the day for that evening’s cook (Jeff or I).
Writing this is making me realize how silly I was for not doing this earlier because it is so. much. better. now that we have a system. If you search on Pinterest there’s probably thousands of plans for meal prepping, but I created this little system to fit exactly how our family eats, cooks, and lives.
We eat 80/20 healthy/indulgent food and we don’t love cooking enough to spend a ton of time on it so we keep things simple, don’t use a ton of ingredients, or spend much time prepping. If you’re family operates much like the Nords, this time-saving weekly meal prep ritual will probably work for you too!
While the cooking is a shared task for Jeff and I depending on schedules, the meal planning is my thing. Here are the 5 steps I take every week.
1. Check the fridge for what’s already available for your weekly meal prep
I hate to see ingredients go to waste — it’s a waste of food and it’s a waste of money. But sometimes things come up and our meal plan goes out the window or there are leftover meals or ingredients.
Sometimes we don’t cook what we had planned. There have been nights when Hayes is sick and we have to take her to a late doctor’s appointment so we throw in a frozen pizza and toss a salad kit or other nights when my parents have an impromptu cookout and we go over for grilling and fam time. Or sometimes we have leftovers from our meals or ingredients from the previous week’s recipes.
Either way, what’s in your fridge affects what is on your list. The key is looking in the fridge to jog your memory on what exactly you have left over. It’s a step. Don’t assume you remember. Don’t waste your food and money!
2. Plan your meals for the week
After you’ve taken inventory. It’s time to pick out which meals you’re going to make for the week. I am obsessed with this super simple meal planning notepad, you can find it on Amazon for $8. BUY IT. So worth it. It also has a magnetic strip on the back so it sits right on our fridge as a quick reference. Also, it’s a lot harder to lose (or for your kids to grab) when it’s hooked to the fridge. Bonus.
It’s a good idea to take a quick look at your schedule during this stage to see if there’s anything going on that would change your meal plan. Are you having friends over for dinner? Do you have a late night and need something that’s ready to go when you get home? Are you going to a potluck and need to bring a dish to pass rather than make a full meal? The goal is to only make one trip to the store each week so plan for everything now.
Sometimes I get stuck on what I want to make — or I make the same greek quinoa salad four weeks in a row and drive my husband nuts — so I made a project in Asana that is literally called “meals we like” for quick reference. Below is a sample of some of our meals in rotation. You can use any sort of note system/software to do this, but I do recommend it’s either digital or in a notebook/binder dedicated to meals that has a home in your home — after all, it’s not helpful to have a list of meals if you can’t find it.
Here’s what a couple of my meal plans look like. I share my weekly meal plan each week on @syd.nord if you want to take a look for fresh ideas!
3. Make your shopping list
After you have your meal plan set the next key for your weekly meal prep is to start to list out all of the ingredients that you need for each of the meals. I’ve noticed an analog list works better for me in when I’m in the store so I tear a page out of that same meal planning pad for this part or use the back of the previous week’s meal plan. I like to cross it off as I go around the store. You might like it on your phone and that works too!
During the list making stage I also cross reference what we have in our pantry because sometimes I buy extra of non-perishable items when they’re on sale. After you have listed out all of the ingredients for your meals. Start to list out what you need for lunches. Then breakfast. Then snacks.
When I’m feeling really good, my list is even organized in the order that items appear in my route around the store because I hate when I get to the end and see something not crossed off that’s all the way at the beginning so I have to back track — it might seem like overkill but seriously it takes an extra couple of minutes if you are cross-crossing around the store.
4. Time to head to the grocery store
If you follow me on Instagram you know my love for Aldi. If you have one in your area, check it out! I was skeptical at first, but now I love it. The stores are smaller and have less options, which makes shopping faster and less stressful. They have amazing brands that have all-natural, organic products and everything is so much cheaper than larger grocery store chains. We typically spent around $60-80 / week on groceries for a family of three and that’s getting high quality produce and natural products.
5. Prep and cook what you can ahead of time
If there is anything I can do before the week starts. I do it. Typically right when I get home from the store, but sometimes it doesn’t happen until Hayes is in bed.
The majority of this is cutting veggies. But from time to time we have a crockpot meal that I can completely set up, a sauce to make, or a quiche to prep and put in the fridge. Some things don’t taste right when you cut or prep them ahead of time, but if you can, go for it! Your future-self will thank you.
p.s. put it on your calendar
I have noticed how much better this system works if I do it at the same time, on the same day, every week. For me that is normally meal planning and list making on Sunday morning. And grocery shopping and food prep several hours later after church or after Hayes naps.
Regardless of when it is, put it on your calendar. Make it a thing. Enjoy it!