Unless you have late night dreams of becoming a contestant on Chopped, dinner can be one of the most dreaded times of the day. What do I cook? What do the kids want to eat? What does my husband want to eat? What do I “feel” like cooking?
Those are the usual questions that run through my head right around dinner time, and I’m sure they are for you too. But waiting for my stomach to start growling from hunger around 5:00 pm before I start trying to figure out what to cook is a horrible strategy.
Ever heard of meal planning and meal-prepping? They’re revolutionary for making dinner times less stressful. The concept isn’t new. It’s called having a plan. Genius, right?
If it’s so genius, why don’t we all plan our meals in advance to make our lives easier? I know for me when I get really busy, I feel as if stopping to do anything new will slow my progress. So I just keep doing things the hard, familiar way.
Friend, can I just say – STOP doing things the hard way and just choose easy for once. Sure, doing things the easy way usually requires some upfront prep time, but it totally pays itself back and then some.
This post is all about meal prepping which is the concept of prepping (cooking or packing) your “planned” meals in advance in some way to make your dinner ritual a million times easier.
In this post, I share 4 meal prepping strategies that are all unique and allow you to try the techniques that work best for you and your family.
Crockpot meals aren’t new in any fashion. My mom used her crockpot several times a week when I was growing up, but it works. The concept is simple, you put your raw (seasoned) meat and veggies in the crockpot several hours before you need dinner ready, and at the end of that time, a glorious home-cooked meal is waiting that didn’t take you more than a couple seconds to make.
This method of cooking is the definition of slow and wasn’t always placed in the category of a meal prepping strategy until now. There are basically 2 ways to turn a crockpot meal into meal-prepped dinner.
The first is to cook a double batch of whatever recipe you’re cooking. Eat one portion for your dinner that night and freeze the second batch for another night later in the month.
The second has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. The concept is simple, put your meat, veggies, and your sauce/liquid and place them in a freezer bag. Lay them flat, label the bag, and store them in your freezer. I tried this method several times and it’s really quite easy to make a month’s worth of dinners in under an hour – tops.
Here’s a crazy awesome post from thirtyhandmadedays.com – 31 Crockpot Freezer Meals!
Meal Prep & Pack
This method is extremely popular with the health and fitness arena. Again, the concept is simple. You cook all your meals in one day and pack them up in containers for easy eating all week.
Some people like to do all their prepping for the week on one day. Others are a little concerned about freshness and choose to prep two days a week. I definitely lean toward the second group, and it’s also half the work on each prep day.
This method is fantastic because it really keeps your eating on track because you’re more likely to make a wise meal choice when it’s waiting for you in the fridge. There’s a downside to this method, though. If you have a large family, cooking all your meals at once can greatly reduce your fridge space. Trying to find the right meal container for each person and keeping track of each meal, all while fitting all the containers in the fridge may not work well for you.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use this method. All you need to do is tweak the time frames. Instead of prepping weekly or twice a week, try prepping your meals every other day. This is still better than cooking a meal every single night.
The plus side is, you can basically cook almost any recipe. Just cook it, cool it, and pack it in the fridge!
Try this delicious recipe from the food prepping queen Rachel @ cleanfoodcrush.com
Sheet Pan Dinners
This is a super cool method that’s gaining extreme popularity online. I even have a meal prep board on Pinterest that has tons of these recipes! This isn’t necessarily thought of as a meal prep method, but my twist gives it just enough awesomeness to add it to the list.
Basically, you season your meat and prepare your veggies in advance and place in a sealed plastic bag. Just don’t put any liquid or sauce, except your meat’s marinade. You can either keep in the fridge for no more than a couple days in advance or place in the freezer.
On the night you want to cook, just pull your baggie out and place everything on a sheet tray and pop in the oven according to the recipe’s instructions. If you want to make another side like pasta or rice, just make a fresh batch while everything’s in the oven.
This gives you a freshly cooked meal that doesn’t require you to do more than popping everything on a tray and waiting for that glorious timer to go off. Easy right?
If you’re using a bag that you’ve had storing in the freezer, you can thaw quickly and safely under cold running water for a few minutes.
Here’s another winning sheet pan recipe from Cleanfoodcrush.com
This last one is the only one I haven’t personally tried. I just haven’t taken the leap yet and purchased an InstantPot yet. But I wanted to add this to my list because it’s like a cross between the slow crockpot and the sheet pan dinners.
All you do is prep your meals like I explained for the sheet pan dinners or crockpot dinners. When you’re ready to cook, just place your ingredients in the InstantPot and it does all the work in no time. It’s basically a more user-friendly version of your momma’s old pressure cooker. Except this one won’t have you fearing for your life when it’s time to open it!
Here’s a very thorough post featuring everything you’d ever want to know about meal prepping with an Instant Pot from Onceamonthmeals.com.
All the Food Prep Tools You’ll Need & Love!
If you’re going to make meal prepping a lifestyle, you may want to consider upping your kitchen tool game to make the simple process even easier.
Here are some popular and little-known tools that hardly cost a thing and will remove the little hassles of prepping a lot of meals at once. To make it easy, you can go straight to Amazon by clicking the links or images!
There are affiliate links in this post, which basically means I get a small financial thank you for referring you these awesome tools. Cool, right? If you decide to buy any of these goodies, I thank you for using my link.
Hands-Free Baggy Rack Clip Food Storage Bag Holder
This is A-Maz-Ing! I mean, who thinks of this stuff!? If you’re planning to fill baggies with yummy meals or even delicious soups to make ahead, this tool is a life-saver!
Meal Prep Haven 3 Compartment Food Containers
These make the fridge space issue a little easier because they lay flat as opposed to the usual taller box-shaped containers. Plus, they have the dividers that are so necessary for keeping your food from touching!
Meat Shredder Claws
This one’s a bit of a splurge, but if you’re making large batches of shredding meats (yum!) this beats using 2 forks. And it’s kinda cool.
Meal Prep Containers
I know this is another set of containers! But these have cute and fun colors. And who doesn’t love that? Plus they’re great for packing meals for the kiddos.
And if you’re the only person left on the planet that doesn’t have a crockpot, well here you go. This is a nice modern stainless steel crockpot, and it’s on sale as one of their best deals!
In fact, if you’re like me you probably need an upgrade. But I wouldn’t recommend buying one if you don’t plan on using it, though. Ain’t nobody got space for that!
Getting an Instant Pot isn’t going to be cheap, but could just change your life. Maybe. Or at least make dinner time so much easier as promised!
With all these meal prepping strategies, you’re probably feeling really motivated to kick butt at dinner time this week. But remember, none of these cool meal “prepping” strategies will work unless you implement a plan. These don’t work using my hunger pang alarm method I mentioned at the beginning.
Oh, and please drop your favorite meal prepping recipes and resources down in the comments below so we can share even more yummy ideas!