You may have noticed (due to my obsessive posting) that I got a puppy. My baby girl, Harlow, put me under some pressure for a quick meal prep this week, but it quickly made me realize how much time I spend dilly-dallying around the kitchen, on the couch watching TV during prep, and got me to do it fast, easily and EFFICIENTLY! Below shares some of my favorite tips for those busy, tired days; whenever you feel the need to press the accelerate button on your meal prep. If you’re also seeking more general meal prep advice, check out my previous post here.
Over plan, then Eliminate
I prefer accomplishing this step on Saturday, so I have the option to shop earlier!
As I’ve shared before, I like to look through the Tone It Up meal guide (this time, from the newest Love Your Body plan), and pick out recipes I want to make. I’ll typically take a look at the weekly guide for some inspiration, and then check what’s in-stock in my fridge or pantry (this step is essential to avoid over-spending — although, I am still working on that!) After writing out my list, I’ll fill out my own week-by-week guide, and then configure my grocery list. If my list starts to look too long, I quickly realize I’m about to buy way too much. My list is usually comprised of staples (almond milk, nut butter, kale, chicken, etc.) and a few unique extras. Sometimes, specific new recipes require more ingredients, but the key is overlap! Avoid wasting food and spending too much by looking for ways to add cilantro or shallots to multiple dishes. No other Mexican or Asian inspired dishes this week? Find ways to incorporate those items into garnish/dressing/smoothies, etc., or save that recipe for later!
“The elimination game” as I call it, continues when I get back from the store and start cooking. Think of it like this: have your desired list and then your achievable list. For instance, this week I planned to make Maple Walnut Brussels, but instead, I decided to roast them with my other vegetables, to eat for dinner with my proteins, or as ingredients in my roasted veggie salad. I couldn’t think of where I would fit the maple walnut brussels into my week, because I planned for a bit too much food on my desired list. I promise, it is NOT a big deal to mix things up a bit if it makes your life easier! You can never go wrong with buying tons of veggies in bulk, roasting them, and finding ways to incorporate them into the week’s various dishes.
Muffins are my favorite to start with, because they’re cooked on the lowest heat! Not sure where to begin? Muffins definitely seem like a lower priority, as you can have something fresh or packaged like fruit, low sugar yogurt, veggies and hummus, a protein bar, etc. for your mid-morning meal. But, for me, I love them SO much that they truly make my week feel complete. And, nothing against those packaged guys, but I’m trying to eliminate those from my meals in the next few weeks as much as I can (as I prepare for vacay), with the exception of the Tone It up protein bars. Muffins meet the freshness I seek, and also the on-the-go convenience. While I prefer them desk side, heated up, with cinnamon sprinkled on top, I can also grab them fresh from the fridge and pop them in my mouth before heading out the door!
Following muffins, I work my way up to proteins, then veggies (I like to char mine a bit around 400, while proteins are at 350-375). This trick will help you avoid burning or overcooking anything, and it helps me prioritize! Stay on top of this “schedule” by trimming up your proteins, getting them ready and seasoned up on the sprayed pan, so they can go right in as soon as the muffins are done.
The more in the oven, the better
Tray dinners are a life savor, because we all love a good one pan meal, right? Easy and healthy + easy clean up. Now: think of that x3. Create 3 trays of veggies (if you don’t mind the lower temp, and have room on your pans, feel free to add proteins too), and load them up in the oven all at once! You can always swap which pans are on the top, too, if you feel like the bottom row isn’t getting as much of a bake. Season and prep similarly – so they taste good together and apart. My favorite combo involves garlic, pink salt and paprika, OR lemon pepper, but play around with it! While three pans at once is a great strategy, don’t be surprised if they don’t all seem done at the same time. I typically set my timer for 25 minutes, take out what’s ready, then add time if needed. I’ll use this extra time to clean up and pack up the containers as well. Today, my oven was filled with asparagus and yellow onion on one level, then brussels sprouts, then a tray bake of butternut squash, broccoli, onions, and carrots. This will be used in salads throughout the week, while the others are mainly for side dishes. But, I anticipate leftovers 😉 — perfect to create a mix and match bowl by the end of the week!
They get a good rep for a reason – they make life SO easy! Make sure you are stocked up on mason jars for all chia seed pudding, overnight oats, dressings and juices. I make one large dressing for the week, and the night before, will make sure I pour it into an individual dressing container. Same goes for my morning “mocktail” drinks. I pour from the mason jar into smaller glasses to have my morning shots. They also are the perfect size for your morning protein smoothie!
Breakfast can Wait
Many of my meal prep Sundays do NOT consist of creating breakfast. This week, I decided to do chia seed pudding for an optional breakfast (or a M2/M4!) to save some time in the morning, knowing Harlow will occupy most of it ;). However, prep is sometimes cut shorter if you eliminate this step. Many days, I decide which smoothie I’m craving in the morning, and I’ll make it right after I come back from my workout, to ensure I get protein within 30 minutes after, if possible. Other days, I’ll plan which smoothie I want the night before and put it in my ninja cup, that I can simply add almond milk or coconut water, blend and be done! This is one of my favorite hacks EVER, as it saves time in both prep but especially in the morning. I’ll typically add ice as well to ensure its cold, as the fridge usually turns your frozen berries into ..well, non-frozen, regular berries. Either of these methods works to cut down some time during your heavy prep period, or busy work day mornings.
Sometimes, it’s fun to experiment a bit more in the kitchen, and prep EVERYTHING, and other times, it is just much easier to mix and match all week long. Sometimes, longer preps can help create easier weeks. It’s all packaged up, mixed up, ready for you to eat without a trace of thought necessary. It’s important to note that Mix and Match weeks may require a bit more prep and brain power later on. The true key is: it’s important to find the balance that will make your life easier.
I hope these tips help you find time for whatever life hands you this week – whether thats a puppy, important after-work plans or travel. Now, time to enjoy all of your delicious food!