Meal Planning and Prep: Small Steps to Success

Early in the history of this space, I felt compelled to chime in on the issue of meal prep.  It’s something most of us have struggled with at some time or another. No matter where you are in life, your journey, spiritual walk, or whatever you may be navigating, at some point, you must stop and eat. And, typically, the process runs a bit more smoothly with a plan.

It also happens that most of my audience, clientele, acquaintances, etc. are looking to take charge of their health and fitness . I am not an expert in anything, especially your journey, but trust me when I say there is no way to address either of those factors without proper nutrition.   For the record, proper nutrition does not necessarily entail counting and documenting each calorie, macro, or whatever else the most popular unit for energy intake is these days, but you cannot overlook the importance of fuel.

Anyhow, it’s been a couple of years since my last post, my food choices are markedly different than they were the first time around, but one thing has remained the same: Never ever have I ever been able to prepare one meal that will perfectly suit my entire family. I have accepted it and it’s just not happening. Two kids with both shared and divergent food allergies and aversions, a husband with a very basic meat-as-protein palate, and one vegetarian means either great creativity or super basic dinnertime escapades.

Long gone are the days where I would spend hours in the kitchen with meal prep and all of that made-from-scratch business. Honestly, I don’t have the mojo in that department any longer. But *shrugs* we still gotta eat and for some reason or another, the people in my house tend to look to me for guidance in that department.  So here are my ideas and thoughts on how to stay organized, on top of things, and in the position to prepare and present a well-balanced meal at the drop of a dime.

***Disclaimer 1***

I do not have any major lifechanging hacks to offer. I do apologize and I encourage you to continue perusing this article. But, I am here only to share my process and how I keep some sense of sanity while navigating all our preferences and requirements. Hopefully you’ll find some things useful.

***Disclaimer 2***

I am not a short order cook. I am very aware of “preferences” and sometimes I honor them. However, my primary focus, is ensuring my children have safe (for them) food options, variety, nutrition, and overall balance.

So here we go:

Step 1. You must have a plan.

A plan is a reoccurring theme in our world. I know, I know, plans are so boring and so vanilla. I get it. But in my experience, very little is accomplished without at least a barebones blueprint. What does a meal plan look like? In its most basic form, you’ll need to know how many meals you are planning, what you intend to eat for said meals, and any ingredients you will need to make the magic happen.

You may be thinking, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” But hear me out, this crucial step will save plenty of time as you get moving throughout the week. In addition, taking the time to think about food once during the planning process, saves plenty by way of stress (and perhaps a bit of money) in the long run.

I’m a planner by nature. What about you? What do you do to organize your thoughts and ideas?

***Disclaimer 3***

You may have heard that eating at home is easier on the budget. This is true if you have an established kitchen. If you rarely cook and must purchase every single item on your ingredients list when you feel inspired, you may spend quite a bit of money on your grocery haul. But don’t fret, getting your kitchen up and moving only takes a couple of grocery trips and from that point, you will definitely start to see a bit more wiggle room in your grocery/food budget and you’ll have the resources on hand to scale back from excessive carry out meals.

2. Keep pantry staples plentiful.

Kitchen/pantry staples are a must and I encourage you to keep these on hand. What are staples you might ask? These include both the basics that make cooking possible such as oils, herbs and spices, baking essentials, condiments, broths and stocks, shelf stable items such as canned tomatoes and legumes, and household specifics such as preferred grains like rice varieties and pastas, taco shells and soft tortillas for taco Tuesday, and favorite snacks.

A well stocked pantry is a cook’s best friend.

These are the basics for a well-stocked kitchen and they will make your life easy peasy. Your pantry staples provide the comfort of knowing that with the purchase of just a few fresh ingredients you are well on your way to a perfect meal worthy of Master Chef. Or at least documentation on social media.  

3. Cook what you love.

I am in the camp that eating should be enjoyable. What are your family favorites? What foods do you look forward to? You may be saying, “Well, J, that’s the point; I need to slack up on those up!” Au contraire, ma soeur, or mon frere 😊. You can “healthify” almost anything. In fact, if you want to keep up with any new habits of health and fitness, I urge you to transform them into something sustainable. Yes, chicken breasts, brown rice, and broccoli may get you where you want to be but staying there is guaranteed to be downright difficult. And very, very boring.

If your lasagna is a hit, figure out some ways to add more veggies, less cheese, and leaner protein. If your kids love fries and nuggets (I can’t even get mine to agree on that ☹), experiment with baked alternatives with a whole-grain breading. For every full-fat, deep-fried, creamy, cheesy, breaded, and flavor-rich ingredient, there is a way to modify your components and maintain flavor. Be realistic. No, it will not taste the same. Different does not mean bad. It just means different.  

4. Themed nights can be a lifesaver.

Themed nights narrow your focus. Think of them as the heuristics of meal prep. Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Whatever Wednesday, Throwback Thursday, Freedom Friday. Okay, I went a bit overboard there, but you catch my drift. If you know you do handhelds on Fridays, a soup or stew on Sunday, etc. it focuses your attention on creating around that idea. And, ultimately,  takes away from the vast and endless options surrounding the age-old question of, “Mom, what’s for dinner?”

If you go this route, choose categories that are exciting and simple if that’s your jam. Or, if you like to get fancy and go all out, figure out which day of the week works best for a little more involvement and hands-on prep.

Do you enjoy Meatless Monday? You can reduce your carbon footprint by just eating one vegetarian meal per day. #foodforthought

Need some inspiration? Let the seasons guide you. Cooler, quicker, and lighter on the palate in the warmer months, and warm and cozy during the dark winter season.

In addition, planning around what’s seasonably available, what’s on sale, or what’s in your well stocked pantry that you’ve so carefully established, can also guide your choices. The options are nearly endless and are only limited by your time and resources. Do a little work on the front in and save yourself time, effort, and peace of mind for days to come.

Sound feasible, right? I know you’ve got this.

If you already have an established routine, I’d love to hear your process.

Thanks for stopping by.

And, as usual, peace, love, and light.

~J.

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