One of the secrets to eating well and living a healthy life as a family in this chaotic world is a prep day. It literally keeps me sane in the midst of a crazy schedule with both of us at work, 2-different school aged kids at 2-different schools, 2-different kid’s sports schedules and the never-ending family chore list (yes, we are washing soccer uniforms the day of the game too).
So, one day a week is helpful to plan out what we are eating for the next school / work week. I can’t stress the importance of this enough if you are trying to lose weight or maintain your weight; if you can develop this habit, your success will be guaranteed. This is something that I am writing for the benefit of my clients because I am always talking about how vital it is to have a prep day. Well, here’s how I do mine.
Don’t skip the tips at the bottom of this post!
There are some major benefits:
- Eliminates the 6:00pm sinking feeling as you walk in the door and go “what am I feeding everyone”.
- The above elimination allows for some joy during the week nights. Bonus!
- Eliminates the stress of the home cooked weeknight meal as most of your ingredients will be prepped ahead, allowing for a true 30-minute meal that’s healthy (sorry Rachel, but yours are not so much).
- Removes takeout from the diet. Think of how much sodium and sugar you will not eat.
- Gives you meals you are proud to write in your food journal and proud to bring in for me to see :).
- Keeps you from making decisions when you’re starving, which is never a good idea. What is awesome is coming home starving and having a plan already laid out for you so you can whip into action like some kind of kitchen ninja!
- It saves in grocery money a few ways. #1 you have a plan for every single ingredient and it gets used up before it goes bad. No more throwing it out. #2 when you prep yourself, it’s less expensive. Think whole heads of romaine vs. bags. Think bags of beans vs. canned (plus the sodium is less and it’s way more nutritious too).
- It inspires me to try new things like fruits and veggies we’ve never had because I know I have the time to figure out what to do with an ingredient.
- Takes one more stress out of the day! Enough SAID!
Choose your prep day:
Oddly enough, I grocery shop at several different stores and I shop all week-long as I have time; an hour here or an hour there. So, by Sunday, I should mostly have all the ingredients to make a good prep day. Sunday for me is standby day but it varies.
Think about which day works for you. It will cut into fun time a little, that is a given because yes, it takes effort and yes it takes time but it will save you so much stress during the week that I guarantee everyone in your family will agree it is an asset and not a detriment. Don’t get hung up on the negative. Life sucks some. You have to make the most out of it and prep day is a fine example of a chore that can actually be quite fun. DON’T let this be another excuse. “I don’t have time” is just really not true.
If you have a day of the week that’s obvious, then there it is. For those of you with a mixed schedule, it may be a different day each week. That’s the way it is for me since my schedule can change drastically based on a dozen other people’s schedules. This week it was Tuesday, last week it was Sunday.
Make A PLAN in 3-Easy Steps!
List your ingredients: the way I do this is simple and old-fashioned and WORKS like a charm. I have a spiral notebook and I go to the fridge and pantry and make a list of all the ingredients that I have and need to use. Staple pantry items don’t need to go here. These are perishable items that will need to be used before they go bad.
I like to do step 1 the day before the actual prep day. It takes a little time to do the planning steps and if you combine the planning with the prepping, it can be too much. PLUS this ensures that I can pick up last-minute, unanticipated ingredients ahead of prep day so I know I have everything.
This is how my list begins:
Fancy, isn’t it? All this newfangled technology at my fingertips and I use a good ole spiral. If you can figure out a way to make something work, go for it. Phone apps, websites, notebooks, whatever you can rely on.
Make the paper work for you.
I grid the paper somewhat like a calendar for the dinner meals. Then I add in the “other” food needed along the left hand margin. I also go into my calendar and make notes so I know that I have to work late certain days (which means crock pot or easy for Dad to do) or notate dates I know we have plans to have our meal out of the house (which means no plan needed). Notate things like sporting events and practices, family plans or any other reasons you wouldn’t be home for a meal. No need to plan where you don’t need it!
Based on your ingredients and schedule, plan meals for Monday – Sunday.
As I look at the ingredients, meals come to life. This allows me to cook a little more extravagant than if it were not planned out.
If you can’t figure out what to make with the ingredients, google the ingredient and go wild. Google butternut squash and see what comes up. You’d be surprised how easily you get inspired with a great new recipe to try!
This is what it morphs into:
Hopefully you can read my writing.
Remember some prep work can’t be done ahead and will need to be squeezed in the day before you plan to make it or that night as you’re making dinner. You can’t cut some things ahead because they brown or turn to mush. Don’t panic, once you remove the bulk of prep, cutting a few pieces of fruit before dinner is a breeze.
Tools for Success:
From top left corner, clockwise.
salad spinner (pictured below in more detail)
salad dressing carafe
basket lined with produce bag from the grocery store for trash
large stainless bowl and colander (I also have a large colander in the sink not pictured)
onion goggles (don’t laugh!!)
You cannot have a good prep day without good tools. Obviously, you may need more than this. A few more things that I utilize pretty much every week are my food processor, muffin tins, crock pot and baby chopper (the mini food processor – I think I paid $9 for it). You’ll also need storage for all these prepped ingredients. I use ziplock bags and glass storage containers for most of it.
Salad spinner isn’t fancy, but it sure is a huge help!!
READY? Let’s go!
Start with any baking. Down my left hand side, I have listed a blueberry pumpkin muffin breakfast bar. We are grain free, so the baking at my house is a bit harder. It’s also necessary because we happen to be grain free. I like starting with the baked items because the sometimes take a few steps and I can do other things while it bakes and then cools.
While something’s in the oven, move on to day 1 in your handy dandy notebook. If you get that reference, high five! For this week it was grilled chicken breast on Tuesday and a romaine salad. I left the veggie blank because it was one of those, decide as you go kind of things. I ended up roasting leftover red potatoes, FYI.
Note: I do not stick to my notebook all the time. I change things as needed because sometimes it just makes sense.
I buy the large bag of romaine lettuce heads (usually a pack of 3) instead of already chopped because it’s a huge cost savings.
When you’re prepping, keep in mind lettuce will wilt. To ensure this doesn’t happen, I chop, then I wash, then I spin it completely dry. Put in a ziplock bag and seal 9/10 of the way, leaving a bit open for air circulation. Use within 3 days – don’t prep yet if later in the week or move it up so you can prep on prep day. There is a method to my madness on prep day: whatever takes the most work, gets put on the menu first so I know it’s prepped! Unless it’s a weekend meal.
Work your way down the list and do ANY AND ALL prep work that can be done ahead. Save things that will brown easily like fruit cutting, guacamole making, potato slicing for the day of…
Prep day is quite messy. Be prepared for your kitchen to need a good solid clean up when you’re done.
My island often looks like a war zone in the middle.
The Julienne peeler is a lifesaver. Pictured is Julienne zucchini. It literally takes 3-minutes to sauté because of the size. I use this method for most things for weeknight. I cannot tell you how easy it is to dump this out of a bowl into a sauté pan with a bit of spray on a pan and 1/2 teaspoon of avocado oil and sauté.
I prep WHOLE BULBS of garlic all at once. I hate messing with garlic so doing it like this works for me. I peel an entire bulb of anywhere between 10 and 20 cloves. Put them all in the mini chopper and done. Store in fridge in an airtight container. This will need to be used within a week.
Cook a pan of chicken sausage to eat for breakfast during the weekday. It’s easily heatable and this is all natural, organic chicken sausage with a tiny list of ingredients that I approve of. It can be found! These take 40 minutes to cook, so it’s not something anyone in my family would see on a weekday without Prep day. PS this little trick saves huge on cleanup; just don’t forget to spray the foil.
These are the kinds of things that come from prep day:
This is what we call the layered salad. Easy and delicious lunch!!
From the bottom of the bowl to the top of the bowl: All cold: baby spinach and chopped romaine lettuce; cauliflower rice; cooked zucchini, onion, carrot and cabbage; homemade yogurt cucumber dressing.
Yogurt Cucumber Dressing:
1/2 cucumber chopped tiny
1 cup organic kefir
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and black pepper
These are the bomb. Simply heat up on weekday mornings. They are simple and easy. Just spray your pan, put veggies of choice in cups (pre cooked a little – love that Julienne peeler…), add beaten eggs (I estimate) and bake for 15-20 minutes or until set and cooked through the middle. The trick is a very low temp oven so it doesn’t brown – 300 degrees works well.
This is a salad bowl made with baby spinach, leftover grain free turkey meatballs, tomatoes, cauliflower rice (recipe link above), leftover steamed asparagus and yogurt dressing (recipe above).
This is tuna salad served in a lettuce wrap – make it with avocado instead of mayo for a way healthier version. Great source of protein without the crackers or bread that slow us down.
A Few Tips (okay, more than a few) For a Successful Prep Day:
- Have some good music on low volume!
- Remember to do it your way. All this is my way and just suggestion. Do what works for you.
- Organic vegetables need to be double washed (especially greens) because there are bugs, bugs, bugs. I take special care to wash the lettuce and spin until totally dry.
- A word about non-stick sprays. Canola spray is GMO because all canola corn in the USA is. To avoid GMO, I use olive oil spray and coconut oil spray – they work equally awesome and you cannot taste coconut.
- Have a folder for printed recipes that you’ve collected to try to keep it handy.
- During the week, keep your master page out so you can remember what’s going on. DO NOT throw it out!
- Use my favorite EVER app called Pocket. I use it of store recipes that I want to try on my phone and iPad. I gather whenever I’m perusing social media, newspapers and blogs. Then I take a look as I’m collecting ingredients.
- Invest in a good quality chopping knife that fits your hand properly.
- Set reminders on your smart phone. Common ones on mine are: thaw meats, soak beans, load crock pot…
- Make it fun. Try at least one new and exciting recipe. Weekday meals don’t have to be boring!
- Keep your pantry stocked with often items like broths, boxed tomatoes, cans of green chili’s, coconut milk, nut flours, nut butters, etc…
- Keep raw nuts and seeds in your freezer. They will go rancid if left at room temp for more than two weeks. They are a natural, unprocessed fat, remember.
- Try to choose a variety of color assortment for vegetables during the week. It ensures you get the vitamins and minerals you need.
- Chop once. For instance, if your spiral notebook has onions in the ingredients a few different places, chop them all at once and set aside.
- Clean all tools after handling meat or seafood. YUCK.
- Keep the weather in mind. No one wants soup in July.
- Purchase kitchen grade gloves for use with things that require hands on like meatball rolling.
- Keep your hair pulled back. There is nothing worse than hair in the egg muffins.
- Buy in season vegetables and fruits to save money on your grocery budget. Eat the same thing cooked two different ways the same week.
- Try to avoid sugar and grains in your meals. You will be so much healthier.
- Don’t hesitate to make popular items on a rotation.
- Vegetable soups are awesome leftovers for lunches. I make soups in the crock pot and it’s healthy and easy – use tomato or broth based.
- DO NOT take this awesome prep day and turn it into an opportunity to bake junk. If you make it you will eat it. Stick to healthy foods!
- Remember, the healthiest ingredients are: meats, fish, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits. Therefore, the healthiest foods are made from these things.