It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s also the busiest time of the year with all of the extra events, parties, travel, family gatherings, shopping, and decorating added to an already jam-packed schedule. Take some of the stress of the season off yourself by meal prepping so you have meals ready to go for your family on those busy nights where you’re carting kids to and from activities and trying to get to the office holiday party on time.
If you’ve never tried meal prep before, now is a great time to start. Meal prep helps you get the bulk of the week’s cooking done ahead of time, which can simplify your days and ease stress amidst all the rush. It can also help improve the quality of your diet as well as save you time, energy, and money, which is an added bonus.
These basic meal prep strategies can help you survive the holidays, and will actually let you relax and enjoy the festivities of the season.
Plan your menu
Create a weekly or monthly meal plan complete with a shopping list. Use a Google spreadsheet or use one of the many free online meal-planner tools available. There are also several meal-planning apps that can help keep you on track with weekly meal planning.
If you’re a beginner, you may want to start with just two to three recipes per week. Then, as you get more skilled at meal prepping, you can add in more recipes for variety.
When shopping for the week or month, shop also for ingredients that you can stock up on, such as canned goods, frozen meats and vegetables, cereals, pastas, rice, and other products that have a long shelf life.
Pick your foods
If just starting out with meal prep, keep it simple. Think of a meal as a vegetable, a protein, and a starch.
These are some examples of foods that are good for meal prep:
Carbs: Brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, legumes.
Protein: Chicken, turkey, lean ground beef, eggs, fish, tuna.
Vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers.
Cook large batches
Pick a day of the week to do your meal prep, and put it on your calendar. For example, you may want to plan to cook for the week on Sunday.
Prepare large batches of food, especially proteins, that you can use in at least three different recipes. Cooking a large chicken one night, for example, will allow you to have leftovers that you can use in other ways over the next couple of nights. Use an oven or slow cooker to prepare large batches of food for the week to save the most time.
An easy way to start meal prepping is to cook a few favorite meals that you’ve made before, and double up on the ingredients. This will give you leftovers for a week and give you a better idea of how much time is involved.
Use your freezer!
Freezing meals will ensure that you have a healthy last-minute option available when you’re really feeling a time crunch. Make meals that freeze well such as casseroles, chili, soups, stews, and meatballs that can then be thawed easily in the microwave or oven.
You can rely on frozen vegetables and fruits this time of year instead of spending extra time washing, cutting, and steaming fresh veggies.
Utilize convenience foods
Convenience foods aren’t all bad. There are some ready-made foods that are just as nutritious and affordable as homemade meals. For example, rotisserie chicken, pasta sauce, and canned tuna are convenient and can be used for a variety of different meals and recipes.
Meal prep can ease a lot of the stress and anxiety you may experience this time of year. The less time you spend cooking, the more time you have to spend with family and friends, and isn’t that the point of the holiday season?