How to Prep Ahead for an Easy Week

How to prep ahead for an easy week

We went camping this spring to visit my sister-in-law and her family in Colorado.  To save money, we cooked our own food at the tent site on a portable propane stove.  It was the EASIEST week of cooking that I’ve ever had, even though I was away from home, living in a tent, and water was a hike away.

It was easy, because before we left, I spent 2 hours prepping all our meals.  I premixed pancake batter into a gallon bag and froze it.  Mixed up casseroles, combined meat with herbs and spices, all ready to dump and reheat.

I figured out some things that didn’t work so well, like putting dry pasta into liquid and freezing it (mush city.) But most of the meals were fantastic.  I thought to myself, why not prep like this every week?  2 hours of work is worth a calm and organized week. Right?

Once you have your meal plan and shopping list, generating a prep ahead guide just takes a few minutes.

Scroll through your ingredient list and action steps in your recipes.  Highlight anything that could be done ahead.  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Cook Rice

2.  Boil pasta (Bag and refrigerate)

3. Peel and Chop veggies (except potatoes or sweet potatoes which turn dark.)

4. Cook and chop chicken

5. Brown hamburger or similar

6. Combine dry ingredients for quick breads or yeast breads. (pizza dough, muffins, pancakes, cornbread etc.)

7. Marinate Meats

8. Combine crock pot dishes into baggies, ready to dump and heat.

9. Boil Eggs

10. Fry bacon

Remember, not everything that can be done ahead HAS to be done ahead.  Focus on the tasks that would have needed to be done on your busiest days.  And tasks, like batch cooking rice, that cover more than one day.   As you get used to the prep ahead sessions, you can add more tasks a bit at a time to prevent overwhelm.

Meal Plan Shopping Lists Made Easy

Grocery Shopping Lists Made Easy

When I started my meal plan service the hardest thing I had to do was generate the shopping list.  In the early days I spent 50+ hours a week on the meal plans and wondered what I had done to myself?!!!!  I’ve shaved off 30 hours a week from my hands on time by , figuring out some more efficient ways to do things. (If you don’t have time to plan for yourself, it’s really affordable to let me do it for you. Try it guilt free.  It helps both our families at the same time.)

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In the GSP meal plans, subscribers notice my recipes are written backwards.  Traditionally the amount is first and then the ingredient i.e. 1/2 cup Butter.  I write the ingredient first, and then the amount i.e. Butter 1/2 cup.  It allows me to offer 4 recipes sizes AND use excel to organize a shopping list.  If you are planning just for your family you will only need 1 serving size, but the same principle works.

After I have compiled all my recipes into a document, I quickly copy and paste all the ingredients into an excel file.  I add a column for categories, and then sort.  Excel will place all my identical ingredients right beside each other so I can count up how many cans of tomato sauce for the week.

PLUS excel is already formatted to talk to the Out of Milk app if I save the list as a csv file.  Once I upload the shopping list to Out of Milk, my husband can access the list from his phone as well.  If I have already purchased some things and marked them off the list, they will be crossed off on his device too.

Here’s a short video to show you how easy it is.

Step 1 to a meal plan you’ll actually follow

Step 1 to a meal plan you'll actually follow

Drumroll please……Here are the survey results!

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If you don’t meal plan, you are in the majority.  I didn’t for years either.

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When I lived in the country and could only get out to shop once a month, I planned by the month.  Now that I’m back in the city, planning for the week is much easier.  Most of the comments said it was too overwhelming to think about more than one week at a time.  I hear that!

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The majority of readers struggle with ideas and then actually following a plan.  I’m no different!  I spend a lot of hours each week searching for new, cost effective, and family friendly ideas–because that’s my job.  It’s still hard to find the time to put a meal together at the end of a busy work day.  I’m always searching and testing to find new ways to simplify this without sacrificing health or budget.

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This was the most skipped question.  I think that means the majority of readers are looking for traditional foods with a healthy edge.  Most readers are concerned with fitness and weight management and look for lower carb, higher protein options.  We are no different at our house, yet with 6 growing kids and a skinny husband it’s a challenge to juggle my needs with theirs.

STEP ONE to a meal plan you will actually follow:

Get a blank calendar and make note of the days that you are CRAZY.  If this is the day you need a crock pot meal put a yellow highlighter over the square and if you need something as easy as pancakes (Yes, for dinner) then highlight it pink (too busy in the mornings to do crock pot.)  Leave normal days plain.

I use the calendar program from Microsoft Publisher to meal plan, but you can use a Dollar Tree printed calendar (with puppies or cupcakes) if you prefer.

calendar

Then search Pinterest or Yummly (or the recipe section of this site) for the types of recipes you need for your special days and write the titles on your calendar in pencil.

Even though I plan one week at a time, I still record my plans in a month calendar.  That way I can easily see what we had recently and flip back for ideas.

Later this week, I’ll show you how to take the organization a step further so you can easily see what can be prepped ahead in a couple of hours on the weekend.

AND several of you left comments on the survey that will be fun to look at more closely too.

P.S.  Here’s a short video if you want to see details about how I do it. 

When a Meal Plan is Important

When you need a meal plan

When I was a young wife, I didn’t meal plan.  I didn’t WANT to meal plan.  I have a crazy talent of opening the fridge taking out a few bits of that and a smackerel of this and pulling it into a delicious meal.  Some people do cross-words to stretch their mind, I prefer to cook from little bits of nothing.   Doing this saved us THOUSANDS in food costs over the years.  I had little waste, tons of variety, and usually it was yummy.  I shopped for the things that were the best value and most nutritious and made stuff with what I could find.

Fast forward a few years (err 15….) throw in 6 kids, 4 schools, 3 jobs, and all the trappings — my mind is mush.  On more than one occasion I’ve opened my fridge, seen the little bits of nothing and crawled into bed with a bowl of cereal leaving the family to figure it out.

I’m not proud of it.  I’m just admitting it happened. 

When life is so busy that I can’t remember your middle name, it’s time to have a meal plan.  With a meal plan you I a shopping list that allows me to shop once for the whole week.  With a couple of prep hours on the weekend that the rest of the week is doable.

Today was the first day of school for 3 of my kids, plus I hosted a garage sale for 14 families and was running all day.   It was an ideal “hide in bed with cereal” day, but instead we had slow cooked stew and biscuits at 5.  The difference was a plan and ingredients on hand that I could just dump in the crock pot in a couple of minutes.

If you are struggling with getting dinner together or life is crazy busy, I’d like to give you some support.  Will you answer 6 questions for me?

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