** Update – If you’ve already read Part 1, you can check out Part 2 of my tips by clicking here!
Another Monday mornings rolls around, and your fridge contains a couple of bruised apples and half a carton of eggs..“Where did I go wrong!?” you ask yourself, as you think over where you can grab lunch today, and what groceries to buy at the store.
It can be tough to meal plan and prepare your meals for the week, especially if you have a large family! Meal planning and batch cooking requires some smart planning and time, but it can definitely be done! Short of hiring a personal chef (like me, which I obviously recommend!), taking the time out to meal plan and batch cook will save you mental energy, money, and time in the long run.
There are a lot of great meal planning posts out there. For example, George over at Civilized Caveman emails you weekly meal plans right to your inbox (see here), or you can buy weekly meal plans from Paleo Nick here. There are many other bloggers who can give you general tips or shopping lists.
So if people are already giving the 411 on how to meal plan, why am I? Well, I wanted to give you an in-depth look at the way I have personally been preparing food for My family for the last month. After going overboard with grocery shopping and spending Much more than our monthly budget, my husband and I decided to set a strict budget, and meal plan within that budget. In addition to saving money, meal planning and batch cooking take the guess work out of what to eat. After coming home from a long day, don’t you just want to open up your fridge and pick out a meal, instead of figuring out what to cook, cooking it, and then cleaning up? Aside from taking advantage of my personal chef services, meal planning and prepping takes sets you up with meals that are ready to heat and eat. In addition, I individually package everything so there is no confusion over what to eat, and so that we don’t eat more than is allotted for us.
I wanted to capture the general ways that I meal plan and meal prep over the course of a week and share them with you. It might sound a little intimidating, but the steps are pretty straightforward and methodical. When it doubt, Keep It Simple! Below is Part 1. You can view Part 2 here!
Meal Planning and Batch Cooking Like a Boss [Part 1]
1) Determine how many people you need to feed and how many meals you need to prepare for each person
How many people are in your family? How many meals do you want to prepare for each of them for the week? For mine, it is just me and my husband. I personally only prep lunch and dinner, since we’re always on-the-go. Breakfast is usually hard boiled eggs (which I boil twice a week), with a bulletproof coffee or a Nutribullet smoothie, or leftovers (if we ever have those!) That leaves each of us with needing 7 lunches and 7 dinners, or 28 meals between the two of us. We go out for one meal per week (usually Sunday lunch at Whole Foods), so that leaves us with needing 26 meals for the week.
To keep in mind going forward: I personally recommend keeping prepared meals in the fridge for four days from the time of preparation. If you are meal planning/cooking on a weekly basis, this means that you would freeze meals for days 5-7. You are free to keep your meals in the fridge for the entire week, but for my personal chef services, as well as from a taste and food safety perspective, I recommend the 4 day rule. That being said, you will want a portion of the meals you create to be freezer-friendly.
2) Determine how many entrees you will prepare for the week
While some people want a different meal for every day and night of the week, you’ll have some repetition with batch cooking (and even when you hire a personal chef). I’m guilty of being able to live on turnip lo mein with some meat and veggies thrown in every day, but most people (like my husband) require Some variety. Therefore, I recommend aiming for 4-5 entrees, and then multiplying the servings of each entree so you meet your weekly meal goal.
Example: If I need 26 meals for the week, I will make 4 entrees with 6 servings each (24 meals total), and then the last two meals will probably be eggs or tuna salad. For the purpose of this post and example, I am going to assume that I need 24 meals, since the last two are just meals I would throw together.
3) Think of entrees that will utilize your kitchen
There’s nothing worse than trying to cook a large amount of food, only to discover that every meal requires time on the stovetop as well as the oven. To help me cook all of our food at one time, I try to have half of my dishes cook in the oven, and the other half on the stove-top. I also try to utilize my crockpot for at least one meal (if not two). I have this Hamilton Beach crockpot and I LOVE it. It’s programmable so it will cook for the indicated time you enter (up to 12 hours at a time), and then set to a warm function. I recommend at least having one (we have two). By using my stovetop, oven, and crockpot, I’m utilizing multiple parts of my kitchen and saving time. This is also the way that The Wellness Mama sets up her weekly meal template.
Example: I usually breakdown meals that I make like this –
1 Slow Cooker meal (crockpot)
1 Soup (stovetop)
1 Casserole (oven)
1 Stirfry (stovetop)
4) If you buy your proteins in bulk, check to see how much meat you have on hand
I 100% recommend buying locally from farmers, and in bulk. This gives you access to better quality meat and saves you money in the long-run (I’m working on a post about why you should do this and will post it soon). If you have a chest freezer, check out what kind of proteins you have in the freezer. Don’t neglect bones or odd cuts of meat either! Meaty bones can be made into great soups, and tough cuts work well for braising or slow cooking.
When checking for your proteins, this is also a good time to determine how much meat each serving will contain. I usually try to use ¼-⅓ lb. of meat in each meal (less for me, more for my husband), but use whatever works best for your diet and budget. As an aside, my personal chef meals usually have ⅓-½ lb. of protein per serving!
5) Based upon how you want to cook each of the entrees (from Step #3), think about the proteins you want to use or have on hand, and designate a different protein and cut to each entree type
- For crockpot meals (or slow braises in the oven), I recommend tougher and heartier pieces of meat, like picnic pork, beef shoulder, roasts, shanks, etc. [Check out some great crockpot meal options from Kelly of A Girl Worth Saving here ]
- For soup, I recommend chicken or you could use stew meat for something like chili
- For casseroles, I recommend shredded chicken or some type of ground meat
- For a stir-fry, I recommend meat that can be sliced (like steaks/pork belly) or ground meat
Crockpot – Beef Chuck Roast – 3.5 lbs.
Soup – 1/3 of a Whole Chicken + 1 lb. Ground Beef
Casserole -2/3 of a Whole Chicken
Stir-Fry – Ground Pork – 2 lbs.
Have you tried to meal prep or batch cook? Were the steps above helpful to you? Let me know if you have any questions, and check out Part 2 of my meal planning and batch cooking tips here!