Some people meal prep pretty. They use divided containers and have them all stacked in their fridge for the week. My life doesn't work that way. With two active boys, a husband that travels, and my mother living under the same roof my refrigerator doesn't do pretty. But that doesn't mean I can't still have a plan to ensure we don't settle for the drive thru or order takeout/delivery over eating for our goals and overall health.
For the past to years I’ve devised a system that works for our family. This system might work for your family and it might not. It may be that you can use bits and pieces of this system to create your own. The gist is that you need a plan. It doesn't have to be pretty but you need to have some "easy and nutritious" food options on hand and ready to go if you're going to be successful and stay sane throughout the week. Each evening I have a little bit of work but I’ve actually grown to love having a bit of “work” each night because it allows for flexibility.
Here’s how my system works. And, no, I haven’t made a mistake putting “making a plan” second. I always choose my proteins first based on what I have on hand or what’s on sale. Deciding on protein isn’t really part of the plan in our house. I think of planning as what I need to buy to “build my plate” around the protein.
First, I pick two (sometimes three) meat protein options for lunches and dinners. We typically choose beef/chicken, chicken/turkey, beef/turkey, pork/beef, cod/beef, shrimp/beef. I typically try to have one option that’s low fat and one that has a bit more fat to combine together each week. But honestly, the weekly selection depends on what I have on hand or find on sale.
Note: My deep freezer is always stocked with lean protein. I buy bulk when it's on sale. If you can find a wholesaler/butcher that will sell in bulk, then you'll likely be able to get an even better rate on lean cuts of quality meat.
Once I have the meat chosen and thawed, I bulk cook protein. I recently bought an air fryer that I love for meatballs and chicken breasts. Otherwise, we grill out our meat for the week. So, one day (typically Sunday) each week we cook ALL of our meat for the week (okay, actually my husband, Neil, typically does it). Once it’s cooked and cooled, I put it in either ziplock bags or storage containers in the fridge (I told you it’s not fancy).
Next, I make a plan for “building my plate”. Honestly, probably 90% of the time my plate has a main protein, something colorful, and a higher carb option (think rice/potato/fruit/bread). This is where your variety comes in! You’ll need to have an idea of what you’d like to eat each week. When you grocery shop, you’ll need to buy the things you’d like to build your plate around your main protein. I typically always have sweet potatoes, rice, frozen veggies, fresh veggies, and fruit on hand.
When it comes to each meal, you can choose whatever you’d like to build your plate. You can go according to plan or switch things up if you’d rather build your plate around a different protein or surround your protein with different sides. It allows for freedom and flexibility, all while offering an easy and uncomplicated way to eat healthy at home. After all, the hard part (the main meal component) is ready and waiting for you! And if all else fails, there’s always eggs!
That’s it. It really is that simple. It might not be exciting but it works well for our family. Hopefully you'll find that this will work well for yours, too!
Thaw 3 lbs of 93/7 beef. Make 6 oz hamburgers and grill.
Thaw 6 chicken breasts. Grill or airfry.
Grocery list (Harris Teeter/Costco):
Pre-sliced ham / turkey
8 bags/boxes of frozen veggies (if fresh look better, get those)
5-6 pouches of 90-second grains (or bulk cook enough rice/quinoa for the week)
1 pack flat bread wraps
4-pack of Greek yogurt (snacks)
1 bag of low-fat cheese sticks
1 package of goat cheese
1 loaf of whole grain bread (toast for breakfast)
2 dozen eggs
2 containers egg whites
2 containers egg beaters
3-4 medium sweet potatoes
4 containers raspberries
4 containers blackberries
4 containers blueberries
1 bunch of bananas
1 unsweetened Cashew Milk
1 gal. 2% milk
Pop chips or veggie straws (because I love chips/salty/crunch)
1 jar peanut butter
1 jar sugar free strawberry jam
I’ve probably forgotten a few things that I typically buy. And, yes, I know this list isn’t all "clean" but it’s achievable for my family and it works for us. Also, I haven’t included the items that I buy the boys like applesauce packets or yogurt, bagels, goldfish, Colby cheese, pasta sauce, jelly. But for the most part, we just have them eat a version of what we’re having for dinner. Some weeks I cook some pasta so they can have that as an option with little work on my part. And we typically have breast meat chicken nuggets and fish sticks in the freezer if I know they don't enjoy one of the proteins I've selected for the week.