When my kids were younger, there was a huge gap between planning for healthy dinners, and the execution of getting our healthy meals on the table. My intentions were destroyed by cranky kids, fatigue and overwhelm, and usually a lack of desire to fix what I knew my kids wouldn’t eat.
Fast forward to today, and the story has completely turned around. When I decided to get my life (meaning my kitchen) organized, and manage my time better, the execution naturally fell into place! After years of staying organized, and prepping the dinners we are going to eat the coming week, it has become possible for us to eat a healthy meal almost every night! Here’s what I learned in the process.
1) Don’t Procrastinate!
The number one lesson I’ve learned here is to not put off your meal prep session! Personal success books from “The One Thing, Eat that Frog, and No Excuses” all say a similar thing. Choose one thing that you need to get done each day and do that thing first. The longer you put it off by doing other tasks, the harder it is to get to it. If you just do it, by the end of the day, you WILL feel great about what you accomplished. No need to pack a to do list full of things! Choose one thing, and make that one thing a priority.
2) Prepare your shopping list COMPLETELY
Forgetting even one ingredient at the store can throw me off, depending on how vital that ingredient is. If it’s a Chili recipe and I forget the beans, then Yeah, Chili won’t make it to the dinner table unless I run to the store for some beans. I have to go through the recipes one by one and verify the item is on my grocery list. That’s the best way I am able to remember everything. The added perk here is that if your grocery store does curbside pick up, your grocery list is going to save you MASSIVE time! It only takes a few minutes for me to order everything online, and within a few hours, my groceries are ready for pick up.
3) Simplify the Recipe
In reviewing the recipes ahead of time, there are things I notice that can be eliminated or simplified! This is impossible to do if you are reading a recipe “as you go”. For example, cooking your meat first and then your veggies in a skillet (I tend to do it at the same time! I have four burners, so why not!) Or, if there is a list of seasonings that all look like taco seasoning, I will just use taco seasoning, and simplify that step!
4) Get as much of the meal put together as possible
During a meal prep, I’ll determine which meals will be made entirely, and then reheated on the night of that dinner, or which meals I will partially prepare. You can chop veggies only, cook the meat only, or assemble a whole casserole. I just find, if I can prepare the meal almost to it’s entirety, that my kids can reheat the meal after school, or whenever they need something substantial. Also, I LIVE for the nights when the meal is already done!! What a bonus!
5) Keep the fridge clean and the prepped food visible
Fridge organization has really helped us keep this method of prepping our meals sustainable! Every week, the night before meal prep we eat leftovers and clean out the rest of the food! Our old meals are repurposed & re-created, usually, by shoving the food into a tortilla! Trust me, it works with 99% of our leftovers!
Then, once cleaned out and room is made for the new groceries, it’s super easy to see what is available to eat, what is about to be made into a healthy meal, and what is left for snacking. When jars or containers are allowed to spend weeks inside a fridge, it all becomes a big giant mess that does NOT make it easy to know what is ready to eat! Keep it clean!
6) Let the entire family know the plan
Our meal plan calendar hangs on the fridge, and the prepped food for each meal is labeled inside the fridge. For the younger kids, this is a great way for them to know what to expect at dinner time!! Some kids don’t like surprises. Some like to be prepared for the meal, so during dinner time, a meltdown is less likely. For older kids, it’s the perfect opportunity to get their hands wet in making dinner for the family! They know where to find the recipes, and where to find all the ingredients, so getting it done can be entirely on their shoulders.
7) Prepare for Distractions
I’m referring here to distractions DURING your meal prep time! I know that it takes me about 1 hour to do a full meal prep (5 dinners), but it can take up to 3 hours if I get distracted!! Turning off my computer, phone, and even podcasts has been incredibly helpful! I love listening to podcasts while I do things (like cleaning, walking, etc), but if I need my brain for reading recipes, it is too hard and takes too long! On the other hand, most of you will have little kids that are going to need you during that hour- It’s OK to let them be part of the meal prep. Give them mixing bowls, pots and pans to bang, ingredients to measure. If you are determined to stick with the task (even with kids helping), you can still get it done quickly! If they are too small to help, here are some great activities to keep them busy while you make dinner!
8) Be Gentle with yourself!
The last thing, and most important thing I’ve learned is to be easy on myself when it doesn’t work out! There is no benefit to beating myself up about a meal prep not happening, or dinner not getting on the table every night. Over the course of your child’s life there is going to be over 6500 dinners! If 80% of them are fresh & healthy, than WOW! You are doing great!! There is no reason to be 100% here. We are building life long habits and best practices… not creating OCD behavior!
So, there it is. The 8 things I’ve learned from prepping healthy meals. I hope it helps you get more confident in the kitchen and get more dinner meals on the table!
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie