Does your life feel like it is in a constant commotion? You are so over planned and busy that you eat whatever you can find? Our life was like that! We ate whatever processed food we could find in the freezer or would grab something along the way. The crappy eating habits were affecting my health and it was time for a change! Ya know, you really don’t realize how crappy you feel after eating until you stop eating crap! I started a better eating journey through Clean Simple Eats. It has helped me feel better, look healthier, and my labs all dropped after 6 months! Major improvement!
One thing I discovered along the way is that in order to eat better and have less stress, I had to plan and prep the meals ahead of time. This really has saved me so much time, money, helped our week flow so much better, helped our family eat healthier, and helped us not waste so much food (ya know like the veggies that sat in the drawer and went bad each week). Here are some things that have helped us along the way.
The Planning Process.
Start with a calendar. I like to plan a week at a time. Some people plan meals a month out but our schedules change so often that one week at a time works great for me. Write down all of the activities for the upcoming week. Where will you be each day during meal time? How much meal prep time will you have each day? I save the more complicated meals for days when I knew I would be home and have more time to prepare the food. Next, I get out my recipe binders and choose meals that will work for each day. I make my grocery list at the same time so I can look at the ingredients and know what to buy. You can use a simple planner like this and only plan dinner or find a more detailed planner, like a dry erase one like this. The important thing is to make a plan and write it down. then hang it somewhere you will see it…like on the fridge.
I like to go to the grocery store once a week. If I go more often then that, I spend too much money. One week at a time is great for getting fresh produce and meat for the week. Each store has different specials and products so I like to alternate which one I visit each week. If you want to save money, make a list and stick to it! I write my lists by section of the store…produce, dairy, bread, etc. This helps me not to forget anything. Here’s a planner pad that would work. Throughout the week, my kids write things on the grocery list (hanging on the fridge) that they use up so we don’t ever run out of anything we use frequently. If time is an issue, most stores now have a grocery pickup option. I haven’t tried that yet since I actually enjoy going to the grocery store and finding deals.
Start to build a library of recipes that your family likes. Copy each recipe that you like and put them in an organized recipe binder. Trying new recipes can either be exciting or they can end up a bust. We only keep the recipes we like. I like to write notes on the recipe with any adjustments I make to the recipe. I even write if a family member didn’t like that meal. I have four recipe binders sorted by main dish, type of meat in the meal, sides, desserts, etc. When my kids want to find a recipe, they know exactly where to find it. I like to find recipes on Pinterest and Allrecipes.com as well as just googling the name of a recipe I want to try… “beef stroganoff” for instance. A simple recipe binder could be a 3-ring binder and add these sheets. Having a wide variety of recipes helps keep things interesting and gives your family opportunities to try new foods and a collection of can choose different recipes each week for variety.
Stock Up on Your Family Favorites.
I like to keep extras of any food we use frequently. It’s great to have back-ups of essentials and things we eat of lot of: flour, cans of soup, mac and cheese, pancake mix, medicines, cereal, snacks, syrup, peanut butter, granola bars, spaghetti sauce, cans of milk, seasonings, really whatever your family loves and uses often. We have a space in our basement for our extra food storage items. I stock up on things when they are on sale and buy things in bulk at Costco or at case lot sales. You can get your food storage started by buying one extra can or box of something each week. Start with your family’s most favorite foods. My food storage has saved me (and my neighbors) several times when we are in the middle of a recipe and realize you ran out of something. Make sure to rotate items and put the newest in the back. If something is expiring soon, I donate it to the school’s food pantry or the food bank.
Make Time for Food Prep.
If you can devote one day a week to food prep, it will help make the rest of your week go by much smoother. Food prep is simple but can be time consuming. You can cook the entire meal and heat it up for dinner or cut up the ingredients and put in the fridge ready to make. I’d recommend starting with 1-2 meals to prep for the week. Then move on to more until you get to prepping all of the meals for the entire week. Mondays are my day to plan, shop and prep our meals for the week. Most of my meals take only about 30′ so I if I have all the ingredients ready in my fridge, I can make them easily that night. I usually meal prep when we won’t be home or need to take the food somewhere to eat. Also, if you wash/cut up your fruits and veggies as soon as you get home, they are more likely to get eaten and not go bad.
Go through your fridge and throw out anything expired. Wipe it out. Put like things together. We have all of our dressings on one shelf, sandwich fixins in a drawer, and drinks on the top shelf. Pick a shelf in your fridge that is eye level to put healthy snacks on for your kids. We got a plastic bin to put in snacks for lunches. If you put healthy snacks on that shelf (like string cheese, yogurts, clear bowls of fruits and veggies), that is what your kids will see first when they open the fridge and will hopefully choose those items first. I like to have clear, stackable bins to put all of the items I meal prepped to make it easier to find.
In the freezer, I have a shelf for the breakfast items, a shelf for the lunch/dinner items, and a drawer for the frozen fruit. I have a freezer in the garage which gives us extra space to store homemade frozen meals and things I buy in bulk. I like to have backups of frozen meats and other items that I use a lot. If I have a week where money is tighter, I can use those items instead of shopping so I don’t spend any money.
Freezer dump meals are great to make ahead so that you can just pull it out of your freezer in the morning, dump in the slow cooker and when you get home that night they are cooked and delicious. Or you can make them to go in your pressure cooker in a short amount of time like these. You can make freezer meals that just need to be put in the oven to cook…like homemade lasagna. Some recipes can be doubled to freeze half for another dinner. I also like to freeze snacks and cookies, protein balls, breakfast items, or any other snacks we can thaw quickly. Leftovers can be frozen in individual containers. Make sure to label and date everything you put in the freezer.
Let your family help you with the freezer meal prep. On one school holiday, we had a family breakfast meal prep day. One kid made waffles, one pancakes and french toast, and another muffins. We froze them individually for 30′ first on my plastic lid. This helps them not stick together when you bag them. After 30′ or so, I gather them up and put them in a stack in a freezer safe bag. This saves us so much time in the mornings because the kids can just grab what they want, do a quick thaw in the microwave or toaster and they are ready to eat! School starts so early that it’s nice to have options for them. We have also made freezer breakfast sandwiches and breakfast burritos. These are also defrosted quickly in the microwave.
Mornings are so chaotic at our house. It is so helpful for us to have ready-made food to eat. We have made frozen waffles, pancakes, muffins, french toast, breakfast sandwiches, and breakfast burritos. We also make overnight oats to grab and eat! The oats get soft soaking overnight so you don’t have to cook them. Here is a recipe I love for Peach Cobbler Overnight Oats. Healthy and delicious! I like to make the overnight oats in a mason jar with a plastic lid. They are great for a quick grab and go breakfast in the morning. I even like taking them camping!
If I prep the snacks in bags or containers ahead of time, I am much more likely to make it through the week eating healthy. Plan snacks during your weekly meal plan to make sure to buy what you need to snack on. I love protein balls. I usually freeze 1/2 the recipe so I can eat them later. I eat two at a time for a snack and they have protein so they fill me up until later. I also make a list of several other snacks I can eat that I have all of the ingredients on hand. In our pantry, we have snack bins so the kids can grab something quick when they get hungry.
My kids make their own lunches in the morning. It started in 1st grade. We have a drawer for granola bars, crackers, lunch items, fruit cups, chips, etc. We set rules about only taking one thing from each bin so they can choose what to put in their lunches and get a variety. My kids also make a sandwich or something else. Sometimes we premake little homemade pizzas, wraps, or corn dog muffins and freeze them for lunches (we don’t freeze the wraps). It definitely speeds up our morning when they can grab something quick for their lunches.
Try to have family dinners together. Sit down and eat together and talk. It will make a HUGE difference in your family. Plan out your meals ahead of time so you know how much time each meal will take. We almost always have a dinner from the Clean Simple Eats cookbook. We now have a rule that everybody helps with prep, cooking, setting the table, and clean up. It is actually great when we have everyone in the kitchen helping.
Plan out your week. Give some of these categories a try. You will notice a difference in your family as you eat better and eat together. It has helped us so much! Let me know how it goes!
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