My Simple Meal Planning + Meal Prep Strategy
If you’re anything like me, when you learn something new, you don’t just want the strategy- you want to know how it’s done.
I’ve been teaching about meal planning in various capacities for years- and there truly is no one right way to do it (which is why I teach it in the way I do!) But- I’ve finally gotten meal planning to a place where it is EASY, takes me less than TEN minutes, and I follow it up with a really simple and strategic grocery shopping and prep routine to hit the ground running for the week, so I thought I’d share MY routine with you, today.
First, a couple things that help me stick to my routine:
1. My Planner
Once a month I sit down with my meal planner and write down events that could affect our meal plan. I always recommend starting your plan with your calendar- your family’s schedule, to make sure your meal plan is working FOR you, not against you! This takes things one simple step further by already having those things in my meal planner, I just flip to the monthly calendar and see where I need to adjust my plan for my schedule. I also use my meal planner for planning weekly meals and grocery lists.
2. Monthly deliveries: I get monthly deliveries from Thrive Market for staple items + snacks. Thrive is sort of like Costco-meets Amazon-meets Whole Foods. It’s an online health food (as well as home + body) retailer with prices 25-50% off retail. I have a staples list and update my cart throughout the month with items I need, so once a month I’m stocked up on pantry staples and snacks for the kids. I also get Butcherbox meat every other month which stocks us up on most of our meat and poultry, as well. Learn more about how we budget for groceries, here.
Ok, onto my routine!
My planning + prep routine starts on Friday, which is my flex day for work. I often take half the day to work and half the day to shop if I want to go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s (they’re both about 45 minutes away) but that only happens about once a month, otherwise I’ll shop on Saturday.
FIRST, before ANYTHING else, I check my fridge, freezer and pantry and mark down anything that needs to be used up or anything I can use as a head start to my meals.
Then, I sit down with my meal planner, pen, family favorite meals list (it’s in my planner), recipe binder and a big mug of coffee.
I use my 4-3-2-1 method for dinners- but it’s something I’ve been utilizing for around a year and a half now and has been a game changer in simplifying planning! It goes like this:
4 produce items (not including staples- for us this is carrots, celery, onion, garlic, green onion, spinach)
1 flavor boost (sauce/dip or topping)
On busy weeks, I can prep all these ingredients and we can mix and match meals. Or, I can choose recipes based on what I’ve chosen (what I typically do), making sure I’m utilizing similar ingredients to avoid food waste and simplify prep.
Here’s an example:
I have half a cabbage and 2 peppers leftover, as well as some chicken in the freezer.
So, I’ll make tacos one night and fajitas another. Then, with some ground turkey, and the leftover peppers, I’ll make my tex mex turkey taco pie. The sweet potato can be one of my starches. I have some ground beef, so I’ll make puerto rican beef with mashed sweet potato (it also uses peppers) and avocado would be a delicious addition to all of these meals, so I’ll add that to the list. With the rest of the turkey, I’ll make my asian turkey lettuce cups and use up the rest of the cabbage and carrot- so I need some mushrooms for that. I can use the rest, next week.
Sweet Potatoes Tortillas
Meal plan: 1. Shredded Chicken Tacos
2. Tex Mex Turkey Taco Pie
3. Puerto Rican Beef
4. Asian Lettuce Cups
5. One Pan Chicken Fajitas
I stay flexible- noting which days I need extra support and might need something done ahead of time or prepped ahead, allowing to mix and match when I need to. And yes, I only plan for five days- we plan Fridays for date night and Saturdays for family night- usually homemade pizza or takeout.
I’ll start by filling these items onto my grocery list- categorized by store section for ease. Next, I’ll write down anything else I’ll need for groceries- starting with my staples grocery list (in my planner), adding anything else I need for dinners, as well as choose 2 breakfast and lunch options (I get the kids to give me their input on these).
With our monthly deliveries as well as this simple method, it also helps me stick to my budget SO much more.
Time to shop! I head to the farmer’s market and/or the store, armed with my simple list, and shop for the week.
I prep once a week, for about 1-2 hours, depending on how busy the week ahead is- but it’s more likely only an hour. A few things I do every week (read my 5 essentials to start meal prep, here- these are my five):
Produce prep- grab and go veggies for the week, as well as rinsing any greens necessary. If it’s a busy week I will also mis en place my veggies for meals.
Protein prep- protein takes the longest to cook, so I will typically prep at least one protein ahead, sometimes two, for a head start for the week.
Homemade nut milk- for smoothies and lattes
Breakfast prep- whether it’s getting ingredients ready for smoothies/smoothie bowls or baking up some egg cups, breakfast can be busy so I make sure to have something ready.
Something for dinner (plus leftovers). Whether this be a whole chicken, quiche, a soup, stew or chili- something in bulk helps to ensure I have something for lunch, or another meal, the next couple of days.
Sometimes I’ll also throw in a snack (energy balls, muffins, banana bread) as well.
And yes- this only takes me an hour! I use my Healthy Mama Meal Prep strategies to make meal prep easy and simple (get on the waitlist for the newly updated course, launching this fall!).
That is IT, my friends! It might seem like a lot if you’re not used to having a planning and prep routine- but I promise, this whole strategy is turnkey for me now that I’ve been practicing it for so long- and it makes a HUGE difference in simplifying meals, throughout the week.