There is no doubt that meal prep is a great way to save time and money and create healthy options for you and your family that you can heat up quickly on busy week nights or just grab and eat.
But if you’ve never done it before, it can seem overwhelming.
Especially if you venture into Pinterest.
One search of “meal planning” and you will see approximately five years worth of beautifully planned out, presented, prepared and portioned meals in picture perfect containers and refrigerators.
And you are like, No way in hell can I do that right now.
Completely overwhelmed, you forget that idea and continue flying by the seat of your pants each night, dreading the dinner hour.
When it comes to prepping your meals ahead of time, I think a lot of people who are overwhelmed by the idea think they need to begin at that initial Pinterest search level.
But you don’t.
Research shows that habit formation is most successful when started very small.
If meal prep is something you want to make a habit, you don’t have to start with prepping a month’s worth of food straight out of the gate.
Especially if the thought of that paralyzes you.
You can start of MUCH smaller and still make getting meals on the table faster and easier.
You can start with just one small part of a meal.
This is what “batching” is.
Back when I was in grad school, I worked at the Gap to help pay for school.
That’s when I first learned about batching my tasks.
The idea is that you do all of one part of a task before you move onto another one.
For instance, whenever a box was shipped to the store, it was wrapped with four super tough, plastic straps that had to be cut with scissors or a knife.
So we were taught that when a shipment of more than one box came in, rather than completely open one box at a time, you would first cut all the straps on each box.
That way you weren’t putting down the scissors, losing them, having to find them, and so on every time you unpacked a box.
Once the straps were all cut, then you cut open each box.
Batching tasks this way allowed you to stay focused and less distracted and to complete jobs more quickly and efficiently.
Why am I talking about batching tasks at the Gap when I’m writing a post about meal prep?
Because one of the most basic steps of meal prep is the same thing as what I was doing in the back storeroom of the Gap at the Lehigh Valley Mall.
You don’t need to worry about preparing a whole week’s worth of dinners or lunches or breakfasts when you are first starting.
But you can start simple and batch some tasks to cut down on the overall time it will take you to get meals on the table.
Here are some small ways you can start by batching some tasks:
1. Brown a few pounds of ground beef/turkey/etc. at once.
It doesn’t take much longer to brown four pounds of ground turkey than it takes to brown one pound. And ground (whatever) is a staple in a whole bunch of meals. You can use it for sloppy joes or tacos or chili or lasagna or shepherd’s pie or bolognese sauce or a whole bunch of other things. And it freezes very well.
Rather than doing this multiple times a week or month, you can do it all in one shot. You will only have to wash those pans/pots/dishes once, and you will have a main component of a meal ready to go instantly.
Put one pound portions in gallon freezer bags and lay them flat on top of each other in the freezer.
Cooking this one thing in bulk might add fifteen minutes on the front end but will save you an hour on the back end!
2. Bake a bunch of sweet potatoes or regular potatoes.
This takes you literally less than a minute.
Preheat the oven, poke a few holes in five potatoes, stick them in the oven while you do some other work around the house (or take a nap!) — set a timer so you don’t totally forget about them — and that’s it!
Pull one out, heat it in the microwave, and you have half of your lunch ready to go.
3. Boil a bunch of eggs.
This takes very little time and the eggs can cook while you are loading and unloading a dishwasher and then you have something else ready for any meal. I don’t own an instant pot, but I hear those make the perfect hard boiled eggs that you can peel with one hand!
4. Buy chicken in bulk and marinate chicken as soon as you get it home.
Put chicken breast in a Ziploc bag with some Italian dressing or other marinade as soon as you get it home from the grocery store. This takes less than five minutes, and the next day you have already marinated chicken that you can throw in a pan or the crockpot or the grill or whatever.
You can cook all of it at once and then portion it out, or if you aren’t ready to use it in the next day or two, you can freeze it in the marinade and take it out when you need it.
5. Cook a whole bunch of rice or quinoa in bulk.
You can do the exact same thing you did with the ground beef/turkey/chicken.
Cook 8-10 cups of rice, and then divide into two cup portions in freezer bags, lie flat, and freeze.
Rice freezes really well, and you can pull it out of the freezer to reheat and eat as is with any meal, or you can throw a bag into soup or make fried rice or throw it into chili or enchiladas or whatever you need/want rice for.
These are some small ways you can prep some food in advance and save yourself a little bit of time.
You don’t have to make it complicated, and you don’t have to do it ALL from the start.
Begin with one small thing, and then when you start to get the hang of doing that one thing consistently, you can stack onto that habit until you are able to prep a little bit more at once.
Anything you can batch, will save you some time, effort, and brain power, and we could all use that!