Efficiency 101: Menu Planning and Meal Prep

How much time do you spend trying to figure out what’s for dinner?  And how many times do you turn to some easy frozen or boxed dinner because it seems like that takes less time than prepping all the ingredients for cooking something from scratch?  Are you one of those people who thinks cooking from scratch is HARD, labor intensive, and time consuming?  You’re exactly who my Retake Homemade campaign is designed for.

There is nothing hard about cooking from scratch.  It’s healthier, cheaper, and tastes a thousand times better than anything you can get in a box or from the freezer.  It just takes a little bit of advanced planning.  This falls into two categories: Menu Planning and Meal Prep.

Menu Planning

This is exactly what you would expect it to be.  You sit down and make a list of all the dinners you want to cook for the week.  It can be as simple or detailed as you like.  Spaghetti or Italian Sausage Bolognese with whole wheat pasta, olive oil bread, and Caesar salads.  You pick the level of detail.  The point is to have a plan and know what dishes you’re going to cook.  If you want to swap one day’s menu with another, there’s no menu police that’s gonna come arrest you for it.  And if you change your mind halfway through the week and want to make changes because you found a great cut of meat at the grocery, go for it.  But the idea is to simply take fifteen minutes to figure out what you’re going to eat for the next seven days–that fifteen minutes will save you up to an hour and a half over the rest of the week because you’re not spending an additional fifteen minutes each day figuring out “What’s for dinner?”

Once you’re armed with your menu, then you make your grocery list accordingly (or perhaps you make your menu around what needs to be used up…I do that a lot too).  The next step happens when you get BACK from the grocery.

Meal Prep

You’re going to take half an hour while you’re putting groceries away to shave off time for all your other meal prep efforts.  Package any bulk items into smaller portions per serving.  Pre-wash, chop, and bag or box any veggies.  If you take the time to do this as you’re putting things away, it will save you fifteen to twenty minutes of time when you’re actually cooking dinner.

Between the two, you’ve just saved yourself half an hour of meal prep every day of the week just by making a 30-45 minute time investment ONE DAY a week.

Additional time can be saved by planning your menus such that you can make more of something one day and re-invent it the next.  Like cooking twice the rice you need one night and saving the leftovers for fried rice later in the week.  Or grilling twice the chicken you need and incorporating half into a salad another night.  And if you gear yourself toward things like crock pot meals (I have oodles at Pots and Plots), you save even more time because you toss everything in, and it’s done when you get home from work.

The key is PLANNING.  Have a goal and an object in mind and you save yourself all kinds of time by not having to dither.

5 thoughts on “Efficiency 101: Menu Planning and Meal Prep

  1. Great post!! I just created my menu for the week as I went through the grocery ad and coupons. I’ll be checking out your pots and plots!! I’m also a big fan of prepping meals in bulk and freezing them in family meal portions, huge time saver and money saver (if you buy the bulk when things are on sale)

  2. I’m not great about the veggie part of your post but I’m right there with you on the rest! Matter of fact this post reminds me that I’ve been wanting to create a crock-pot section on my recipe list 🙂

    I also create meal plans around what’s on sale because my planning day is on Thursday I’ve usually received all the fliers. (Wednesday is my coupon day where I clip, print, load the store card with the electronic coupons, and organize so that when the fliers come in I can take the best advantage of sales.) I also have a dedicated leftover night and if by some miracle we don’t have any it becomes breakfast for dinner night 🙂

    Another great post Kait!

  3. I’m one of those that process that age old question for a few hours before I actually cook it. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m fixing until I open the fridge. Every so often we will plan ahead and even prepare the dinners on Sunday to cook during the week. This seems to work well for us, and the extra refrigerator we have in the basement comes in very handy.

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