When I returned to work after having kiddo #1, I quickly realized how critical it was, for my sanity and overall mental well-being, to spend some time “setting us up for success” on Sunday. I realized the biggest bang for my mental health buck, in terms of preparing for the week ahead, came from prepping weeknight dinners. Other things, like clean toilets, scrubbed floors, and folded laundry, while nice and all, just didn’t yield the same return on my time investment. But give me a fridge with food that is either ready to heat and eat, or prepped to be cooked in under 15 minutes, well then, we’re in the money!
If you’re overwhelmed at the thought of dinner prepping for the week, thinking about it but don’t know where to start, or believe it involves hours in the kitchen, read on. Here are ten simple steps for structuring a meal prep power hour. Even if you can only spare 30 minutes, everyone benefits and you’ll move into the week fistbumping Monday. Ok, maybe not fistbumping, but a little less irritated by her presence.
Map it all out. You can do this at any point before your prep sesh, even Friday over your lunch break. Write down your meal plan for the upcoming week. Review each recipe’s ingredient list and instructions. Figure out what makes sense to prep in advance. Bucket similar ingredients so you remember to prep them at the same time.
Preheat. At the top of your prep hour, preheat the oven if necessary. By the time you’re ready to roast those vegetables, your oven will be waiting for you.
Get the grains cooking. One of the biggest weeknight time drains is having to cook grains, especially whole grains, like brown rice or farro, which take longer to cook than refined grains. Get grains cooking at the start of your hour.
Pull out your containers. If you’re planning to prep something for the freezer, label the freezer bag first.
Chop produce that will be eaten raw during the week. Slice any fruit, cut up the salad vegetables. If you cut fruit, rinse your cutting board and knife before prepping vegetables, unless you like your cucumbers to taste like pineapple.
Chop produce that will be roasted. Toss in olive oil and season to taste with salt, pepper, and any additional dried herbs or spices. Transfer to preheated oven.
Chop produce that will be cooked later in the week. Save onions and garlic for last to avoid having to wash the cutting board between tasks.
Prep any proteins you plan to cook. Save cutting or trimming any animal proteins until after all produce has been prepped. I find this is easiest so I don’t have to spend time washing my cutting board and knife before prepping vegetables.
Prepare a meal or vegetable side dish(es). If you have time and want to get another step ahead, cook part or all of a recipe. Best choices are those foods that are easily reheated, like soups, chilis, one pot pastas, taco filling or sloppy joes. Steam some broccoli and cauliflower.
Store your goods. Give foods time to cool (aim to cool foods to room temperature within 2 hours) then pack up and stow in the fridge.
Congratulations! You’ve just set yourself up for a week of happier weeknight meals.