This is How I Meal Prep a Week’s Worth of Food in One Afternoon

 

This is how I meal prep a week's worth of food in 1 afternoon

Prepping my food ahead of time has been the #1 one strategy I use to make certain I eat healthy meals and snacks throughout the week. I have said many times it is much easier to eat nutritious foods and control portions when you take the time to prepare food in advance. In fact, food prep is the #1 tip I give readers when asked for advice on changing eating habits and I write all about it in my ebook.

Many of my blog posts have centered on freezer cooking. Freezer cooking is when you prepare foods ahead of time – most of the time in large quantities – to freeze for future meals. This cooking strategy is a life savor and game changer for busy people, including myself. I often say that my family would never eat a healthy meal if I did not make it ahead of time and freeze.

If you are interested in freezer cooking check out these posts:

Beginner’s Guide to Freezer Cooking

11 Tips to a Successful Freezer Cooking Session

How to Adapt Recipes for Freezer Cooking

Another way to make sure my family eats healthy is to take one afternoon on the weekend (usually Sunday) and prepare our food and snacks for the week. I like to call this my weekly food prep day. This is different from freezer cooking because the goal is not to stock my freezer but to make sure my meals and snacks for the week are ready to eat or be cooked.

Having a food prep day is essential to keeping healthy eating habits a priority, losing weight, and maintaining a healthy weight. When healthy foods are ready and available we are much more likely to eat those foods instead of ordering out or stopping at the store for a “quick snack”. It also reduces the stress and anxiety of trying to figure out EVERY SINGLE DAY what to eat. Just take a moment and think about how you feel when you are hungry and you don’t know what to eat. Those feelings can cause straight panic for some people. I know it did for me. When I am hungry I can’t focus on anything else until I eat. Having food prepped ahead of time ensures I won’t eat something I will regret 5 minutes after I inhale it. Also, everything is done in one day so you don’t need to think about it the rest of the week. I am telling ya, having nutritious wholesome foods ready to eat in your kitchen might just be the weight loss solution you have been looking for. It worked for me.

I started prepping my meals and snacks about 3 years ago. My strategy has evolved somewhat over the years, as I learned what works and what doesn’t for my situation, but this is what my Sunday meal prep day looks like now. Of course, you can prep any day of the week but Sunday has always worked best for me.

Step 1: Plan

No matter what the project or goal I always start with a plan. If not, you will find me walking in circles not having a clue where to start or what to do. Having a plan gives me a roadmap to follow and this keeps me moving forward.

The first thing I do for my food prep day is put together a weekly meal plan and grocery list. My meal plan includes all three meals and snacks. This way there is no confusion about the food I should be eating throughout the day. I eat 5 times a day so I find planning for snacks or smaller meals much more important than just worrying about what I will eat for dinner. I highly recommend checking out Plan to Eat. I use Plan to Eat to organize all of my recipes, plan my weekly menus, and create grocery lists. It’s my favorite must have meal planning tool. They offer a 30-day free trial so you can use it for a month and see if it’s a website that would be useful to you. If you join then make sure to friend me over there (username organizeyourselfskinny) so you can have access to all my weight loss menus.

Here is a link to all of my weekly meal plans for ideas and inspiration.

Now, unless you want to spend all day prepping food, I recommend keeping your meal plan simple. Don’t go overboard with new recipes. I also like to keep breakfast, snacks, and lunches the same all week. This might be boring to some but I don’t mind and it makes my prep day much easier. Here’s a post I put together on keeping meal prep simple. If I do get bored I switch it up with something from the freezer or fridge. Dinners are typically different each night but I do find that we usually have leftovers. If that is the case I might move a dinner to the next week or freeze leftovers. It depends on the meal.

Once my meal plan is done then I need to put together a grocery list. Again, this is super easy to do using Plan to Eat. It is so important to have a complete accurate grocery list. The last thing I want to do is get home from shopping to find I am missing key ingredients. Been there done that.

If you can, and I highly recommend it, try to grocery shop the day before your food prep day. Shopping and food prep on the same day can make for a very long exhausting day. Again, been there done that.

Next I write out my plan for food prep day. Nothing fancy, I just scribble a quick plan on a sheet of paper. Then I look at each meal and figure what ingredients can be prepped ahead of time. Sometimes the whole meal can be prepped in advance (ex. mason jar salads) other times only part of recipe can be prepped (ex. taco meat). I talked more about my food prep schedule in step 2.

The options are endless when it comes to prepping food ahead of time. Don’t feel like you need do it all. Do what you can and what your time allows. Even the smallest amount of food prep will be beneficial. If you get overwhelmed start to think about what meal or snack is going to have the greatest impact on your week and start with that. For example, if you struggle making breakfast in the morning then you might want to make sure breakfast is the first thing you prepare for the week. You can make a big batch of oatmeal, breakfast burritos, or some overnight oats.

Check out the OYS Facebook group for lots of meal prep ideas, recipes, and support from other Organize Yourself Skinny readers. Also, don’t forget to join my free email newsletter for weekly inspiration and tons of meal prep recipes.

Last, I make sure I have all the containers I need and my refrigerator is organized. Weekly food prep requires extra space in the fridge for all the containers, mason jars, and other items you might use. My refrigerator is on the smaller size and with a little organization I am able to fit everything in. Plus, it forces me to clean out my fridge once a week.

I use glass mason jars, plastic storage containers, and plastic storage bags for food storage. You can see a full list of all the meal prep containers I use here.

Step 2: Prepare

My food prep day, depending on the meals, usually takes me about 2-3 hours to complete. The key is planning your day ahead of time. This way you can get right into it without thinking about where to start.

This is what a typically food prep day looks like for me.

If I am making shredded chicken to use in recipes that week I will get it started right away in the slow cooker. Once the slow cooker is going I don’t need to think about it for 4-6 hours.

My favorite slow cooker shredded chicken recipes are:

Buffalo chicken

Mexican chicken

Salsa chicken

Southwest chicken

Basic shredded chicken

Here’s a post with a bunch of recipes ideas for shredded chicken.

Here’s a quick video to show how easy it is to put together slow cooker buffalo chicken.

 

Next I prepare mason jar salads. My week runs smooth when lunches are made in advance. Therefore, my mason jar salads are one of the first recipes to get made so I can guarantee they get done.

cobbmasonjar

menuplanmasonjar

masonjar

Here’s a video tutorial on how to make a mason jar salad.

 

Then I prepare breakfast for the week. I love my green smoothies, which I make the morning I drink them. But my kids like steel cut oats or breakfast burritos. The oats take about 45 minutes to make so I usually have those going while I prepare the mason jar salads or snacks. I also make steel cut oats in the slow cooker. If I’m doing that I will start that slow cooker recipe along with any others. Yes I have 2 slow cookers. I have a Hamilton Beach and Cuisinart. Everyone should have 2 slow cookers. Just saying.

Here’s a quick video for my favorite slow cooker steel cut oat recipe.

I don’t make breakfast burritos every week because they do take some time and effort so I save those for my freezer cooking sessions. Here is a post I did on my freezer cooking breakfast stock up.

oatmealcookingforabout15 minutes

menuplanoct122

Next I move onto snacks. My snacks usually include hardboiled eggs, almonds, cheese and crackers, and vegetables and hummus.

mealplanaug183

I usually have the eggs cooking while I make the salads. Cheese and veggies get cut after that. I put the vegetables into containers to create portable veggie snack packs. These are great and make eating vegetables everyday easy. I also wash and prep fruits at this time.

veggiepacks915

Almonds I prep every 2-3 weeks. I purchase a 3lb bag from my local warehouse store and portion it out into ¼ cup servings. I use the small snack bags for this.

almonds

menuplanoct12

Here’s a post I did on putting together a healthy refrigerator snack bin.

Once breakfast, lunch, and snacks are done I move to dinners. I love slow cooker dinners so I try to make a couple each week. After the chicken is done cooking in the slow cooker I will prep ingredients for a slow cooker meal to be made the next day.

sweetshreddedpork1

Then I prep the rest of the meat, if I can

For example..

Trim and cut up chicken to be recipe ready

chicken prep

Portion up shredded meat

sweetshreddedpork4

Place meat in marinades

Chicken Marinades

Cook up ground beef/turkey. Most of the time I am using it for tacos, cheeseburger wraps, or stuffed cheeseburger peppers so I just prepare that ground beef recipe

So that is how I run my food prep day. Some weeks, depending on the recipes, it might look a little different but that is the general idea. I swear by food prep and truly believe if you are trying to change your eating habits you should give it a shot.

What are some questions you have about prepping food for the week in one day? Do you have any tips to share?

 

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Comments

  1. Great post! I am just starting to cook, eat more vegan (I’m a vegetarian), and this is just what I need to learn. I love the idea to have the same breakfast and lunch for a week. That certainly makes it feel doable!

    I found steel cut oats that take 5 min in the microwave so you should check that out. It changed my life! That did and getting a slow cooker!

    Also, I am learning what staples are for the diet I want and that is making shopping get easier since I have my home stocked with dry goods and spices I need.

    How would you adjust if you are out of town for the weekend? My biggest concern is falling off track because of this. Any advice would be great!

    • Jenny … Can you pls share ideas that you feel would work being a vegetarian? I am a pescatarian but would love more options to make ahead besides salads.

      • Hi Debi, I’m vegan and love cooking soups, stews and casseroles for freezing. The best thing is that they are usually one-pot-wonders and it’s easy to substitute different vegetables or beans based on preference. Also, I freeze portions of brown rice or quinoa that I often add to the meals. Other tips to add variation are to add store-bought veggie sausages, fried tofu or tempeh cubes, or any other mock meats when the meals have defrosted before they start to heat up. (They can be cooked and frozen in with the original meal too though.)

        I often just make up a big batch of whatever I’m cooking and build my freezer stock. I currently use plastic freezer-friendly bags but want to invest in more environmentally friendly alternatives. Once I’ve been doing this for a few months, I have a huge selection of meals to choose from so I don’t get bored. I always name and date them. All frozen food somehow ends up looking the same!

        I have got out of my habit lately, used up all my freezer stock and have been flying by the seat of my pants. It’s not a pleasant way to live and I constantly feel ill-prepared and behind in every part of my life, just from not having my meals taken care of. Even my laundry is suffering! Found OYS today and am inspired to get ahead again! Also inspired to make a week’s worth of fridge snacks and trial freezing my smoothies (once I’m happy with a few recipes).

    • As a guy, I can say this works for us too. (Am seeing only women posting so wanted to have our gender give some feedback as well) I am amazed with this concept and love doing this. Due to a busy lifestyle, I constantly find myself eating outside (to save time but ends up being very expensive) or eating easy to make, unhealthy meals at home which lack alot of key nutrients that i need. You are so right, when you are hungry, it is hard to focus and you easily regret doing something later on because you are too hungry to care at the moment. I still include red-meat (altho rarely and on special occasions) but it has allowed me to watch my diet, eat healthy, as well as eat food that are good for me. I lost 39lbs because i can eat right and save alot of money becasue i always have tasty, healthy meals ready to eat at work, making me spend money to eat out. 3 months into this system and love every moment of it. Thank you

  2. Lisa Okeefe says:

    how do you do butternut squash in the crockpot?

  3. How do you keep things fresh through Friday? I feel like if I put the mason jar salads or sliced vegetables together on Sunday, they’d be slimy and inedible by Tuesday night. Unfortunately, working and going to school full time, Sunday would be my only day to prep/pack. Right now I rely heavily on take out during the week and would love to be able to change that.

    • I have never had my mason jar salads or veggies go slimy. My advice would be to makes sure all the moisture is removed. But everything should last all week no problem.

      • UpstateNYer says:

        @M – I think Tammy’s suggestion here states that by using mason jars – not plastic containers for her salad – and making sure your veggies, especially lettuce/spinach are totally dry before placing in the jar – will keep your salad crisp not mushy all week long. It is the type of tight seal the mason jar has.

      • Pascale S says:

        If you make the mason jar salads exactly in the order that Tammy suggests, they will last nearly 7 days and stay as crispy fresh as day 1. Dressing at the bottom, tougher veggies next, working up to greens – I fill as full as I can and close them. They are WONDERFUL – every time someone at works sees me eating one, they are amazed and jealous and make me share the link on how to prepare them!! THANK YOU.

      • Erin Strait says:

        New to OYS, but we have mason jars with plastic screw on tops from storing homemade salsa, but want to re-purpose for salads. We don’t like the metal tops because we find they rust in the dishwasher. Do you have any experience with plastic screw on tops and mason jar salads staying fresh??

    • Also do not put any dressing on the salads. I have had great success with mason jar salads and usually put the lettuce or in my case spinach in last. Hope it helps.
      Lesley

  4. How do you prepare the chicken in the crockpot for all your recipes? I have 4 recipes this week that I can use shredded chicken for. I’d like to make all the chicken ahead of time tomorrow. Do you just throw in the chicken with salt and pepper? Do you use any water or chicken broth?

  5. Great post! I just started doing this myself to try and change my eating habits. I started with mason jar salads just for lunch and then expanded to jar salads for lunch & dinner. I found that a bit boring so then I changed to salads and soups to interchange for lunch and dinner. I’ve been drinking a nutritional drink for breakfast (usually Carnation Instant breakfast or Boost) because I hate cooking and I don’t have a lot of time. I was considering expanding my repertoire and making green smoothies the night before to have for breakfast and another in the afternoon for a snack. BUT I was also thinking of planning out my snacks in advance because I do snack several times through the day and I need something healthy on hand. I’m going to start planning more in advance to try and incorporate your ideas. Thanks a lot!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It has made my life so much easier and makes me motivated too. I am curious to know if I it’s a good idea to Cook week’s worth of food in a day too? I mean food prep has made my life a lot easier but you think it’s a good idea to cook chicken,beef, rice in a day and refrigerate the container for week and consume it everyday? I work 70 hours a week and barely get a day off. I thought if I could cook one day of the week that’s be great.

  7. Hi, I have just found your page all the way here over in Australia and quickly made it one of my favourites. I just have a quick question (probably the first of many to come). With your vegetable snack packs, how do you stop the carrot and cucumber type vegies from drying out during the week?

    Thanks

  8. Waleska says:

    Love this article! I was wondering where to start between healthy, family, work and time and this just make my day!

  9. Im just wondering about how well the food stays preserved after being divided up? Ex: Do you freeze or just refrigerate your daily raw chicken bags?

  10. I love this post and am happy to be “back” on the wagon :-).

    I make homemade hummus in the Vitamix (BY FAR the best and easiest recipe ever) and portion in 2 oz. jello shot containers (sadly I don’t make jello shots). It’s the perfect amount with carrots. My daughter likes them for school, too.

    I also add overnight oats in mason jars to my prep list (and yes, I use homemade almond milk made in the Vitamix – don’t hate). I swear half the time all you can see in my fridge is mason jars.

    I recently bought an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker and it has changed my life even more than planning for the slow cooker. I can have almost ANY recipe ready in under an hour. As long as I’m planned out and shopping, I can cook almost every day (it also has a slow cooker function). I can also make up to 18 hard boiled eggs (which I have done for parties) in about 10 minutes. You should check it out!

  11. I found this blog while thinking about doing weekly food prep…and I’m hooked !!! Thanks for taking the time to blog about all these great ideas and strategies to make life easier and healthy eating more attainable ! Love all the ideas, have already started making boxes and freezer bags ! Thanks again !

  12. Do not like the incredible amount of plastic used…. would all this work in glass?

  13. My Hubby eats cottage cheese and yogurt as a snack(not together). Could I measure these out for the week? Or would they spoil faster?

    • I do this all the time – hummus and applesauce too. There are great small containers for this at my grocery store and Target.

  14. Thanks for the very informative post!

  15. I’m still unsure… Does all this go in the fridge or freezer?? If freezer, do the oats defrost okay and taste okay? Do the veggies taste okay after being defrosted, or if in the fridge, do they go soggy by the last day??

    • When I make meals, I put the next day’s serving (s) in the fridge and anything beyond tomorrow goes in the freezer. Every day I rotate from freezer to fridge so things can thaw.

      Snacks just stay in the fridge all week. I find fruits and veggies keep well for a week, especially if washed and cut. I do triage though – things like apples, oranges, and blueberries will get eaten later in the week, but raspberries and blackberries need to be eaten in a couple of days. This is all trial and error and I continue to learn what keeps and how.

  16. Very interesting! I am interested to know how you keep the cucumber and peppers from drying out. Even if I put them in a sealed container in the fridge, they don’t go off, but they don’t retain that fresh cut look that my kids have become used to…

  17. Thank you so much for this. I’m a lazy college student with no ideas on how to make healthy food. I won’t be limited to ramen anymore ?

Trackbacks

  1. […] freezer I decided to give myself a little break. I know its kind a odd since I just shared a post raving about my Sunday food prep day but sometimes its good to take a break when you can. Well I do still need to prep a few things but […]

  2. […] This has been the most helpful tip for me as a busy working mom. I want to provide my family with healthy homemade meals everyday but do not have the time or energy to cook from scratch daily. However, I do have some extra time on the weekends. I use that time – a couple or hours or so – to prep ingredients or make meals to freeze so weekday meal planning becomes less of a burden. Check out my post on “how to prep food for the week in 1 afternoon”. […]

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  4. […] of these days, I might be as organized as this blogger.  Until then, I’m just happy that I found my way back to the […]

  5. […] Sunday food prep day:    Use Sunday to plan and make your meals for the up coming week.  Put half the meals in the freezer and the […]

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  7. […] an hour cooking a healthy homemade meal. The best way of overcoming this, is to make sure you prepare meals for the week during one of the days you have off in the week. There are many recipes you can take advantage of, […]

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  12. […] A few other suggestions would be to cut cable for services like Netflix or Hulu. Also, if you tend to eat out a lot, maybe try cutting eating out to 1 or 2 nights a week and fix dinner at home the rest of the time. If time is a problem for you there are a number of websites and Youtube videos dedicated to showing you how to prep your meals for the week. […]

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