One of the most important things that I’ve found with moving to a less processed diet is that a lot of things we once bought now have to be made by hand at home. I enjoy cooking, which is part of what spurred the journey toward whole food in the first place.
Not only is it really hard to return to store bought substitutes when you’ve had homemade bread/yogurt/donuts/whatever, but when you’ve committed to eating less processed foods, it’s important to try to make as much at home as possible.
It is hard to balance home cooked meals with the workload of starting a business, chasing two toddlers around and getting through a third pregnancy. So recently I’ve taken to intensive food prep days that take the bulk of work preparing breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks off of my busy weekday schedule.
I have a love/hate relationship with food prepping. On one hand, I do love to cook, so that’s a major plus. On the other hand, it takes a lot of time to make all of the food you need to feed four (and a half) people for an entire week.
Today I’m going to take a look at the menu I’ve planned out for this week and walk you through the food prep steps that I took this weekend to ensure that this week goes as smoothly as possible.
The first part of a successful food prep is knowing what you need to make. In the past, I’ve kind of winged a food prep half day with things I’d think we’d need, like bread, desserts, condiments and prepped fruits. This is an okay way to prep, but I’d often find us getting to the end of the week with half a loaf of moldy bread and prepped veggies that didn’t find their way into a meal during the week.
Now I start with a complete menu for dinners and write in all of our breakfast and lunch options, which are interchangeable depending on on the day. I tried scheduling breakfasts and lunches for a few weeks, but I found that no one – including me – felt like following the schedule when it came to early morning food prep.
However, having a basic idea of the breakfasts and lunches that we’ll eat helps to form the game plan for a meal prep day, so we’re not running out of breakfast options by Wednesday morning (the horror).
Our dinner menu for the week of 8/4-8/10 (we do grocery shopping on Friday) is:
Friday: Greek chicken pitas – We had a ton of leftover Tzatziki sauce from a recipe I’d made earlier in the week, so we put it to good use
Saturday: We weren’t home
Sunday: Squid salad
Monday: Balsamic grilled chicken salad (following this recipe)
Tuesday: Saag paneer (recipe) – Of course, you can’t have a good Indian dish without some fresh homemade naan. Also, I needed to make paneer for this, since we don’t have an Indian market nearby. (Paneer is a soft Indian cheese that’s very simple to make at home.)
Wednesday: Black bean burgers (recipe) – In addition to the burgers, we needed buns. I also considered grabbing a bag of frozen French fries to accompany this, but opted to make my own tater tots, instead.
Thursday: Summer roll salad (recipe)
Our Breakfast menu includes the following options:
- Morning Glory muffins (recipe)
- Bagels (recipe)
- Yogurt and fruit – I make my own yogurt from whole milk
Our Lunch menu is basically leftovers from the previous day’s dinner. However, I do have a few contingent meals, in case something doesn’t yield enough leftovers for the four of us or we feel like going in a different direction for whatever reason. Our lunch options include:
- Farm fresh sausages – This is an easy one, and my burger bun recipe yields extra dough that’s easily converted for hot dog buns
- Zoodles or chopped beets and crumbled cheese
- Salad choices – Basically we have on hand a bunch of lettuce, tomatoes, canned sustainable tuna, olives, cheese, dressing, croutons and whatever else you’d feel like throwing on top of a salad
Snacks and More
Of course, with kids in the house and my own pregnancy cravings demanding a steady stream of snacks, I find it best to consider all of the alternatives so we don’t end up coming home from the store with a billion boxes of Cheez-Its and the like. Ahem.
Our snack and treat options include:
- Fruit (peaches, berries, grapes)
- Hummus and veggies or pretzels
- Chips and guacamole or salsa
- Cheesecake (hey, I said it’s a treat, ok!)
Most of the things that I want to serve for our meals are prepped from straight ingredients (meats, fruits, veggies) or made from scratch. Meal prep days give me the chance to frontload this work so I don’t get to Wednesday morning and realize I forgot to prep my sourdough starter to make burger buns. That’s the worst.
Ever since I’ve been balancing kids and work, I’ve attempted to include food prep into my weekly schedule to some degree. Last week, for some bizarre reason, I decided to prep all the things on Saturday.
It was ridiculous. But it was also awesome as we went through the week and just pulled things out of the fridge, threw them together and had whole, well thought out meals. Ok fine. Food prepping win.
I wanted to have the same luxury of prepared meals this week. But that meant giving up an entire weekend day to spend in the kitchen. Saturday was already booked, but other than church in the morning, Sunday was wide open.
For prep this week, I needed to make the following:
- Morning Glory muffins
- Hamburger/hot dog buns
- Black bean burgers
- Tater tots
- Prepped veggies and fruit for snacks
- Salad components
- Two types of salad dressing (for the different salad recipes)
- Chicken breasts
I figured that it would take about 15 hours to prep everything, and I still think that’s an accurate number. In the 12 hours that I had (10:30 AM to 10:30 PM).
- Morning Glory muffins
- Hamburger/hot dog buns
- Black bean burgers
- Tater tots
- Some prepped veggies and fruit for snacks
I accomplished almost everything on my list, but neglected a lot of the salad prep, which isn’t the most horrible thing to put together at the last minute. I’d rather it were done, but I’m pretty happy with how much I now have stocked in the fridge.
Because this was really only my second time doing a full week’s food prep, I recorded my process to help me find where time was wasted. I’m hoping that I can improve my efficiency to get more done next time.
Here’s what that process looked like:
- Start activating sourdough starter for buns and bagels, plus replenish my mother starter
- Start soaking dry chickpeas for hummus
- Prepare batter for Morning Glory muffins and bake
- Start paneer
- Wash and spiralize zucchini
- Cut up carrots and cucumbers (mostly for snacks, matchstick carrots for salads)
- Package paneer in whey (we’re not using this until Tuesday’s dinner, so it needs to be preserved until then)
- Cook chickpeas (it took roughly three hours to get them tender enough to blend for hummus)
- Cut up beets
- Prep peaches (for snacks)
- Make salsa
- Make the bagel dough and prep hamburger/hotdog buns; set both aside to rise
- Make guacamole
- Cut up pineapple (for snacks)
- Skin chickpeas and make hummus
- Bake hamburger and hotdog buns
- Form bagels, set aside for second rise
- Prep black bean burger mush
- Cook black bean burgers
- Prep celery (for snacks) and spinach (for saag paneer)
- Cook bagels
- Start naan dough
- Make yogurt, set aside to culture overnight
- Prep and cook cheesecake
- Prep tater tot potatoes and mixture
- Roll naan
- Shape tater tots
- Cook naan
- Fry tater tots
All of the recipes went pretty well, although it should be noted that the cheesecake was an absolute failure. I didn’t even start it until after 8 PM and I should have just left well enough alone. I used a pie tin, rather than a spring form pan, and things just did not go well. It’s tasty, but you’ll never see a picture of it!
Final Thoughts on This Prep and Future Preps
While I’m confident that I could have completed everything in 15 hours if I’d had them, I’d rather not spend an entire day in the kitchen each week. Again, because I have so little time during the week and hate the working mom’s catch 22 of “what’s quick or do we get takeout?”, I’m thinking that I’ll hone the process for future weeks.
One major thing that set me back was having to stop and prepare dinner in the midst of my food prep. We had squid salad, and had to learn how to cook squid because we had never done so before. In my opinion, it wasn’t worth the diversion. I’d rather simply prepare another meal during the previous meal prep for my family to eat while I do the next prep. Lessons learned.
Another major time waster was my small kitchen and fairly limited supply of dishes. I’m not complaining – it’s nice to save cabinet space with a minimal stash. But there are some major things I’m lacking, like the aforementioned springform pan and a decent rolling pin (I’m currently using an old beer bottle to roll everything!).
More than one frying pan and KitchenAid mixer bowl would really come in handy, too, when it’s a huge hassle to scrape stuff off of my single one repeatedly in order to make new things. I wasted a lot of time on random dish washing throughout the day.
I also need to invest in a food processor to make condiments and some of my pastries. I had to fight for way too long with my blender to get it to blend up the chickpeas for hummus, and I’m always afraid I’m going to break it.
One thing I’m very thankful for is my awesome husband! I don’t know how I could food prep without his help. He loaded the dishwasher multiple times and hand washed the big stuff so I could get right back to cooking.
He also helped watch over the kids, which was huge. I was sore enough after 12 hours on my feet – I couldn’t imagine how much more challenging that would have been with a 20+ pound baby or toddler strapped to my back!
Phew! Ok… I think we covered all the bases here. Let me know if you have any questions or food prep success stories you’d love to share. I plan to share my own food prep journey every week or so in this space, so if you’ve got ideas about what to include next time, I’m all ears!