My recommendation is to start small. If you are going to cook a few meals ahead of time, only do two or three meals maximum. Don’t go all in right away. Get used to the idea of preparing more than one meal at a time. I mean, cooking one meal can be lots of work, but trying to do three meals is a challenge. Try to get used to multitasking and cooking or prepping more than one meal at once.
I will look at the suggested recipes for the week and will decide which ones will work for us. If they all work that is a bonus because then I can follow the grocery list and not worry about substitutions/removals. Once I have decided on the recipes, I try and take notes as to which side dishes we will have with each meal. Am I going to cook rice, potatoes, and veggies, make a salad or is it a one meal dish?
Now for meal prepping to be successful, you have to commit to the work. If you do all of the big stuff in the beginning, you will thank yourself later. As much as I love meal prepping and understand how much time it saves for the week it doesn’t always work. There are weeks where I have great intentions to prep my meals and have a couple meals for the freezer. But sometimes when I start the meal prep process, I only get one meal done. Some unknowns will come up and get in my way. Sometimes I can work around them. Other times, I have to be realistic and realize that I am not going to be able to get any of it done. Life can be hard and unpredictable but it’s about how you adapt to the situation to make it work.
Now here is what I do to make it work. There is nothing mind-blowing here, it is just about how I multitask and how my brain prioritizes the steps to plan/prep.
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Step #1 – Get the proper materials
Get a good binder where you can add your printed sheets. I also bought sheet protectors because I can be messy when I meal prep. If I spill or accidentally splash sauce on the page as I am reading the recipe I can wipe it off and the recipe is good to use again in the future. No need to reprint.
You may be wondering, well why are you printing your meals out? Why don’t you use your tablet? Save a tree!!! I really wish I could work like that, but I tried and it failed miserably. When I am trying to cook more than one thing at a time, I am flipping through pages over and over. I want to be able to go back and forth on my pages without getting a digital screen all dirty. As much as technology is fantastic, sometimes, going back to the basics can keep it simple and straightforward. I also, like having it all in one spot. That way next year, if I want to follow all these recipes once again, my plan is already all developed and ready to go. It’s all available right in my kitchen for anyone to use (husband or kids). My notes will all be available on the pages as well as any saved side dish recipes I have added to my binder. I do keep all my recipes as PDFs as a backup. I have either paid for these recipes or I found them and may not find it again in the future.
I found this cute “recipe” binder on Amazon. I couldn’t resist it as it was perfect for my kitchen. I did want it to look a bit funky as it will be in my kitchen all the time. I also added the sheet protectors to my order.
Step #2 – How to organize your plant/sheets
Once you have printed your recipes out, start using labels to organize your binder. Currently, I only meal prep for one week at a time. I have tried doing more than a week in the past and its overwhelming, time consuming and a lot of work
I break down my meal prepping recipes per week. I use lined sticky notes to write notes or additions to a recipe I am making. I found lined sticky notes with tabs on Amazon. First, I use the tabs to separate each week. Then I will cut them into thirds to add them to my recipes to say what side dish to serve with the meals. This is ideal because if you are not home then your significant other can pull out the meal for the night and follow the instructions listed on your recipe. Your significant other can pull out the meal for the night and follow the instructions listed on your recipe.
For example, if you have prepped a recipe and froze it, but did not cook it then all you to do is quickly add a note saying “Thaw completely, follow steps 5-7 to complete. Side Dish – garlic mashed potatoes”.
To be even more organized, you can add a section for all your side dish recipes at the very end of your binder.
Step #3 – Start small
Now you are ready to start making your meals ahead of time. Remember, don’t try and do too many at once as it can be overwhelming. Start with a couple of meals and work your way up.
When I am ready to start my meals, I will review the recipes ahead of time. How many will be slow cooker meals? How many will I need to use the Instant Pot? Do I need to have any cooked meats to start a recipe? I try and find the easy recipes to start.
I also review the prep time and cook time the recipe will require. This will help me prioritize my kitchen time. If I only have a couple of hours to prep and cook, I may not have enough time to do many “big job” recipes.
Slow cooker meals
When I have a recipe that is intended to be cooked in the slow cooker, I will prepare all the ingredients ahead of time. I will chop onions, garlic, and vegetables. I will look at the meat that I will be using and I will make my sauce ahead of time. I then throw all of the ingredients together in a large freezer bag and make sure it is sealed up tightly with very little air.
Remember, not all ingredients will freeze well. For examples, raw potatoes will not freeze well because they will brown. I usually write on the bag beforehand to say what I have made, add the cooking instructions (cook on low 7-9 hour, add three cubed potatoes, add sour cream when complete). More freezer tips in chapter 4.
Instant pot meals
If you know you won’t have time to prepare for your slow cooker meal or you fear you will be away for too long and risk overcooking your meal (example, chicken recipes should not overcook in the slow cooker as the chicken will really dry out), convert the recipe into a pressure cooker meal. Most slow cooker meals can be transformed into an instant pot meal as long as you add liquid. The liquid is critical as it is the driver for the pressure. If you are not sure how to convert your slow cooker meal, there are so many recipes that do the conversion on Pinterest. Follow this link to find a quick guide on how to convert and what to do if your recipe calls for any wine or liquor when trying to convert to an instant pot meal, How to Make Your Favorite Slow Cooker Recipes in the Pressure Cooker.
Set all your ingredients out ahead of time and make sure any freezer items you need are not frozen. When meal prepping, it is easier to have everything at the tip of your hands as you prepare your meals. You waste less time searching for different ingredients around in your pantry, your fridge, and your freezer. However, be careful with raw meat being left out too long. Make sure to use it as soon as possible.
Once I have all my ingredients out, I have my binder ready and I start either cooking my meals or preparing them to freeze and cook for another day. If you do not plan on cooking all your meals in one day then try to prep some ingredients for the recipes. Try chopping all the vegetables or cutting up your meat. Even washing your produce and having them ready to go when you need them will reduce your cooking time when you are trying to go quickly.