I was in to meal prepping back before it was cool. I got into it when I decided to pay down my student loans, so when I started keto, I didn’t really have to change my routine. I just needed to change the recipes I was using.
It also made keto a lot more affordable. Since you’re eating higher quality food, it can get expensive quickly if you’re eating out all the time.
Meal prep is an essential part of a larger system I use to manage my food. I’ve been doing it for several years now and now I can proudly say that I cook almost all my own food.
Just last week my
boyfriend husband and I were going to go out to eat and we couldn’t remember when the last time we went out to dinner was. It must have been 3 months ago, and the streak continues since we opted to cook for ourselves.
When I started keto my grocery budget was around $200 plus an additional $150ish on eating out. Now my grocery bill is more like $350 but my eating out bill is like $10 or something ridiculously low. If you’re struggling with fitting keto into your budget, it is totally possible if you become better at meal prep. Sure your grocery bill will go up, but if you’re committed to it and cook your own food, it should balance out. Plus, the food you eat will be a whole lot better. I also hardly ever throw away any food. Everything gets eaten or frozen.
These are all the different tricks I use to make all my own food from scratch in just a few hours each week.
I try to plan my meals before Thursday, do my groceries on Friday, prep everything on Saturday and do the actual cooking on Sunday. I find a tiny bit of work each day is more manageable for me than doing it all at once, but sometimes I end up doing everything on Sunday.
If you’re going to use a similar system, I suggest you have your meal plan in place as soon as possible, because if you don’t, it will hold up everything else.
Even though I’ll cook for a couple hours on Sunday, I love being able to come home during the week, tired from work, and not have to do anything. I can just pull out a properly portioned container from the fridge, nuke it and be ready to eat in five minutes flat. There’s no reason to go to the drive through, when the food I have at home is just as convenient.
Plus, I don’t know about you, but do you know how happy it makes me to see rows of perfectly stacked containers in my fridge? My Type A soul, smiles with delight.
Here’s some things I learned meal prepping that will help you get the same happy feeling.
There’s an App for That
When I first started cooking I used to use an app called Ziplist. What I loved most about Ziplist is I could copy a recipe off a website, save it to a recipe box and it would create a grocery list for me. It was beautiful. I never threw away food and I didn’t go crazy buying everything at the grocery store. I only got what I needed, and life was good.
Then, out of the blue Ziplist was discontinued and I couldn’t find a suitable replacement, so I hung around in disorganized limbo for a while, trying to make other list apps fit my needs. I even tried meal planning in Excel, okay, that’s how desperate I was.
That’s when Plan to Eat entered the picture. Not only can you collect all your recipes and create a list, you can also meal plan in the same place. It’s awesome. It gives you a calendar and you can drag what you’re going to eat in the breakfast, lunch and dinner spots and then it gives you a shopping list.
I don’t know how I used to live without it.
2019 Update: Do I still use Plan to Eat? Yup. Although now I go through cycles. Sometimes we eat really simply because I’m going through a depressed spell and I don’t want to do anything at all. Other times life gets really hectic or I get bored with our recipes and I reactivate it. But all in all, I still love it and still use it.
Get Organized Before You Start
Rather than walking into the kitchen, anxious to get the first thing cooking as soon as possible, set yourself up first so you can breeze through everything more calmly and actually enjoy yourself in the process.
Clean the Kitchen First
Start by cleaning the kitchen or moving things off the counters if you’re not going to be using them. Wash the dishes in the sink, so you’re not looking for say, the potato peeler at the bottom of a pile of dirty dishes later. Round up all of your containers from the car or lunch bags and I wash them so they’re ready. Gather your ingredients on the counter before you start so you don’t leave anything out.
Don’t Just Start With the Easiest Recipe
Think of what order makes the most logical sense to make the recipes in.
One of the most important considerations is what will take longest to cook and what takes longest to cool, believe it or not. I’m usually out the door as soon as I finish cooking so if I make something like soup, it will take for-ev-er to cool down, so I’m waiting around for 40 minutes so I can put it in the fridge. Start with the longest recipes first so you’re not waiting around like I am.
I also set up my laptop and open up the recipes I’m going to use in the order I’m going to make them. I give them a quick scan, start my playlist and then I’m good to go.
Use as Few Dishes as Possible
When I meal prep on Sunday, my kitchen will look like a tornado went through it. But that’s what happens when you get all four burners and the oven going at once. The most time consuming and least enjoyable part, at least for me, is washing all those dishes.
Now I’ll mix like three different recipes in the same bowl and cook them in the same pan. I just wipe or rinse and keep going. This works especially well if you start with the bacon first and then cook something like a chicken recipe that would benefit from a little bacon flavor. Which is really every recipe am I right?
Pyrex dishes are your friend
The real game changer was getting a whole bunch of glasses dishes that were oven, freezer and microwave safe. That way you can prep in them, cook in them, freeze them and reheat them later. Sure they’re more expensive than the plastic disposable previously-sour-cream containers you’re using right now, but they will take your meal prep game to a new level.
I used to make a frittata in a pan and section it into squares and put them in containers. Then I got the idea to make them in a cupcake pan so they were already portioned, but I hated washing the cupcake pan after. So I got some 1 cup Anchor ovensafe dishes so I can split up the frittata between like 8 containers, put them in the oven in the same containers and pop lids on them when they cool down and I’m done. If I see that I’m going to have some left over, I move it to the freezer, all while keeping it in the same container.
Cook recipes in the same flavor family
This is a great shortcut when you have to squeeze meal prep into a shorter amount of time than you’re used to, like finals week or something. I’ll choose all Italian or all Mexican recipes or recipes that have a lot of similar ingredients. You could also do an all chicken theme or something. It may be boring, but when you don’t have enough time to breathe, you won’t even care.
The more overlap, the better
The trick is to get ingredients that can be prepared together. For instance, if two recipes call for 1 pound of sausage each, cook both pound together so you can split it rather then going back and forth between two pans or doing them back to back. Same goes for chopping veggies. Group them together and split them. It will also help you breeze through the grocery store, since you only need a few ingredients.
Cool down quickly
When you’re done cooking, start splitting everything into containers so it will cool faster, especially soups. Don’t leave things on the stovetop, especially if you have the oven going or it will take longer to cool.
If the dish allows it, flip the container to the side. I make these breakfast souffles that take a long time to cool because there’s a sausage patty on the bottom. I found that if I flip them to the side, or stick something underneath them so the bottom isn’t completely touching, the air circulates better and they cool down much faster. Just be careful not to make a mess. Put a cookie sheet underneath, just in case.
The freezer is your best friend
I looove my freezer and it usually always has more food in it then the fridge.
I usually only buy meat when it is on sale and I buy in bulk so I’ll have some on hand when it’s not on sale. When I get home from the grocery store, I’ll split it up into the portions. So a 3lb roll of groud beef will get divided into 3 ziplock bags. Instead of keeping the log shape, I smoosh them so they’re as flat as possible so I can squeeze all the air out of the bag to minimize freezer burn and so it defrosts more quickly. They’re also easier to stack that way and take up less room.
For chicken, I’ll leave a few whole breasts intact, but I’ll also chop a pound into strips for fajitas or salads. I’ll also make some thinner filets or big strips for chicken picatta, chicken tenders or when I just want a plain chicken breast for some other sauce. It makes for one less thing to do later.
Chop and Prep BEFORE you Freeze It
I also freeze veggies that are already chopped. If a recipe calls for half a bunch of celery I’ll chop all of it and freeze the rest for soup later. Ginger freezes well too and is easier to grate when it’s frozen. Ice cube trays aren’t just for ice cubes! Use them to freeze lemon, juice, tomatoe paste, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce or anything that you need a little bit of every once in a while.
You should also label everything you put in the freezer too. At first I was like nah, I’ll remember and then later I realized that a lot of things start to look alike. Don’t be like me. Label it and date it.
Double up on a Recipe and Freeze the Rest
Make extra food for freezing for when life get crazy. I like freezing portions in servings of two. That way I can thaw something and eat it two days back to back or split it with my boyfriend when we’re too tired or lazy to do anything.
In the weeks leading up to the colder months, I also make a couple batches of soup in case I get sick. There’s nothing like waking up with a cold or the flu on meal prep day, knowing the fridge is completely empty and being relieved when you remember that there’s homemade chicken soup ready for you. It makes you feel like you have your life together.
Force Yourself to Go into the Freezer
I usually like to do a few days near the end of the month when I won’t do groceries to force myself to eat what’s in the freezer. This helps reduce the amount of food I need to throw out because of freezer burn, since nothing usually stays in there longer than 6-8 weeks. It also helps you not forget that you have some good stuff in there.
You’ll be more likely to freeze more things because you’ll know that it doesn’t go to the freezer to die.
Set Reminders so You Can Get a Routine Going
I have so many things going on at my life at once, that my routines help me stay on track. If you’re trying to get into the habit of meal planning or changing your routine, I recommend setting reminders on your phone. I use Todoist for everything, work, chores, shopping and I have a list for food related tasks too.
I set these tasks to recur on a regular basis so I never forget to do them. Since I cook enough food on Sunday to get me through the work week, every Wednesday I already know to put any food that will not be eaten in the freezer. On Thursday and Saturday I automatically pull whatever meat I’m going to use out of the freezer to thaw out. If I do happen to forget, my phone reminds me.
One of my favorite things about Todoist is you can share lists so I have several shared lists with my boyfriend. I have different lists for specialty stores, so if we run out of something either one of us can add it to the list. When I go to that store or I have him go for me, he can check that list and get what we need. He can also help me with things that need to be done without me telling him.
Get everyone on board with a system
I know you’re thinking my husband or kids would never cooperate like that. And you’re right, it doesn’t happen over night, it takes several months but it’s so worth it. My routines don’t just help me, they help both of us. Since we’re both used to a certain system, it’s easy to make improvements over time.
Putting it All Together
The easiest way to get started with meal prepping if you’ve never done it before is to come up with a simple routine. Come up with a meal plan, make enough for a few days, freeze the rest and start again. Don’t worry about getting fancy with it. I like to meal plan every week since every week is different, but you could easily make larger batches and freeze most of it.
You don’t even need to be on keto or any diet to implement my tips.
2019 Update: After doing Keto for two years, I’ve given it up. Tortillas are life.
I’ll never wing it with food again and not have an answer for what’s for dinner, but that’s just me. Doing most of the work ahead of time helps me when I don’t have the energy to do it later, which is always.
It’s a relief really. It helps me avoid making excuses, saves me so much money and it makes me feel like someone loves me and is taking care of me, even if that person is me.
What are your meal prep tricks? Tell me in the comments