Living,  Time Management

Meal Prep Ideas for Busy Families

Need some meal prep ideas? Meal prepping is the solution to getting dinner on the table during busy weeknights. The idea of meal prepping makes a lot of sense, but it is hard to know where to start. Both my husband and I work at least from 9am to 5pm everyday, sometimes starting earlier in the mornings or working later nights to get things done. Outside of work, when our son is home from daycare, we want to make sure that we are spending as much quality, undistracted time with him as possible. This means that we don’t need to be wasting time stressing about what we will eat for dinner. 

At the same time, I think it is important to have healthy, flavorful meals that give us all the energy and nutrition we need to reach our goals. We decided to “meal prep”, but we have come at it from several different ways. Preparing complete batch meals, or preparing mix-and-match ready-to-eat meal components are the most cost-effective options. However, this requires planning ahead of time and blocking off time on a day off or a weekend to get everything ready for the week. I also think having a deep freezer maximizes the value of the batch meal, so that you can make several and have dozens of meals that are ready to heat and eat stashed away. 

But What About Shortcuts?

I also included in this article how we use meal delivery services to just simplify everything. These are great for the weeks when we don’t really have time to go grocery shopping, and want some quick, delicious meals that are on the table in 30 minutes or less. Anyway, keep reading to see how we manage the meal prep process, and I hope that it gives you a starting point for developing some meal prep ideas that work for you and your family.

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1. Batch Meals are Your Friend

Batch meals do require a time investment on the front-end, so we tend to do these on the weekends, like an early afternoon after church on Sundays. We have made soups, curries, stews, or one giant protein (like a pork shoulder if it’s on sale). Basically, we make enough food to feed a family of four for at least three days. With these, we do the side dishes as well, but we make those easy. Side dish ideas could be rice, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies or a nice salad. The side would be something that you can throw together in under 30 minutes if you need to replenish in the middle of the week. 

A great example of one of these meals that we love, especially in the Fall season as it starts to cool down is Instant Pot Chili with cornbread. We like to add in some crushed tortilla chips on top, and it makes for such a delicious meal! For something extra special, we might take the time to look at New York Times Cooking (my favorite food publication) and find a foolproof recipe that combines new and exciting flavors. I’ve been aching to try this Bo Ssam recipe for a while now! 

How to Create Meals

You can do batch meals with any meal that you like if you make a large enough portion size, but I like warm, savory meals that are just a bowl full of comfort after a long and hectic day. These meals don’t always last the whole 5 weekdays in our household, but they give us a little bit of breathing room during the week, so that on a busy day, we don’t feel the need to order out. After you are done eating on the first night, just pack up the leftovers in some meal containers, and freeze them. You can warm them up for lunches, dinners, whatever you need!

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2. Have Prepared Proteins Ready

This is kind of like meal-prepping, but simpler. Instead of prepping a whole bunch of items to put meals together, just prepare one protein for the week: chicken breast, salmon, beans, whatever. All you need to have on hand is salad greens and salad dressing, throw some of your protein on top, like salmon or chicken breast,  and you have got a complete meal. 

The salad and protein deal is also extremely healthy. You guarantee intake of vegetables and lean protein. You can also eat as much as you want guilt-free until you feel satisfied. This one is also easy to take for next-day lunches as well, because it only takes a couple of minutes to throw your salad together in the morning and stash it in your lunch bag. Most importantly for those of us who don’t get very long lunch breaks, you can scarf this down in the corner and you don’t need a microwave. 

If you think you might get bored, experiment with sauces, salad dressings and add-ins. You can take your meal from Asian one day to Mediterranean another. Add a scoop of quinoa or a sprinkle of chickpeas for some extra interest (and extra protein!). Sprinkle on some cheese or add a dollop of full-fat plain Greek yogurt for fun! Basically, you can make this as simple or as complicated as you like. Incorporating add-ins would just require preparing some more items in advance.

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3. Use Your Lifeline

Remember the show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, where contestants can phone a friend if they are stuck on a question? Sometimes we just need help, and that’s okay. When the question “what’s for dinner” gives you a panic attack and we start settling for frozen lean cuisine meals for dinner, it is time to call in the big guns. Before we were on a “budget”, we would order take out in these scenarios. Sound familiar? I think it is more important to make it easier to eat healthy, balanced, minimally processed meals, and spending a little bit extra to get this help from a meal kit delivery service is well worth it. I have tried many meal kit delivery services, including Hello Fresh, Blue Apron and Home Chef, but Hello Fresh is definitely my favorite. 

Why I Love Hello Fresh

This is a completely un-sponsored post. I just really like the product and I need to share it with you! I have used Hello Fresh off and on since grad school several years ago, and it never disappoints. Most meals are ready in 30 minutes or less, and I have definitely expanded my horizons when it comes to trying new recipes and flavors. My recipe repertoire has expanded from the rice and beans, and spaghetti Bolognese that I would make over and over again, to being able to make shrimp risotto by heart. It is super convenient when you don’t get the chance to run by the grocery store, and it is just enough food that you don’t have to be concerned about food waste. 

It has been a great helper for us when we are both slammed and we don’t have the bandwidth to get organized for the week with meal-prepping or remember to go grocery shopping. The downside is that it can get expensive, so we only try to use it on weeks we just know are going to be bad, like exam weeks, or weeks when our work hours are longer than usual. 

Referral Link

The nice thing about Hello Fresh is that if you are on a tight student budget, you can benefit from a discount! Students get 15% off every box (for new customers only), scroll to the bottom of the page on the website and click on the “Students” link. When you use my referral link, you will receive $100 off your order from Hello Fresh, and I will receive a $10 credit. 

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Getting food on the table every evening is a whole job in itself. Make life easier and try batch meals, meal prepping, and don’t be afraid to outsource the food prep with a meal delivery kit. It’s okay to outsource or get some help. I hope you got some awesome meal prep ideas for you busy weeknights!

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