When I started my weight-loss journey one of the first habits that I instituted was a weekly meal-prep schedule; meal prep allows me to eat healthy, homecooked meals (including “brown bag” lunches) for most of the week, while exercising minimal will-power. However, healthier food has turned out be only half of the benefit of establishing and sticking to a meal-prep schedule, I waste less food and spend less on groceries too!
I follow a simple set of 8 steps for my weekly meal prep:
Step 1: Take an inventory of your existing pantry, fridge and freezer. Most weeks I just take a quick glance, but every few weeks I will actually take notes with special focus on food that is close to its expiration date (pantry), fresh food that is still in the fridge at the end of the week, or half full containers of food that has been around a while (freezer). I share my home, so I also need to take a quick peak to find out if someone else has made purchases that I might be unaware of, but that might spoil if not included in the bulk cooking for the week.
Step 2: Check the Sales Flyer for your Favorite Grocer(s): My go-to neighbourhood Grocery store is a Longo’s, but I also shop at T&T, Whole Foods, and occasionally at Loblaws (when I’m running low on some of my go-to PC products); each week, I sit down with a hard copy of the Longo’s Flyer (you can do this online too) and circle all of the sale items that are staples in my diet, or that I might be interested in including in a recipe.
Step 3: Take Note of the Meals You Need to Make at Home for the Week: I start by checking my calendar, are there any meals I don’t need to make this week? If I am going to a lunch meeting, or am meeting friends for dinner on Tuesday, I will remove those dates from my list. I also plan a few “cheat” meals each week – usually on Fridays, because by then food cooked on Saturday or Sunday will have been sitting around for a bit too long, and I may be so tired/lazy/unmotivated that I won’t even be willing to throw the last of a casserole in the oven.
Step 4: Build the Week’s Menu: I start with a list of all of the meals I need to make, I will plan to rotate some if-not-all of my dinners (so that I can batch cook for more than one day), take note of special meals (like #meatlessmonday), and take note of how many lunches I need for the week. [Disclaimer: I don’t make my own breakfast, but it is made fresh for me Monday-Friday, 1 egg over-easy, 1 piece of Ezekiel Bread Toast, coffee with almond milk]. Then I start to build meals based on existing food items in my kitchen and items I’ve circled in my local grocery sale flyer.
**Note: Step 4 is much easier if you take the time to educate yourself on cooking basics, and maintain a healthy curiosity about basic recopies, cultural cuisines, and flavour profiles (i.e. what grows together, goes together)***
Step 5: Make a Detailed Shopping List: I go through my menu and select out all of the items I need to purchase to complete the week’s meals, and I divide my list into Fruits and Veggies, Meats and Fish, and Pantry, so that I can shop the store in the same order as my list. To this I add, any items on my rolling shopping list (I keep a list of any pantry items I run out of, like spices or canned goods), and any other pantry staple items that are on-sale that are shelf stable and can be stored for when they are needed.
Step 6: Shop Your List: I follow my list without much deviation, I do need to be flexible in case an ingredient is sold out – or in the case of fresh veggies – if the product on the shelf has seen better days. As an example, I might be making a spinach salad, but opt to purchase kale instead because it looks much fresher, I might also buy an extra lemon so that I can massage the leaves to soften them for my salad. I also like to give myself a little room for creativity, so I might write “snacks” to allow myself to choose on the spot between additional fruits and veggies or my go-to Skinny Pop popcorn.
Step 7: Prep Your Meals: I can make the majority of meals and snacks for two people (I make all my lunches and dinners and make most dinners for the rest of the household) in about 3 hours. I like to give a little bit of thought to my prep – if three items need onions, I will chop three onions at once instead of stopping to chop onions for each recipe. My preference is to chop all the veggies, fruits, and herbs first so that everything can be put away before I bring raw meat out into the kitchen.
Step 8: Pack Meals Individually: In order to make the final prep that much quicker, I will pack one meal’s worth of meat in an oven safe container, or one lunch’s worth of berries (for a snack) in a small container so when I go to heat up dinner, or pack my lunch for the next day, I don’t need to take any extra steps.
How I Waste Less – I don’t buy what I don’t need, and I take heed of what I already have on hand, before it spoils, expires, or gets so covered in freezer burn that I can’t be used.
How I Spend Less – I don’t waste food, so I’m not buying groceries just to throw them out, and I’m adapting my meal planning to what’s on sale – helping me to save money especially on expensive items such as organic meats and vegan foods (I’m dairy free).
How I Eat Healthier – Meal Prep allows me to eat mostly homecooked meals, and to give advance consideration to ways to reduce calories and curb bad carbs and fats (as opposed to whole grains and healthy fats), and to ensure good gut health by including fiber and fermented foods in my diet. And, because I only buy what I need, I have fewer “cheat” foods in the house that can derail my diet.
How I Feel Better – I have a range of food sensitivities that are easier to avoid when I eat at home; as an example, in order to avoid dairy, I will sometimes be unable to eat any of the salads on a menu, and instead eat non-organic meats or simple carbs (burgers are dairy-free). Eating at home also allows me to eat foods that are great for my gut health – like sauerkraut – instead of drinking expensive supplements, like Kombucha which can run $7 or $8 per bottle when purchased in convenience stores or take-out spots.
Follow me on IG: @danielle_s_russell to see my weekly menu creations, and then get creative. I eat salads for lunch in the Summer and Soups for lunch in the winter, which helps with the batch cooking, but also leaves lots of room for creativity. Tag me so that I can see what you create.