Busy moms know better than anyone that if you want to be productive and accomplish things–ANY things–you need to have a routine and you need to be prepared ahead of time. At least I have found this to be true over and over again. I am definitely at my best and can do ALL THE THINGS when I have prepared well in advance. It literally calms me and makes my heart happy.
Is it any surprise then, that when I am on my game, I take preparation to the extreme? I’ve been killing it in the last few weeks in this department so I wanted to share some of my honed methods with you all in case you’d like to be a beast in the preparation department as well.
I start writing my meal plan for the following week on Thursday or Friday. I take into account any events/commitments we have for the upcoming week and what amount of time that leaves me to prepare supper for each night of the week. I also plan in cheat meals or treats. I use Google Calendar and also my planner at work to keep track of all of our events (we’re not super busy most evenings but if I don’t write things down, I will most certainly forget!). I also keep sports schedules and a calendar clipped on one of my cabinets in the kitchen (hubby can reference these).
**Full disclosure: I’m in charge of scheduling for my office at my day job and we are VERY scheduled. It’s not easy at first but it’s something you get better at over time. Scheduling is something I think about in depth and at length every single day.
On a busy evening, for example, we are in the thick of baseball season right now for my oldest stepson. His games begin at 5:30pm and I get off work at 4:30pm, leaving only one hour (not including commuting time and clingy toddler time) to eat something before his games. Clearly, these are nights when I need to have something ready to go in the fridge that can just be microwaved and eaten immediately. This was the case last night so I had some fancy meatballs ready in the fridge. After using this recipe a few times, my family prefers hamburger to turkey and cheddar cheese to mozzarella in the middle of the balls (and yes, I do make Schweddy Ball jokes to my husband while we are eating these). You could change up any of the chopped veggies too (hidden veggies for the win!). They’re pretty yummy balls, who doesn’t love a good ball? I also packed a few small tupperware containers with snacks for the game (cut strawberries, goldfish) so we wouldn’t end up heading to the concession stand.
On other nights, it might be easier to have something in the crock pot and mostly ready when I get home from work. Or, if I am cooking something (which is actually pretty rare during the work week), it’s best if I have veggies chopped/meat thawed/ingredients ready to go so that my cooking can be as quick, efficient and excuse proof as possible (if I’ve got all of the ingredients prepped, I’m much less likely to ditch my meal plan and order pizza). And, the toddler begins acting ravenous around 5:30pm, so I gotta be on the ball!
As far as my meals other than supper, I try to make those excuse proof also and have something prepped and in the fridge for every day of the week. For lunch lately, I’ve been having salads. For breakfast, it’s been oatmeal with berries and an awesome shake blended with fruit, spinach, coconut/almond milk, ice and Shakeology. Snacks have been cut veggies and hummus or yogurt, granola and berries. Typically, I eat almost the same thing for 5 days in a row except for supper so you bet I make sure it’s something I really LOVE to eat.
p.s. if my salad photo ignites some organizational feel-good vibes for you, have you ever looked at “Meal Prep Porn” on Pinterest or just a google image search? It’s one of my happy places.
Whatever the meal plan is for the week, it’s all written in advance before I go to the grocery store on Saturdays. I also find it’s been helpful to put my written meal plan somewhere visible in the kitchen (on the fridge, taped to the cabinet, stuck to the microwave with a magnet–whatever works as long as it’s visible).
Now–the toughest part of all of this (for me, anyway) is to get a solid 4-6 hours on the weekend to get all of this food ready. That includes my trip to the grocery store, chopping all fruits and veggies, cooking my oatmeal in the crockpot and portioning out into small containers, prepping my lunch salads, putting together the crockpot meals in a ziploc bag and freezing if necessary so they’re ready for the day I need them (this can be done weeks in advance as well if you’re freezing), cooking any other suppers in advance to have ready in the fridge too. This is A CRAP LOAD of work. Some weekends I can get more done than others and my plans are bigger than I have time or energy for. BUT–this weekend prep time is what truly sets me up for success for the week so I don’t get caught with pants down when it comes to meal time and make a crappy food decision.
I also don’t want to give anyone the illusion that I’m perfect when it comes to all of this. There have been weeks–and I’m not proud of this–that I have let prepared salads and chopped veggies go bad in my fridge because I fed my emotions junk food and drive-thru instead of sticking to my meal plan. Thinking of the money I wasted makes me feel kind of sick. But, I’ll keep starting over as many times as I need to. It gets easier every time :).
A few other small things I do daily to save myself time and keep myself on track:
Having water bottles filled and in the fridge so I can easily grab and go. I know 6 water bottles seems intense and I don’t usually make it through all of them in one day (they total up to 160 oz) but I share them with the toddler or forget them in the fridge at work frequently so it’s good to have backups.
Laying out my workout clothes including socks, sports bra and underwear the night before. This saves valuable lunch break minutes and solidifies my intentions to workout. I’m setting out 2 outfits per day lately since I’ve been waking up at 5am to walk and doing my 21 Day Fix Extreme workout DVDs over my lunch break currently. It’s not easy to keep up this workout schedule and it’s not something I plan to do indefinitely but, when I work out this often, I literally have so much energy throughout the day, it’s incredible.
I realize my whole set-up can be a little overwhelming to the preparation newbie and I don’t want you to be intimidated! I built up to this level over time and there are some weeks when I am not at this level of meal prep as well, this is what a “best case scenario” week looks like for me!
It’s much easier to make small changes when trying to get into good habits/routine rather than bite off a huge chunk at once. It’s kind of a gross analogy, but it really works here. Can you imagine taking a humongous bite of something (let’s just picture meatballs here, shall we?) and trying to chew but your mouth is so full your jaw can’t move enough to make any progress and you either end up choking or spitting it all out? Don’t bite off so much meal prep that you end up spitting it all out.
Take baby steps!