Introduction: One Week Meal Prep While Working and Raising 3 Under 5

I am a working wife and mom who is pregnant and raising 3 little people under the age a 5. Meal planning is critical to our survival some weeks! We meal plan and grocery shop on a two week rotation that lines up with pay day and then meal prep on a weekly rotation. Our small town recently got grocery pick up through our local WalMart which transformed my meal planning and saves me hours by not grocery shopping with 3 Littles.


Pen and paper for planning
Favorite cookbooks/blogs/websites/etc for recipes
Storage containers that are refrigerator, microwave, and freezer safe
At least 2 cutting boards
Usual cooking supplies

Step 1: Create a Plan

* Find 30 minutes to an hour free. This can be all at once or broken down into smaller bits. I use my lunch hour over a couple of days. (This time decreases the more you meal plan.)

* Gather your favorite cookbooks/blogs/pins/recipe cards, etc. (Tip: If you use the same main resource, for each meal plan you will find that you will use the same spices, ingredients, etc. So for each time I meal plan, I may rotate cookbooks, or blogs where I find my recipes.)

NOTE: We all eat the same thing at a meal. Our kids eat what we eat from the time they begin finger feeding. At times, i will serve something deconstructed such as a salad, taco, or wrap. They will all have the veggies, meats, etc., but I will serve them in individual servings not all combined together. (When I serve salad, they eat everything except the greens because spinach, kale, and lettuces are difficult for them.) Also, our youngest has a dairy allergy. I pull hers from the pan or skillet prior to adding cheeses or sour cream.

*Create a list of 14 meals (dinner). If you have 14 meals, then you will have plenty for two weeks. If you have any meals that you didn't make, then they can be moved to the next two week rotation. Also, if using a cookbook, note which cookbook and page next to the meal. I don't assign a meal to a day because I am not sure what day I will feel like eating chicken, shrimp, beef, etc. Keep t his simple -- meaning don't try 14 new recipes all at once. Or if you know you have a meeting in the evening, make sure you use your crock pot. I use my crock pot 2-3 times a week and try 2-3 recipes a rotation. (However, I get bored with cooking the same food over and over.)

NOTE: Copy Me That is a fantastic app. It allows you to take recipes from any website on the internet and put it all in this one app. I highly recommend it. When I come across a recipe I want to try, I add it to Copy Me That app with two clicks.

* On the same page in the bottom left corner or on a separate page, I list a few lunches for myself and breakfasts for the kids. However, my kids usually take the same things in their lunches and rotate through the same breakfast items. My husband usually takes leftovers for his lunch. I meal prep the same thing for my husband each week for breakfast -- eggs with veggies and cheese along with some fruit such as a clementine or banana.

* Create a comprehensive list being sure to add all ingredients to your list even if you think you might have them. I also list spices. If multiple recipes call for multiple ingredients, I use tally marks.

* Go to the kitchen/pantry/fridge and check each ingredient to see if you have it. If so, then mark it off the list. There is nothing worse than needing a Tablespoon of chili powder and only have a teaspoon.

Step 2: Grocery Shop

* You have two choices here -- go to the store or use grocery pick up. I HIGHLY recommend grocery pick up. Our local Walmart has had it less than a year and it is a game changer for those of us with multiple people in car seats. I am able to leave my home, go to the store, pick up my groceries, and return home in under 30 minutes. AND no one gets out of their car seats!!! I don't work on Fridays so I pick up my groceries on Friday mornings. On the occasions that I do have to work on a Friday, I go on Saturday morning.

* You may have to accept substitutions with your grocery pick up. Decide if they will work in your recipe and accept or decline. They might be out of something all together (though that rarely happens). If either of these two things happen, I know I can stop by the store on the way to the sitter's house in the evening and grab that couple of items or I can just move that meal to the bottom of the line for later.

* Go home and unload your groceries.

Step 3: Prepping Dinner

* On Sunday afternoons, decide on the next 5 meals (M-F). I make my decision starting with which ingredients need to be used first. I tend to use quite a few fresh fruits and vegetables, especially during the summer. I can usually do all 5 meals plus some lunches and breakfasts in about an hour-2 if using more complex recipes.

*NOTE: I cook most of my meats and the veggies the night we eat them. Most meals take less than 20 minutes once I get home to throw together. I feel the meals are fresher this way. When I cook an entire meal and then heat it up the next day, I feel as if we are eating left overs, not a home cooked meal. This is just personal preference.

* Cook rice or boil pasta as needed. Boiled pasta keeps well if tossed with either a small amount of olive oil or butter/margarine while it's still warm.

* Pull out the cutting board and start chopping those veggies!! Most recipes I use call for onions and peppers. I used a vegetable chopper. (TIP: This is my MOST used appliance.) My kids also take fresh fruit and veggies in their lunches. I go ahead and cut these up and put them in their lunch containers for the week.

* Each dish has it's own container and is large enough that I can put smaller containers or zipper bags inside. I bag up each vegetable and put it in the correct container.

* If the meat is uncooked, it stays in a separate container. But if it is cooked (ground beef for the crock pot), I will add it to the large dish at the same time.

* If it is a crock pot dish, I will add my ingredients and spices to the container, so I can dump them in the crock pot in the morning - no measuring, no opening cans, etc. My fridge isn't large enough for my crock pot itself.

* TIP: Use the same kind of containers for each thing. For example, my dinner prep uses 2 kinds of containers, my kids' lunches are in a certain type of container, my husband's breakfast is one type of container, etc. Containers are used for only those purposes. This helps with two things. I can easily identify whose/what it is and it stacks better in the fridge.

Step 4: Prepping Lunch

* When I start with dinners, I put eggs in the Instant Pot to cook. When they are finished, I vent them, and let them cool. After they are cool, I peel them. (I work on other things while each of these steps are taking place.)

* I dice my kid's fruits and veggies while I am chopping them for dinner. NOTE: Our child care center requires all kid's grapes be quartered no matter their age. This is an OXO Grape cutter - best $11 I have spent. it easily comes apart for the dishwasher. It also works well on raspberries and blueberries for my youngest. The big two take the same things in their lunches and the youngest takes something similar due to a dairy allergy. Eating the same things makes prep easier.

* For lunch, they usually eat cheese, ham/hard boiled eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit/apple sauce, veggies (cucumbers, carrots, olives, snap peas, or green beans - the youngest), crackers/pop corn/chips/pasta, and a treat (marshamallows or fruit chews).

Step 5: Prepping Breakfast

* While I am prepping dinner, I begin making my husband's breakfasts.

TIP: Use riced veggies or canned diced tomatoes for extra nutrients with no extra prep.

* Thaw a bag of those in the skillet then add in the egg beaters or egg whites, depending on what is chosen for the week.

* Add cheese at the end.

*Once they are done, set them aside to cool in the skillet while working on other meals.

*My kids eat the same basic things for breakfast: peanut butter toast, cheese toast, muffins with fruit, yogurt with fruit, eggs and fruit, cereal, oatmeal, etc

* I usually set out the toaster and their plates the night before. I also have a game plan of their breakfast the night before as well.

* I unload the dishwasher while I make their breakfast in the mornings so that when I come home, I can put the dirty lunch dishes and dinner dishes straight into the dishwasher.

Step 6: Cooking

* If using the crock pot, pour the desired container in the crock pot before work, set it, and go to work.

* If cooking in the evening, pour everything in the skillet/pan/oven, and cook.

* While these things are cooking, I throw my chopped veggies in oven to roast or if frozen, in the microwave to steam.

* Plate the food with a side of fruit.

Step 7: Wrapping It All Up.

Meal prep is a learning curve. You have to fine what works and doesn't work for your family. Some things are worth taking the extra time. For my family, it is cooking the meat the night we eat it. Others cook it a few days before. Sometimes you will make a dish everyone likes. Other nights everyone picks at dinner. That's okay. Keep the recipes that are good, toss the bad ones. Put the really good ones with the easiest meal prep on frequent rotation. For us we always have Instant Pot Jambalaya and Italian Chicken Noodle Soup on the rotation. Meal prep also takes practice. The more consistently you do it, the easier and faster it gets. I have discovered it saves us money as well because we aren't wasting produce. If we have a random week where it doesn't look like we aren't going to eat everything I prepped, I can freeze it. (Always cook meat you have thawed before refreezing.) Meal prep is something that I have come to enjoy. And it is always okay to have some corn dogs or a frozen pizza in the freezer in a back up for those days where absolutely nothing has gone right and you have gotten home and hour and a half later than expected. Some nights are all about survival -- and a frozen pizza with a side of apple sauce is still easier and cheaper than take out or a restaurant with 3 Littles.

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