Intro: Prep Once, Eat All Week!
Every week I prep all of my food on Sunday because I'm so busy during the week, if I didn't, I would end up eating fast food every night. By prepping all of my breakfast foods ahead of time, I'm able to get out the door pretty quickly every morning. I pack my lunches the night before while I'm heating up my dinner. I have minimal mess throughout the week, but I end up washing dishes after the initial food prep, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
By setting aside a few hours for planning, shopping, and cooking on Sundays, I save myself a ton of time during the week.
Step 1: What's on the Menu?
I spend some time on Saturday mornings perusing Pinterest, looking for recipes that look like they will hold up to a few days in the refrigerator and will travel well to work. I usually pick two different recipes (lunch and dinner) and make a shopping list. My breakfasts/snacks are the same each week so I add those items to my list as well. Here's a typical menu for my week:
Breakfast: steel-cut oats w/ cinnamon apples and eggs
AM Snack: Protein shake
Lunch: A serving of recipe #1 with cantaloupe and a few walnuts
PM Snack: Carrots with peanut butter
Dinner: A serving of recipe #2
Step 2: Check the Cupboards & Go Shopping!
I always try to compare my shopping list with the contents of my pantry before I hit the store. I cross off anything that I don't need to buy. Not doing this one quick step a few times is why I have 4 jars of cumin in my cupboard and it's a waste of money.
Step 3: Let's Get Cooking!
The first thing I do when I get back is start washing produce. I wash everything and set them in my dish drainer until they are needed. Anything that needs to be chopped for multiple applications, I do that and set it all aside. I also take this time to slice up some lemons. I put a slice in each depression of an ice cube tray, fill it up with water and stash the trays in the freezer. I put a few of these ice cubes in my 40oz Hydroflasks each day. Once the lemon slice/ice cubes are frozen, I dump them into a freezer bag. I do enough at once to last me a couple of weeks.
Step 4: Breakfast Foods
I am not a morning person, so I try to do all of my breakfast prep on the weekends. I cook up a big pot of steel cut oats, and create serving-size portions in a muffin tin. I pop it in the freezer. I chop up a few apples, sprinkle on some cinnamon and bake them for 20 minutes at 350F to mix into my oatmeal once I've reheated it! (The night before I want to eat oatmeal, I just take out one serving, put it in a bowl, cover it with some press-and-seal and let it defrost over night in the fridge. I microwave it for a minute or two in the morning and mix in some of the cinnamon apples.
I also make small egg muffins in a muffin tin by layering chopped up peppers, baby spinach leaves, a pinch of cheddar cheese, chopped up bacon, and a ladle-full of scrambled eggs. I bake these at 350F until they look done. I let them cool on the counter and then store them in a zip-top bag in the fridge. Before I leave for school in the morning, I microwave two them on a plate, dump them into a tupperware, squirt a little Sriracha over them and eat them when I get to work.
Step 5: Fruits
I bring melon to school every day and I make a smoothie with frozen bananas, so each weekend I spend some time chopping fruit. Cantaloupe, as long as it isn't super ripe, will last 5 days in a container in the fridge all chopped up.
For the bananas, I lay a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet and slice a bunch or two of bananas and stick them in the freezer. Once they're frozen solid, I store them in a zip-top bag. I try to do enough at one time so I only have to go through this step every 2 or 3 weeks.
Step 6: Dinner Foods
Following the directions I found with the recipes on Pinterest, I prepare both dishes. One is usually a casserole which I can store, covered in foil, in the fridge. The other is usually some kind of noodle stir fry that I store in a covered bowl. All the prep is done for the week!
Step 7: Conclusion
In 2 hours, I've made enough food to last me the entire week and all that's left is the clean-up. I don't store all of the food in individual serving containers (even though when I see those pictures of an organized fridge with all the foods neatly portioned out in individual containers I am envious) for a couple of reasons:
1. I don't own that many plastic containers, nor do I want to purchase them.
2. I hate doing dishes, especially tupperware!!
This is how I overcome these shortcomings: Once I finish cooking, I wash dishes and clean up the kitchen. I pack my lunch for the next day using 1 day's worth of plastic containers. When I get home from school on Monday I pack Tuesday's lunch in the same containers. Is that gross? I don't know. My lunch bag is refrigerated all the time. When I get home from work on Tuesday, I wash all of the dirty dishes. I dry them and pack my lunch for the next day. Having all of that food ready so I can just dump it into containers and repack my lunch bag simplifies my life.
If you are the type of person who is easily bored by foods, you could try to make three main dishes at a time and rotate through them.
One of the best things about cooking this way is the lack of wasted food and the $$ savings! There's always food in the fridge-- no reason to grab take-out on your way home from work-- you only buy what you need.to make the dishes you're cooking. I usually spend less than $50 each week and I don't have to buy prepared food throughout the week.