Top Tips for Meal Planning & Prep

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meal prepI am frequently asked how I manage four different dinners almost every night. My simple answer is meal planning and prep.

Every weekend I carve out some time to review what I have in my fridge and freezer and what’s on sale at the grocery stores and start meal planning. In my house, I have to cater to a son with food allergies (dairy, egg, nuts, and sesame), a second son who tried to eat foods only safe for his brother, a husband who doesn’t eat 98% of vegetables, rice, soup, or fish, and myself, someone who enjoys vegetables and clean eating. I also work full-time as an educator, and let me tell you, that job has become exponentially more challenging in the past year!

Over the years, I’ve tried several templates and finally have gotten to the point where I use this basic planner from Mom Agenda. I like it for several reasons. One, it’s magnetic, so it sticks to my door. Two, if I want to rearrange days of the week, I can draw arrows. Lastly, I like it because I can add activities to help my time management and use the best meals on the best nights. 

The first thing I check is the produce in my fridge. That’s the priority to use to save money and limit food waste. I am lucky because I have a Trader Joe’s near my house, so I always have excellent choices for produce and freezer-friendly foods. My family loves their frozen Mandarin Chicken, mini beef tacos, cauliflower stir fry, and 99% fat-free ground turkey. These staples can always be found in my home and can save the day in an emergency!

Fortunately, I love to cook and make big batches of soup, chili, and roasted vegetables. The soups and chili get frozen for future use. I have this mini crockpot warmer to use at work. It’s great because it’s just the right size and allows me to have a hot meal in the middle of the day without having to fight for the microwave. 

I use a combination of Pinterest, Weight Watchers, and Instagram accounts to curate my recipes. When in a pinch, I love being able to search the vegetable or protein I have handy and find a new recipe that I would have never otherwise thought of. Another tip and trick I often use is making a crockpot of shredded chicken and multi-purposing it!

On most Sundays by noon, I have a clear idea of how the week will roll out at mealtimes and often have done most of the prep. The weekends are up for grab nights or take-out/dine-out. Of course, there are nights when it doesn’t go according to plan, and I end up stopping for takeout on a random weeknight, but I would say 98% of the time, I am successful in executing the weekly menu.

Do you meal plan? Why or why not?

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Maria is a full-time mom, teacher, wife, daughter, and sister, who feels pulled in too many directions! Her older son Michael took over 24 hours to be born, and at six-months-old was diagnosed with allergies to dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, shrimp, and wheat…all after exclusively nursing because she was SO SURE that would help him be a healthy kid. Luckily at age 1, he began to outgrow some of his allergies. Fingers crossed the others will soon follow because that plus a husband who doesn’t eat any veggies and Maria always battling her weight makes for three meals to prepare every night. Luckily, Christopher, her younger son, is a cooperative eater! As someone who has always been committed to making positive change, Maria uses her privilege and position as an educator and mom to work toward a most anti-racisit, equitibile, and inclusive world. Recently, Maria has even started getting up at 5am to workout in her basement. (Thank you pandemic living!) She is addicted to reading chicklit on her Kindle app in the dark, most Trader Joe’s products, and watching TikToks.

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