For the past couple of months my family has been experimenting with the concept of cooking once and then enjoying the fruits of our labors all week with healthy meals. It's been pretty revolutionary. We've been eating better than we were before and totally saving money by not eating out as often. Even better, when we have to "pack a lunch" we just grab something already prepped and head out. I love it!
I've done the freezer meals route of precooking for a week or a month. While that's great, it still requires someone to pull it out on time to cook for dinner. I've struggled finding time during the week to cook while accommodating everyone's work schedule. We have seven eaters in our house this year and three of them are teens with jobs. It's really hard to all get on the same schedule.
So we spend two hours each Saturday working together to prepare meals that we portion out into individual servings. When we started, I purchased to-go containers to hold all of our meals. This also helps me with portion control! We've used the same containers for the past two months and they're still going strong.
Making it Work
First of all, I do all of my grocery shopping online. I've started using Kroger's ClickList to order my groceries. Thirty minutes before we're going to do our great meal prep, I go pick up my groceries. It takes me about 15 minutes. This way I don't waste money on non-essentials or energy on shopping!
We pick a few meals for the week and make a double batch of everything. Our cooking prep covers breakfast, lunch, and dinner for seven people. Then there are no rules for how many times you have to pick each meal. If you like one more than another, you're welcome to have it every night! If I find a meal isn't getting picked by anyone, it doesn't make the list again. All of our meals end up being under $1.50 per meal. That is a steal!
Here are our best options:
I find sometimes I like hot meals for lunch better than I do for dinner. However we have a hard time all agreeing on the same meal at the same time, and I don't have time to whip something up for everyone at lunch time. I need something quick so I can get back to homeschool!
The number one favorite hot meal when I polled my family was Egg Roll in a Bowl. Basically all it is is 1/4 cup of rice, a sauteed bag of coleslaw mix (with soy sauce), and some teriyaki meatballs that I buy pre-made from Costco. It is really so good.
Add some fresh green onions once you've heated this baby up, and it is a great brain boost for hitting the books again!
We've also loved:
- Deconstructed Stuffed Peppers
- Teriyaki Chicken & Broccoli with Rice
- Meatloaf Muffins with Mashed Cauliflower
All girls desiring to eat healthy know that salads can be great options for getting in the greens. Since we're prepping so many meals, it's nice to have one that is a quick fix and a good price. We've loved these little Chicken Salad On the Run boxes from Bumble Bee. It is a surprisingly satisfying little meal, and paired with some greens, it is such a fast and easy salad to pull together.
Other salads we've enjoyed:
- Chef Salad: chopped up chicken deli meat, boiled egg, black beans, tomatoes, and cucumber
- Protein & Green: spinach, chick peas, edamame, grilled chicken, roasted asparagus, with goat cheese
I really do love eating out, so it's nice to have meal options that feel like something we might pick up while we're out. I love burrito bowls from Chipotle, so that's one of our favorites. I always make sure to have some avocados around so that if someone wanted to upgrade their burrito bowl, that is available to them!
I have to admit that sandwiches are generally not my favorite. I finally realized that it was due to the bread to meat ratio. When I found these little Flatout Foldit flatbreads, I changed my mind. We spread a little wedge of laughing cow cheese on the flatbread, top it with 2 oz of lean lunch meat (which is the serving size...and a surprising amount of meat), and a little lettuce. We save the dressing for later (but I generally don't add anything else), and these are great little premade sandwiches.
We've also made wraps, which are just as quick and yummy. I have to be careful to not include these to the menu every week though because we can get worn out on them quicker than other options.
Of course what really got me going on this type of meal prepping was finding meals that knocked me out of my typical white bread sandwich with Cheetos. If I'm going to avoid that cheesy goodness, I need some healthy variety. One of my husband's favorite sandwich alternatives is what we call Mediterranean Mix.
It includes all of my favorite things: naan bread (we found these cute little "dippers" at Costco), hummus, bell peppers, and grilled chicken. It's so yummy!
Each week we make sure to include a soup option. This is so easy! Lately my girls have LOVED these Snapdragon Japanese Pho bowls. They just add whatever veggies we had left over from making the other meals to own this meal.
Other soup options we've tried and loved:
- Slightly Spicy Chicken Chili
- Skinny Spaghetti Soup
- Asian-Inspired Vegetable Soup
- Pulled Chicken & Black Bean Soup
We love the Bistro Boxes from Starbucks, but they are pricey. We've made several different varieties of these, but lately we're loving the fruity mix. We have little Smucker's Peanut Butter cups that are easy to add to this if we switched the cucumber out for celery.
Basically it just has Greek yogurt (sweetened with a bit of stevia), berries, Kind granola, a mini cucumber, and a hard boiled egg. This option works any time of day because it is so light and snacky.
We also make breakfast burritos every week. If you keep them in the fridge, you only have to reheat them about 35 seconds in the microwave to have a hot breakfast ready to go.
For our family, having all of the week's meals prepped in advance just lifts the burden of making healthy choices when we're all worn out. It also saves so much money because we're not just opting to eat out when exhaustion hits and nobody has any more brain power to think about cooking.
Do you do anything like this? What are some of your favorite options?
Betsy Strauss is an unexpected homeschooler, mother of three, who is in a relationship with a sweet man for life. She loves reading books, drinking coffee, and learning anything with her kids.