If you’re new to the idea of meal prepping for your workweek, have no fear! I’m breaking down the first steps any meal prep beginner should make sure to follow.
Listen up, working parents: today, I’m all about meal prep made easy, and why utilizing this “trick” can save you a ton of time during the workweek.
Last month I got the chance to chat with Danielle over at Project Meal Plan, where she shares easy meal plans, simple weeknight recipes, and banging ideas for meal prep made easy throughout the week (She has a guide for Adult Lunchables, people. Adult. Lunchables. #genius).
I was on vacation with my kids at the time and she super graciously navigated our Skype talk through whining, spills, fighting, and a glass breaking in the background, plus the pause to clean that disaster up.
But through it all she dropped some major knowledge on how she discovered the simplicity of meal prep made easy, why it’s so important for maintaining sanity throughout the week and staying close to what you’ve meal planned, and what she does when it all goes out the window on a busy day.
(our conversation has been edited a bit for clarity and for aforementioned pauses to clean up spilled milk)
Me: Hi Danielle! So talk to me about how you got into meal planning and prep as a weekly thing.
Danielle: A few years ago, I was working at a rehabilitation job and every day we had about 30 minutes for lunch. It wasn’t quite enough time to go to a restaurant, and I hated wasting time on my break, so I started getting into meal planning to make the best use of that time. Meal planning and meal prep meant that I didn’t have to leave the office to eat, I got my whole lunch break, which was great.
At the time I just started off slow; I’d bring a chicken breast and maybe a little salad, which was good. But I started to get tired of that, so I began looking into other things I could prep and plan on the weekend, and it took off from there.
And then about two years ago, I started my blog, where I began sharing my meal plans for that week. I’d make the whole meal plan, share that with my readers, and while it was fun, it was a lot of work. So I started breaking down how I meal prepped instead, and it kind of evolved from there.
Ruthy: You started feeling like you were meal planning for the blog instead of your life. So you flipped it.
Danielle: Totally. So I started focusing on the meal itself and sharing how people could put these recipes into their meal plans and see if it traveled well. And it became the whole thing, how to prep for all meals, including dessert.
Ruthy: So do you do mostly bulk prep? Or more day by day, a little prep each day?
Danielle: I used to do bulk prepping, but then I moved more to day by day for photography purposes for the blog. I typically do recipe testing during the week and then prepping for our own household meals on Sundays.
Ruthy: How and where do you get your ideas for recipes testing? And how does that usually fit into the meal prepping portion?
Danielle: That’s a good question. I do my meal plan on Fridays for the week ahead.
I always start by looking at what I actually have. We don’t follow a specific diet, with the exception that I don’t eat red meat, but we do stick to more produce. And I really focus on making and cooking what we eat.
I always check the calendar first to see if we have dinner plans to see what we have going on, or potlucks, or anything else. Otherwise, I usually see what will work with our seasonal produce delivery box.
(Side note, Danielle uses Imperfect Produce, a produce delivery company that sends you ‘ugly’ produce for up to 50% off the normal price. Check to see if it’s available in your area)
Since I get to choose what’s in my box, I know what I’ll be receiving, so I break the week into two and plan from there, and I get the workweek first and then the weekends. Saturday is always a wild card. On that day, I try to plan for something, usually leftovers or whatever.
Ruthy: When you’re having an evening when the ish hits the fan, what’s your fave ‘grab from the fridge’ meal for a busy night?
Danielle: Quesadillas, since literally anything can go inside! It’s amazing, just anything you want, it seems (laugh). We don’t have a big freezer, so I have to make sure I plan for the things that go in our freezer, so that usually leaves me with leftovers that are perfect for a quesadilla.
Ruthy: We eat quesadillas all the time, too! Do you usually pan fry them or oven?
Danielle: Pan fry, almost always.
Ruthy: We do pizza quesadillas as well which is basically pizza toppings spread on a tortilla. My kids love it.
Danielle: We do that a lot too! We use a lot of tortillas, for burritos, enchiladas, breakfast tortillas, chop them up and put them for nachos. They’re so versatile.
Ruthy: So other than a quesadilla, when it comes to leftovers, do you typically play around and make something new with the old? Or when you have those leftovers you mentioned you plan on, do you just eat them as is?
Danielle: I like to make a quick casserole. There’s a version I do that includes leftover meat, leftover veggies, cooked noodles like egg noodles. Then I mix one egg, some greek yogurt, pesto or seasonings, and add some milk. And then just take a big bowl, throw it all in. Mix it all together, put it in the oven, and it’s a casserole! Though to be honest, sometimes it’s a crapshoot and we’re just going to see how it goes. Sometimes it turns out amazing!
Ruthy: So is the egg used as a binder or is it a cooked egg?
Danielle: Raw egg, as like a binder. Put it all in a bowl, put it in the oven, bake it and see what happens.
Ruthy: I love this! I don’t think I’ve ever done that concoction before, but I make a lot of casseroles. But I always make like, a bechamel sauce or something that takes a lot of time, and that sounds like it would be a lot faster.
Danielle: It is! You gotta try it.
Ruthy: Another thing a lot of my readers say they deal with is that they feel really overwhelmed with the idea of meal planning. Like, they have a hard time just starting. What would you say to that?
Danielle: I would say to try and meal plan on a different day from the day you start, if that makes sense. Start small. Don’t meal plan and meal prep on the same day because that makes it feel huge.
Honestly, it’s hard to demonstrate until you’ve tried it. And I try to say this to my readers too, is that, if you don’t follow the meal plan one day, don’t stop there. You just try again the next day and get something together.
I loved this chat with Danielle! And I am fully, fully trying that casserole mixture she talks about.
What do you find intimidating about meal prep and meal planning? I’d love to hear your issues and thoughts in the comments!