As I thought about how to write out the process of a meal prep, I cringed at the thought of writing one big massive blog post and boring you out of your minds or making it seem like an overwhelmingly impossible feat - because it's really not! That being said, I am going to do us both a favor and break it down into a couple posts.
As I talked about in my introductory blog post, the first step is choosing your recipes. I happen to have quite a few friends with some major life events coming up, so I chose 8 recipes to prep this go-round. It's so nice being able to help a friend out just by taking a few steps out my backdoor to the freezer - it's seriously a win-win for all involved. Sometimes I'm on a super healthy kick and make all lower carb, whole foods recipes. This time, I went for balance - some are healthier, some can be made healthy with a couple of substitutions and there's a couple that are for those days when I'm in a "give me all the carbs and cheese" kind of mood. After I pick the recipes, I write them out on notecards that came with a handy dandy recipe book we received as a wedding gift (I'll include pictures of all recipe cards at the end). I think it was from a family member, but 8 years, 6 moves and 2 kids later, I am sorry to say I cannot remember. Also, I'm a bit of an extroverted introvert (I can be outgoing, but I need my alone time to recharge), so the whole wedding process at times felt like walking through a hurricane with a cheap umbrella. Don't get me wrong, we were blessed tremendously with friends and family who put in an immense amount of time and effort - it was wonderful and beautiful and everything I could ever hope for.. but also a whirlwind! Please tell me I'm not alone in this! All that to say, if the giver is reading this.. thank you! It has gotten ALOT of use!!!!
Anywho, once the recipe cards are written, I make a list of ingredients. I often just use tally marks for how much I need of everything, because you will find many recipes will include some of the same ingredients - I sometimes do this on purpose when choosing recipes to make life easier! I usually use click list or Walmart pickup or Instacart, so I don't typically do this next step, but since I know there will be some of you who actually venture into the grocery store, I organized the list by categories so your trip through the store is a bit more stream-lined. We only have two adults and a 2 and 4-year-old eating at our house, so I doubled the recipes and instead of making 2 9x13 pans, I will make 4 8x8 pans. If you have older kids eating, you may have to multiply the recipes by 3 or 4. I really just have to worry about my husband and myself food-wise, since there will likely be bribing and threats of eating dinner in timeout involved and then after a few bites, the kids will finish off the meal with apples and peanut butter or spinach and ranch - yes, you read that right.. My 4 year old is quite a bear when it comes to trying new things, but he will eat spinach and ranch like it's a bowl of candy..go figure.
Here is the list of ingredients:
Side note: If I am on the bubble with how much I need of an ingredient, then I always round up. It's way better to have some left over than get into the middle of a prep and need just one stinking ingredient before you can be finished with that particular meal! Also, I take into consideration the size of the chicken breasts. The ones I found on sale from Sprouts are pretty large, so I will halve them long ways and essentially have two in one. So on this particular prep, if a recipe called for 4 breasts, I went with 6 instead of 8, as some are big enough to cut in half and some I may leave so having 2 extras gives me a little wiggle room. Often times I'll end up with enough of one recipe to end up making 5 8x8 pans instead of 4. I will probably end up with some extra shredded chicken at the end so I'll have to post later about some of my favorite things to do with this!
I realize this particular set of recipes calls for quite a bit of meat, so if you need to break it up finance-wise you could always make just 2 8x8 or 2 13x9 instead. I ended up spending $5 per meal for our family. (I foresee a costco membership on the horizon - buying this in bulk would certainly lower costs as well).
Many of the spices I already have on hand from previous preps, so once you've done a few, you'll find you don't have to actually buy many of the ingredients. I often use the dried, spice jar version of parsley and basil just because I am going to freeze it anyway, so fresh isn't necessarily a must and then it lasts for future preps.
I usually get the foil pans from the dollar store - way cheaper than anywhere else. You don't need the kind with lids.. it sounds like a great idea until freezer space becomes a problem. Foil over the top and stacking in the freezer will work just fine! I use parchment paper to line the foil pans so when I go to actually make the meal, I can easily transfer it into a corningware dish if I want to. I've heard you can do freezer meals in a corningware in the instant pot... haven't actually tried it yet, but I'm going to research it a little more and maybe give it a shot, so I'll let you know how it goes!
I was actually able to put in an order this morning from my phone while hanging out at the youth football camp. One of the perks of being a coach's kid is you get to go to camp even when you're too young. Colt was actually close to the same size as the 1st graders and kept up for the most part... but even though he may look like a 6 year old, he still acts his age, which means I need to stay close by in case we have a meltdown and he needs to come off the field. Soooo close to him being able to go to work with daddy every now and then! Our little miss was hanging out with me and either climbing on the equipment or watching a movie on the tablet I swore my kids would never have... Man, I was such a good mom before I was a mom! Thank goodness for smart phones and apps that make multitasking a breeze :)
I then go pick up my groceries. If I am going to start on the prep that day, I will unload the groceries on the counter and group them by recipe so they're easy to find when I need them. I don't usually do it all in one day so I may put the ingredients for some of the recipes away - I can always get them out later if I decide to be an overachiever.
I also made a list of what meats require prepping for each recipe:
As soon as the groceries are unloaded, I start prepping the meats. I used to just boil the chicken while putting together the other parts of the recipe and then all I had to do was add in the meat and pour into the pan and then I'm good to go. This will work just fine.. However, I now have what my friend Sarah Sherman refers to as "the pot of gold"... and a pot of gold it is indeed. This gem has been a meal prepping game changer!!!!
18 Chicken breasts just need to be thawed and they're ready to go (no cooking necessary), but the others are currently cooking away while I'm writing this... they can go straight from the freezer to the pot of gold. I put the trivet (that metal rack-looking thing) in the bottom of the pot and 1 cup of chicken broth (you can totally just use water if you don't have chicken broth or are watching your sodium). I then stack in the chicken breasts (I have a 6 quart and did 5-6 breasts at a time today) and season them with a generic season - salt and pepper, chicken rub, or whatever your fancy and then make sure the seal is in place and put in your settings. For fresh chicken breasts, I do 8 minutes on high pressure with a quick release. For frozen, I do 12 minutes on high pressure with a quick release. Now, sometimes I get my chicken breasts from sprouts and they are pretty thick, so I will cut them in half or up my time a bit. As soon as they are done, cut into to one to make sure it is done all the way. then shred the chicken with a fork or a hand mixer or whatever other tools you may have on hand for that. While the chicken is cooking, I go ahead and prep the other meats. Always give yourself the freedom to sub some of the meats as needed! There are ground beef recipes that I've used ground turkey, or some chicken recipes I thought may be good with beef as well, so I'll make it both ways.
Sometimes that's all I have time for the first day, so I will put the meat in a tupperware container and put it in the fridge and then do the rest of the prep the next day. I will leave you with the recipe cards for this particular prep session and then I'll show the rest of the process in my next post! Maybe tomorrow if I am in a go-getter kind of mood, but may be a little later in the week considering I lost my work and started over 3 times in the process of writing this due to user error and doing the nap time dance with my 4 year old... I have now learned the full value of the save button.
And to give credit where credit is due, here are the links to the recipes. It also may help to have the original in case you hit a snag or have a question about the recipe itself. I always give myself a little wiggle room and make substitutions along the way to either make a recipe healthier or to make it fit my taste. There's also some that may have a spicy ingredient and I just take it out to make it more kid friendly.
https://letsdishrecipes.com/2014/10/spicy-smoked-sausage-alfredo-bake.html (it says spicy.. but for kid friendly just take out the cayenne)
Hope this is helping you wrap your head around the idea of meal prepping and making it seem easier and doable!
PS I started some of the prep work this evening and this set of recipes was definitely a good one to start with. I think the prep itself will go pretty quick!
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