How to Meal Prep in 6 Easy Steps
By Chef Tana J Duncan
As the wise gentleman Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.” And although he was never a new mother in the throws of juggling life, babies, children, nursing, heading up a household of responsibilities and perhaps a career to boot, his words ring true.
Having nutritious meals ready to go three times a day can seem like a daunting and sometimes impossible-to-manage task, one easily pushed to the wayside in lieu of more joyful activities. Fear not -- with a bit of organization and time management, feeding the family can be easier and more fun than you ever thought possible.
I have been a personal and private chef in the Bay Area for nearly a decade, working mainly with families to stock their fridges, setting them up with enough food for dinners, lunches and even breakfast items for the work week. You do not have to be a professional chef to use some of the same plans I do. Home cooked and prepared meals are the healthiest way to feed a family. You have control over the ingredients, which is important for everyone but especially if your family has any sensitivities or allergies.
How to Meal Prep in 6 Easy Steps:
1. Start with a meal plan. This can be either what you will eat each night or a list of items that you can pick and choose from as needed. I find that four “entree” meat dishes, two hearty sides, two vegetable sides and one breakfast item is plenty to supplement the week of dinners and lunch, with one meal out or leftovers.
2. Make the grocery list for those items first, THEN add the other regular items you need (i.e. eggs, flour, apples, almond butter, etc.).
3. Set aside five hours -- I know this seems like a lot, but in five hours you should be able to buy yourself 12 hours by the end of the week. That’s 1.5 hours for the planning/shopping and then 3.5 in the kitchen. And if you are making things you are comfortable with, it will take you even less time, Spending this time ONCE in the week plus 15-20 minutes of reheating is much preferable to 2-3 hours per meal per day.
4. Make sure you are not starving when you go to the store...we all know how that ends ($$ $$ :P)
5. Upon arriving back to the kitchen, lay out all your items and get to cookin’. You can make this as simple or complex as your skill-set allows; simply roasting broccoli and chicken thighs with a light sprinkle of salt, or slow cooking Korean short ribs.
I try to make multiple items at a time. Start some quinoa and rice at the same time... Boom! 20 minutes later you have containers of both ready to go into a stir-fry, served with meat or plain with butter as some of our pickier palates may prefer. Throw salmon steaks and chicken cutlets into the oven; 25 minutes later you have protein for the week.
6. Put all your finished items in containers or in their serving dishes, labeled to make sure you’re not keeping anything over that 4-7 day window of quality, depending on the item.
Your Item Prep List:
These things can be prepared easily, require minimal kitchen skills and can be flavored with a variety of sauces or spices:
Roast wild salmon filets — Baked chicken cutlets
Marinated skirt steak (prep these for the grill! Portion into sizes, seal in a plastic bag with your favorite teriyaki or BBQ marinade)
Turkey meat loaf
Chili in the crock pot
Wild rice with broccoli
Sliced mixed vegetables (this is a staple in my home -- easy to grab a handful and sauté for a side dish or add eggs to)
Sliced mixed fruit to top with yogurt or to have on hand for smoothies and grab and go!
A more complex weekly meal plan:
Slow cooked Vietnamese short ribs with Asian pear
Hoisin beef and broccoli
Roast chicken thighs with creamy dijon sauce, parsley and dill —Chipotle lime prawns
Lemongrass coconut basmati rice
Teriyaki quinoa and garbanzo beans
Lemon and garlic stir fried "rainbow" mixed vegetables
Arugula salad with watermelon, feta and mint with lemon vinaigrette —Gluten free peach crisp
One or two days a week of food-focused time can easily save you time, money and the headache of feeding your family. If you need more inspiration, my weekly food prep menus can be found on my website and videos are located on my Instagram stories.
Chef Tana J Duncan is a natural foods personal chef residing in Santa Cruz, CA. She is also owns Bay Area catering company, Salt & Stone Catering. With her love for cooking with natural foods, she has an incredible passion for pregnancy, women's health and the value of nutritional meals. In her spare time, you can catch Chef Tana cooking up something hot for her clients, adventuring in the city with her best friends or hanging out with her son, Zenovio.