The Art of Meal Prep
Getting Dinner on the Table
When you’re a kid, food appears on the dinner table every night like magic. When you’re an adult, you (sadly) discover there is no dinnertime fairy. If you want to eat and feed your family well, you need a plan. Or you may end up grabbing burgers from a drive-thru window more often than your pocketbook and waistline can handle.
The basic elements of meal planning are universal: procure the food, figure out how to prepare it and then do it. There are myriad ways to execute those steps including subscribing to an online meal planning service, paying for a hands-on dinner prepping session in a commercial kitchen or testing your own DIY method. Try one, try all, but if you’re routinely stumped at mealtimes, try something. You can do this.
DIY Meal Prep
The secret behind meal prepping at home is consistency. Designate one day of the week as your official meal-planning day. Take a quick inventory of ingredients on hand and look at your calendar to see if there are days you’ll need a slow cooker meal or food that can be eaten on the go.
From there, choose your recipes. Some families enjoy having a theme, such as Taco Tuesday or Comfort Food Friday. Write ingredients on a grocery list. If the recipe requires a special ingredient, think about what you’ll do with the remainder, so it doesn’t turn into a science experiment in your fridge.
To go a step further, set aside time to prep ingredients. This could be as simple as washing and chopping vegetables and grating cheese, or as elaborate as putting together entire meals.
Online Menu Planning Services
If you’ve grown weary of meal planning on your own, it may be time to outsource to an online service. Each business has its own twist, like paleo meals or picky-eater approved dishes, but the gist is the same: Every week, you get a week’s worth of recipes with a shopping list. Services with local roots include Six Sisters Menu Plan and Sweet Peas Meals.
“For us it’s about encouraging families to cook together, to eat together at home and try new things,” says Salt Lake City-based Maria Lichty, blogger at Two Peas in Their Pod and co-founder of Sweet Peas Meals.
The services come with a cost — for instance, Sweet Peas Meals is $16 a month — but Lichty says people save money as they cut down on eating out, repurpose ingredients throughout the week and grocery shop with a purpose.
“It will save you money overall, and it’s healthier when you’re eating at home and controlling what goes into your body,” she says. “We also include ideas of little things you can do in advance to save time, without slaving in the kitchen making everything for the entire week.”
Even with good intentions, there are days, weeks or even seasons of life when pulling together a meal at the dinner hour feels next to impossible. This is when a stock of ready-to-go freezer meals can be a real lifesaver.
You could put these together yourself or have someone else do the shopping, planning, prepping and clean up with an assembly service like Dream Dinners or Citrus Pear. With Citrus Pear, you prepay for 10-20 healthy family meals and then show up at one of 16 locations throughout Idaho and Utah and spend around two hours assembling meals, says founder and registered dietician McKenzie Rockwood of Smithfield, Utah.
“There’s a fun atmosphere,” Rockwood says. “A session can turn into a night out with friends, where people can go and have fun and still be productive.”
It’s economical, too — the cost is around $2.50 per serving, which is a lot cheaper than the drive-thru. Plus, Rockwood says, every location is run by a registered dietician that tailors menus to special dietary needs. Meal options change monthly and incorporate seasonal recipes and ingredients. And if you book a private class with 10 or more people, you get to pick the menu.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I could just do that on my own,’ but the percentage of people who actually do is quite small. And we know these recipes turn out. We’ve tested and tested them and we know they are good,” Rockwood says.