Ahh…cooking. What was once a fun hobby of mine full of experimenting and complicated recipes quickly became a stress point when I became a stay at home mom. I was so used to cooking whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I never made meal plans and just went to the store if I knew I was missing some ingredients for whatever it was that tickled my fancy that day. And then I became a mom and I could no longer spend as long as I wanted in the kitchen. Suddenly I had a human timer that would let me know loud and clear whether I’ve been away for too long. I got used to it and figured out what meals I could make with the time that I had. And then…I had two.
Everyone says that going from one kid to two is exponentially easier than going from zero to one, but no one ever talks about how they get dinner on the table. Seriously, how? Luckily, I had the foresight to freeze food ahead of time. I was also blessed with generous family who made sure we didn’t starve, but it still took me months to figure out how to cook a full meal from scratch with the time that I had. Right around the time I finally started getting the hang of it, we decided to do a Whole30.
One thing about doing a Whole30 is that it strips away a lot of convenience foods (many prepackaged items are out) and quick meals (pasta is a “no”). Gone is the cushion of “I didn’t have time today. Let’s grab a burger/pizza/thai food.” Unless you shell out for a paleo delivery service (nothing against them. i hear they’re great.) you’re going to be doing a lot of cooking. I already knew going in that I wouldn’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. Having two under two means that even when one is napping, someone needs at least some supervision. I don’t know how it is at your house; but over here, if an under-one-year-old loses sight of mommy, screaming ensues, and if a not-yet-two-year-old realizes mommy is busy, crayons and stickers end up somewhere they’re not supposed to go – usually one facial orifice or another. *sigh*
So, by request, I thought I’d share an example of my meal planning strategy in order to have food for the whole week with minimal time in the kitchen. This particular meal plan is Whole30 compliant, but I do try to plan this way on a regular basis.
The basis of my strategy is eating and re-purposing leftovers. I know there are people out there who are completely anti-leftovers, so for you, sorry. There really is just no way to avid cooking everyday if you aren’t willing to eat “old” food. This old food tastes pretty good, though. ;P
Around here we’re fine eating the same thing for breakfast everyday (well, the adults and the baby are. the older child won’t eat the same thing two days/meals in a row. what a princess.), so on Sunday night I’ll boil a bunch of eggs and soak some chia seeds so that we have some quick things to put together for breakfast. The rest of the meals go something like this:
Lunch: huge salad with jarred tuna*
Dinner: Slow Cooker roasted chicken with gravy + steam-sauteed vegetables on the side
Lunch: Leftover chicken + gravy + veggies or a large salad with chicken
Dinner: Chicken lettuce wraps using shredded leftover chicken + veggies on the side
Lunch: Leftover lettuce wraps
Dinner: Loco Moco using the leftover chicken gravy
Lunch: salad with leftover jarred tuna
Dinner: Kalua Pork and Cabbage + veggies
Lunch: Hot dog/sausage with quick pickled cabbage left over from the pork
Dinner: Sweet potato hash + leftover pork + fried egg
SATURDAY Lunch: salad with leftover pork and sweet potato
Dinner: Leftover pork with BBQ sauce + veggies
Since I’m home with the girls all day, I prep in the spare minutes I get here or there. If you work during the day, my prep steps can be done the night before and then kept in the refrigerator. There have been times when I prepped a meal and then our plans changed and we ended up somewhere else for dinner. On those nights I just pack everything up and use them the next day. Here’s the full rundown of how my prep goes. I try to make it so that once the hubs gets home I can get dinner on the table in 10-15 minutes while he plays with the girls.
MONDAY – In the afternoon I season a whole chicken and stick in the slow cooker to roast for dinner. Unless there are leftovers from the weekend the quickest thing for me to throw together for lunch is a salad since we always keep spinach, kale or mixed greens on hand. I realized some time ago that if I have really flavorful toppings, I don’t always need dressing, so I keep that in mind when I’m adding things to my salad. I use small snippets of time throughout the day to prep a bunch of veggies for dinner and the rest of the week. At dinnertime I pull the chicken from the slow cooker, place it on a separate dish and make a quick gravy with the drippings. A quick steam + saute of the already prepped veggies and dinner is ready. After dinner I take the rest of the chicken off the bones.
TUESDAY – Leftover chicken + gravy goes with the hubs to work for lunch. At lunchtime I shred the rest of the chicken and use some to top a salad for myself. During the day I wash and chop some veggies to go in the lettuce wrap filling, rinse a head of lettuce and do a quick pickle of some carrots. At dinnertime I toss the chicken with the prepped veggies and some herbs, fill up some lettuce leaves and top them with the pickled carrots. I reheat some of Monday’s veggies as a side.
WEDNESDAY – Lunch is lettuce wraps. Prep during the day includes chopping and “ricing” some cauliflower and pressing some garlic so it’s ready to go. I also season some meat for the burger patties. I’ve also tried cooking the patties during my prep time to cut down on cooking time before dinner. Either way works. At dinnertime I crack the eggs into bowls and make the patties if I haven’t already. Then I saute the cauliflower and garlic together in some ghee to make “fried rice.” Lastly I fry the eggs – sunny side up for me, over medium for him and scrambled for the littles. This dinner usually takes 20 minutes or so (more if I need to cook the patties, too) because of the eggs, but I do all the cooking in one pan to minimize cleanup.
THURSDAY – In the morning I prep the pork and put it in the slow cooker to let it cook all day. During the day I chop the cabbage. That’s pretty much it. At dinnertime I saute the cabbage using the pork liquid to season, shred the pork, reheat some veggies and plate it all up.
FRIDAY – For lunch I tossed some leftover cabbage with balsamic vinegar to “pickle” it and used it to stuff some sausages (for Whole30 I used sausage from the meat case at Whole Foods that didn’t contain sugar. otherwise, some Aidell’s sausages are compliant). For prep I washed, peeled and cut some sweet potatoes. At dinnertime I cracked the eggs into bowls and grated the sweet potatoes with my food processor (this can also be done ahead of time). Then I seasoned and fried the sweet potato, reheated the pork and fried the eggs.
SATURDAY – Super simple day. Topped some salad with leftover pork and sweet potato for lunch. Then for dinner it was more pork, but this time covered in BBQ sauce to make it “pulled pork.” Just adding the BBQ sauce made it a completely different dish.
How do you meal prep? Do you eat and/or re-purpose your leftovers?
*If you like tuna, you really should try Tonnino tunas. SO good. Tuna isn’t one of my top proteins, but I actually crave Tonnino tuna. And that’s not an affiliate link. They don’t know me, but I love them.
NOTE: I’ll be updating this with recipes as I post them. I can also post a shopping list if there’s interest in that.