Up until about a month ago, meal prepping felt like the worst part of my week. I absolutely dreaded it. Josh and I would get into arguments over meal prepping even though we both agreed that when we did meal prep, it made the rest of our week a lot easier. However, it was easier said than done. We decided we needed a system, so I started researching meal prep tips and dug up some useful information. 

Meal planning is the strategy, and meal prepping is the execution.

Meal Plan Club by Kitchn

(No endorsements, just a fan)

I have browsed Kitchn for recipes in the past, but their Meal Plan Club was a new resource to me. The Meal Plan Club features a series of articles, interviews, and guides on how best to plan and prepare meals for households of all different sizes. They also have a Facebook group with over 14,000 members that share recipes, tips, tricks and challenges with meal planning and meal prepping. 

Meal Plan Club helped teach me the difference between meal planning and meal prepping. It was an important distinction to me. It made me realize that Josh and I needed a better system for meal planning, not meal prepping. Once we had a grocery list hashed out, we were able to grocery shop and cook meals with relative ease. The hard part was coming up with the list of meals and ingredients that we wanted to shop and cook for. 

Seasoning a rack of lamb before cooking it

Meal planning and meal prepping are worth mentioning separately because they are two different processes- both of which you need in order to reach the end goal (i.e. saving time, effort, and money). Meal planning is the process of taking stock of what you have in your pantry and fridge; selecting meals and recipes; and figuring out how many meals you need for the week. It’s the strategy, and the meal prepping is the execution. Meal prepping is shopping for and preparing ingredients and/or whole meals in advance of when you’ll need them.

Prepping ingredients

Inspired by Christine Gallary’s article, I created a list in Google Sheets that included a weekly meal calendar and a grocery list split into categories. It is convenient to have all our meals written out for each mealtime of each day. I reference the meal calendar when I write the grocery list below it. My grocery list is split into the four categories recommended by Ashley Pardo: 1) Produce; 2) Pantry; 3) Meat/Freezer; 4) Dairy/Fridge. I have found this immensely helpful in organizing the grocery list.  It feels like a more thorough way of listing out ingredients, and it also makes me feel more organized when I am at the grocery store. I can cross off one section at a time (incredibly satisfying for someone like me who loves the feeling of accomplishment from checking off a to-do list).

Meal planning spreadsheet week of 2/24-2/28.

Another piece of advice I’ve adapted from the Meal Plan Club is to keep a list of grocery items that we buy weekly. The items that we tend to buy and use up weekly include carrots, onions, celery and lettuce for produce items, and eggs, milk, and chicken thighs for dairy/fridge items. Having a standard list of groceries helps reduce the number of grocery decisions we have to make each week. In turn because we make fewer decisions about groceries, we reduce the amount of energy we have to put into making a grocery list. Since we wrote the standard list and started the routine of taking stock of the fridge and pantry, the process has started to become easier. 

Meal planning calendar with ingredient columns

Our meal planning process has come a long way in one month. It still isn’t perfect. I’ve made a few tweaks to the set-up of the spreadsheet. At first I listed out individual ingredients for each meal in the calendar, but I decided that was redundant and removed that section. The format of the calendar now looks much cleaner and straightforward. I’ll admit we haven’t stuck to our grocery list or meal calendar 100% of the time. Nonetheless, we’re working towards building up those time and effort saving habits by using our meal planning tools.

What are your meal planning and prepping strategies? Is it something you’ve tried or ever wanted to try? Let me know! Maybe we can trade tips and tricks!

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