Sunday meal prep explained

So when I was planning out my posts for this week, I had grand ideas of documenting every aspect of my Sunday meal prep extravaganza: The pile of carrots and zucchini, the separate container of stir fry vegetables all ready to go, an artistic shot of artisan bread dough rising on the counter.

Um, as I have already established, I am always optimistic about all the wrong things.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I generally plan dinner for the week on Friday night, sketching out a general plan and writing out all ingredients needed to make whatever it is I’ve come up with. (Sometimes I get help by yelling, hey family, what do you want for dinners this week? Johanna always says, hot dogs. Spoiler alert: We never get hot dogs. And yet, she still asks. You gotta admire her perseverance.) Then I work out a quick prep plan because I am easily distracted, plus I like crossing stuff off my list.

A list and a plan. On scratch paper inherited from my grandparents when they sold their house. They had an entire drawerful.

Grocery shopping generally happens Saturday afternoon (usually by myself), but this Saturday, we all went. Shopping with the family is kind of exhausting, FYI. But! Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday (which is apparently second on the list of American holidays when people consume the most food, the first being Thanksgiving. I don’t want to get political or anything, but Super Bowl Sunday ISN’T EVEN A REAL HOLIDAY. And I’m not just saying that because I think football is dumb). (Okay, maybe I am.) The girls picked homemade fish and chips for dinner to celebrate, and I brought a container for the fish … but I wasn’t sure how that would work. Because I’ve never tried it. Anyway, Eric comes up to me in the bulk aisle and is like, have you gotten the fish yet? And I was all, nope, but I want it in this container, and he takes it and is all, on it. 

And then brings back a container of cod like it wasn’t even a big deal. I was all, TELL ME THE STORY RIGHT NOW because I was terribly excited and proud, and he was like, I asked the kid and he tared the container and got me the fish, and I was like, THAT IS AMAZING.

Uh, that’s got nothing to do with meal prep. I just thought it was a good sidebar.

Anyway, so I had all of my groceries purchased and ready to go for my typical Sunday meal prep day. I had my list, I had my plan, and I had nothing better to do because it was snowing. Again.

But it turns out Eric also did not have anything better to do also because of the snow — he usually has “work” to do “outside” in all weather — so he took over prepping the veggies.

Hey, look, it’s my one true love! I made him nervous taking his photo. That made me laugh.

And yeah, he forgot to cut up the zucchini, and he didn’t prep any stir fry veggies, but you know what? Who cares, he saved me an hour. He’s way more precise than I am, so you should see the carrots and the peppers.

Because I didn’t have to worry about prepping fruit and veggies like I usually do (although I guess we didn’t have any fruit to prep this time), I got to concentrate on fun stuff, like baking.

This is where I tell you that I didn’t check my flour supply and didn’t figure out until I had everything on the counter that I didn’t have enough to make all the bread on my list (artisan, banana and corn). I also thought I’d make some cookies — I did have enough flour for that — but then decided I’d rather read.

Details. SO BORING. Oh, hey there Pearl. *

So I made banana bread — because I had frozen overripe bananas already defrosted on the counter — and cornbread (except I must have forgotten some ingredient because it turned out really flat. Ah, well).

Hey, the banana bread had it’s own issues, like I took it out of the oven too soon and it was still kinda doughy in the middle. But hey, it looks pretty.

Then I made the last of the quinoa (for Monday’s stir fry, cross that off the pantry list) and my weekly no bake energy bar (or Mom’s Weird Granola Bar, a la Abby), and … read through most of the Super Bowl. (Atlanta! Why do you make me cry?!) And then Eric and I made dinner.

It was very much not a typical Sunday so I’m not even sure this post counts. Well, I mean, it was typical in that a few things went wrong and I made a mess of my kitchen. But I generally have more to prep and/or cook. It was only a couple of hours of work this time around. Not that I’m complaining.

P.S. I’ve decided it’s perfectly acceptable to make one adventurous recipe on the weekend and then rely on meals I could make in my sleep, i.e. pasta or pizza or tacos, during the week. It keeps thing sane.

P.P.S. I also don’t believe that to be zero waste, you have to make everything from scratch. I’m okay with buying a loaf of bread at my favorite bakery, for example. (I also regularly buy dried fruit, nut butter, pasta and the occasional chocolate or cookie.) My time is worth something, and I get really bitter if I’m chained to the kitchen all the time, which doesn’t do anyone any good. So I pick what’s important to us and let go of the rest (and by “letting go,” I mean purchase it as responsibly as I can, or do without).

Meal planners out there: Do you prep beforehand? How long does it usually take you? Any tips? Thoughts and feelings?

* Have I mentioned that my kitchen, dining room and living room are all one room? And not even a big room. That’s just how we roll.

Next up: Hey, we finally watched “Minimalism” on Netflix! But I kept getting distracted by all the disposable coffee cups.

18 Responses to Sunday meal prep explained

  1. I don’t prep in a big block of time. Sometimes I feel really guilty about that… it’s always the advice to make cooking easier! My schedule is different from yours in that I’m at home full time with a small child. What I realised was that carving out multiple hours at a time is impossible (7-9 pm are the only consecutive hours I ever have together…I never even have TWO consecutive hours to do anything in my day!) and that for me, allotting about an hour to make dinner every day works a lot better. I got rid of any recipes that took longer than an hour to make, or altered them.

    Perhaps I lied in saying I don’t prep. I have a daily morning ‘prep slot’ when I am in the kitchen making breakfast and cleaning up from it. If I have beans to soak, meat to thaw, something to put in the slow cooker, all of that happens then, when I’m in the kitchen already. This has worked well: mini-prep on a daily basis. It makes the mornings a frantic blitz, but once I leave the kitchen after breakfast, I know that everything is in order for later, so I can stick to my one-hour dinner slot.

    We do also eat leftovers systematically, so some days I spend less than an hour cooking, because I’m just reheating things.

    I watched ‘Minimalism’ too, and I must say I wasn’t that impressed. I wanted to like it! I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts.

    • I was home for 11 years with our girls (we had Johanna when Abby was in kindergarten and started the process all over again — not even remotely the plan, but that’s how it worked out), and those were the hardest 11 years of my life. I actually don’t even remember a lot of it, I think because I was so tired and just trying to survive. People complain at work sometimes and I’m like, oh, you guys, you just have no idea how easy this is. Perspective! 🙂

      Sounds like you’ve got a good routine going with the morning prep (“frantic blitz.” That made me laugh. Sing it, sister!). Oh, and can we take a moment to just appreciate the glorious miracle that is leftovers? Those are my favorite dinner nights!

  2. I like your approach to life. Well said. You know I watched the Minimalism movie too with my 22 year old son (who is a cinema major), and well, we both didn’t really like it. For different reasons though. I just thought they really didn’t say anything very ‘new’ and it was kinda all about them? not sure but I wasn’t impressed.

  3. I don’t prep ahead of time. Partially it’s because prepared food looks like fair game around here, and partially because I’m just in the habit of prepping everything as I go. I don’t have the “I just got home from work and I have to feed people in 30 minutes” rush either, which is nice.

    I haven’t watched the Minimalism movie, but now I’m curious because everyone else has. I know you didn’t love it, but is it worth watching with my husband (who’s not minimalist)?

    • When I was at home, I never prepped anything ahead of time because Abby and I — and later Johanna — had a routine of starting dinner around 4 p.m. and just doing it all right then in an hour or so. (Abby used to love to open the refrigerator and take out all the condiments, Johanna was more of an empty-out-the-tupperware-drawer kind of girl. It was a very relaxing hour, obviously.) It’s just easier for me now to have it all done and not have to worry about it. I hide what I don’t want anyone to get into in the back of the fridge — we’ve got some VERY nonobservant people in this household, it’s actually fairly hilarious. But that’s how I keep them out of stuff.

      It’s so interesting to me how we’re all doing the same thing, but go about it differently. And that it still works. I just love that.

      Oh, and yes — I do think it’s worth watching “Minimalism” with a non-minimalist.

  4. Ha Ha Ha…disposable coffee cups! So funny! I have to admit, I couldn’t watch the entire documentary for the same reasons others mentioned. I, too, wanted to like it. I’m curious if people unfamiliar with minimalism would get more out it. (I’m not technically a minimalist.)

    When I was a stay-at-home mom, I used to be so diligent about planning meals, making a grocery list, etc. Then I went to work full-time as an elementary teacher. My husband began doing the shopping, and meal planning became take-out most nights. (By this time, we were empty nesters.) Now that I’m home again, I just haven’t gotten back into planning. I was cooking every night, but we wasted so much food. (It’s an adjustment to only cook for two.) Then I had a lightbulb moment. Leftovers can be an actual meal and not just a lunch. : ) This has been wonderful! Fewer nights of cooking, much less waste!

    • Leftovers are my favorite! I’m kind of wondering what food prep is going to look like next year when Abby is in college … it’ll be a little odd cooking for 3 instead of 4, although Johanna can really put it away so maybe not. 😉

  5. I love the idea of prepping meals ahead of time, but that means I have to spend MORE time in the kitchen, to my way of thinking. First the prepping, then later the cooking. After 16 years of being at home with the kids, I’ve realised I’d rather do it just before I make dinner. Having said that, we are having chicken and vegetable stir fry tonight, and it would be the work of a moment to chop up the veges and marinate the the chicken instead of wasting time on the computer, so this task will hang over my head for the next few hours and ruin my reading time (too hot to do anything else down here in Oz!) I am So Not a ‘just do it’ kind of girl. Sigh.

    • Although I do often make a double batch of bolognese sauce, curries, etc to freeze. And we love ‘bits and pieces’ night too.

    • Interesting! I think it saves me time because I’m already making a mess, so this way I’m getting more mileage out of my eventual cleaning. (Plus I’m not washing the same cutting board and knife multiple times during the week.) And when we’re making lunches or dinner, it’s much easier to take stuff out of the fridge and get on with it.

      I’m also a big fan of doubling recipes!

  6. I don’t really prep ahead. I do make all of my lunches/snacks on Sunday (this week roasted carrot soup and biscotti). But in the winter, throwing a bunch of stuff into a crockpot isn’t really a hardship.
    I’m usually super hungry when I get home from work, so I need something that needs to be ready in less than a half hour. I generally feel like veggies have better texture when they’re cut before usage, but that might just be me.
    I feel like the ability to have a plan, shop for it, and enacting it is where you save the time.

  7. Funny – you write this, then similar articles pop up in my feed. Have a look at…
    I’ve also got a cookbook called “Economy Gastronomy ” based on the same principle – cook a “bedrock” dish and then have 3 or 4 meals from it. Roast chicken followed by Thai sweet and sour soup is a regular in our house! Yum!!

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