Oh man, guys – this post has been SO overDUE! Over the last year or so, I have been posting on Instagram the various parts of my Sunday meal prep. It is such a crucial part of my weekly routine and what keeps our family on track as far as food.
If you want to know more about our journey through food prep over the last 7 years (which is when we began to focus more on wellness and health) what “diets” or lifestyle habits we have successfully incorporated into our lives, our approaches and thoughts around macros, paleo, keto, etc, and how we make it work as a family, head over to this week’s episode on our Good To Be Home podcast!
This post today is to specifically walk you through what I do each week on Sunday, step by step.
Why Sunday? Because it’s the day I am home the most, it’s when our family’s schedule allows me the most focused time in the kitchen, and the process of meal prepping actually helps my mindset for the week ahead, which is really helpful for me. Knowing it’s done and the fridge and pantry are organized for the week ahead is such a great feeling. Although I do this on Sundays, you can certainly do this on any day that works for you!
I’m going photo-heavy on this post because I think the photos can help explain a lot, too. I snapped these on all sorts of weeks throughout the year right in the thick of my meal-prepping Sundays, so they’re going to be a bit more candid than usual. I know you won’t mind that 🙂
Above all – I want you to know THIS, especially if you’re trying to meal plan and prep for the first time :
There is no wrong way to do it – anything you do is better than nothing at all. That applies to meal prep and anything else in life!
Step 1. Start with a “best-of” list of recipes and meal ideas and KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Having a handful of tried-and-true, family favorite meals has been great for cutting down on the “what should I make?” dilemma. No need to reinvent the wheel each week, which would lead to decision fatigue and who wants that, right?
I used to make more elaborate recipes each night because I have always loved to cook. But that was before we had 3 kids, when I had more time and it was before we learned more about health and wellness. Simpler meals tend to be more healthful. Now we keep our meals pretty protein and veggie-centric. Rather than have meals that are full-blown recipes every night, I often just think of how to COMPOSE a meal : what protein and what sides to go with it. Seasonings, spices, herbs, and simple toppings really go a long way in amping up flavors in simple meals in a healthful way! For the kids, the topic of feeding kids is kind of its own whole Q and A, so I’m not going to address those specifics here, but I’ll just leave it simply at the kids are served the same things as us, and I try to pick meals that they will like. They eat what we eat, but with modifications on the flavor or adding or removing ingredients when needed.
A few of our favorite main dishes on on constant rotation include :
- quinoa chicken chili (recipe here!)
- paprika grilled chicken thighs with marinated grilled veggies (recipe)
- shredded salsa chicken turned into Mexican quinoa bowls, tacos, lettuce wraps, or quesadillas (go here for the easiest recipe on earth!)
- turkey bolognese either on pasta, spaghetti squash, or shaved brussels sprouts (Victoria’s White Linen organic marinara sauce is my favorite; shaved brussels you can get at TJs or WF)
- sweet potato and turkey chili (here’s the recipe!)
- stuffed peppers (recipe)
- broiled salmon (I get a big slab from Costco and cook it at 400 degrees in oven until I eyeball it that it’s done)
- sauteed shrimp (just garlic, oil, and some spices)
- Russ’ famous “father’s day burgers” (grass fed beef with chopped up pickles and shredded cheese)
- turkey or chicken burgers (turkey burgers I make simply with seasonings, chicken burgers are a kale and mozzarella one from Costco)
For sides we love :
- green beans (I love it paired with lemon and parmesan or with capers;)
- steamed or roasted broccoli (broccoli is Reese and Maddix’s favorite veggie, so it’s on high rotation here at the Perry house)
- charred broccolini with lemon and parmesan
- brussels sprouts with caramelized onion and bacon
- roasted cauliflower, sweet potatoes, asparagus, carrots, or red onions with thyme and lemon (so good as a side for chicken)
- Tuscan kale salad (the best, from True Food. Recipe here)
- Stetson chopped arugula salad (from Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale, recipe here, i use premade buttermilk ranch)
I make all of the above so often, and have for year, that could probably make most this in my sleep! And that’s kind of the point. I have so many more, so if you want more recipe and meal ideas posts, let me know.
For lunches, I take a lot of the ingredients and mains/sides above and either make extra or use it as a component to become a lunch. For example, shredded salsa chicken will go on a salad, or a turkey burger will be served without a bun but with sweet potatoes and the kale salad. For the kids, I will add rice or pasta or any of the above with fruits and veggie sides and some fun snack-types things.
Step 2. Find Inspiration
But sometimes you need to keep those tastebuds guessing, your culinary skills fresh, and your kids trying new foods regularly by getting inspiration. It’s good to try new things, and for this I always head to three places : Instagram, Pinterest, and my cookbooks.
Some of my favorite instagram accounts for recipes are @everylastbite @weeknightbite @skinnytaste @cleanfoodcrush @inagarten and @marthastewart.
For Pinterest, I keep them subcategorized so each board reads “FOOD : Salads,” “FOOD: Veg/Vegan,” etc. and I’m not scrolling through a giant, unorganized list. Pinterest can be touch and go because there’s just so much and you sometimes don’t know the source of where the recipes are from. That being said, it’s a great place for every type of recipe imaginable. I also have a board for meal prep that’s a little more fitness-related.
And as far as cookbooks, I LOVE LOVE LOVE cookbooks. I collect them. I used to rely on them heavily for recipes but now I have them in our pantry and on the bottom shelf of our coffee table more as sources of inspo. I wouldn’t be able to list all the cookbooks I have here!
Here they are in our pantry (Ps those simple mills almond flour crackers and grain-free granola, both from Costco, are a staple here) :
I’ll usually try these new recipes on a Sunday to see if I like it and how long it takes to make it, then if it passes and the family likes it, I’ll add it to my list of dishes to make again.
Step 3. Make a Plan with a Menu Board
About 7 years ago, I made a DIY menu board and it literally changed.my.life. Once I started to put an official menu up for the week, it affected the way we ate, the way we shopped, the way we planned, and the way we spent our money on food. It became a source of accountability. Our meals became healthier, we wasted less, and we knew what we were having for dinner every night – a consistency that naturally led to more time at the dinner table together as a family. So every Sunday, I write up a menu and I stick to it.
Here’s what our menu board (and our old apartment kitchen!) looked like about 4 years ago :
And here’s the newer version :
I DIY’d both of these boards (who wants a tutorial? Let me know!)
Step 4. Create a List
My other secret weapon is using a grocery list app. I use “Shop List Free” (it’s free!) and it’s the best one I’ve found. Once I plan the week’s menu, including ideas for lunches and snacks, I use it to build a clickable checklist of all the ingredients I need and head to the store. If Reese is with me she loves to be my “list checker” (which is a reading lesson in itself.) Having a list like this seriously saves me so much time at the store – AND money, because I tend to stick to the list if I have it, rather than if I go with blindly or with a vague idea of what I need to get.
Step 5. Go Shop
I go to Costco on Sundays after church. We’ll either go as a family or I’ll drop the kids and Russ off at home and then come back by myself.
I like Costco for organic proteins and produce, plus some staples like salsa, protein bars and powder, and almond milk. It’s pretty crazy how much food a family of 5 does go through. I also buy and freeze a lot of the proteins for the next week, because it comes in such big packs, so I’m often not buying proteins every single week; I often get two weeks out of one pack.
Here’s one week’s cart :
And another week’s (it was Paige’s birthday, hence the giant macarons!) :
If there are ingredients I need but in smaller quantity, and for everything else they don’t have at Costco, I drop everything off at home, unload, and go to Whole Foods. I have tried their Prime pickup service a couple times, but by default and not being in the habit yet, I just go myself.
Here’s my cute little helper (actually she’s less help, more just cute) :
Step 5. Do The Work
After I get home from the store(s), I clear the decks and it’s time to prep!
I lay everything out first …
Put things into the pantry …
And also fill up our coffee drawer (drawer dividers are right here ) :
And our beverage fridge (we love sparkling water) :
If you want to learn more about our pantry, here’s a post!
And thenI channel my inner sous chef and spend a couple hours cleaning, cutting, cooking, and generally acting like a sous chef creating a “mis en place” situation (if you watch Top Chef you know what I mean.)
Preparing as much as possible ahead of time is the key for staying on track with the week’s menu. I don’t necessarily make full-on meals on Sundays – I mostly clean and prep all the ingredients and cook things as much as possible so that they are as ready to go for me just to put together a quick dinner each night. Knowing I don’t have to chop or boil something especially on those busy weeknights is SUCH a lifesaver.
Some examples on my to-do’s include :
- browning ground beef or turkey
- roasting veggies
- chop, cut, dice and slice up all kinds of veggies and fruit (berry prep post coming later this week!)
- roasting or slow-cooking chicken
- broiling salmon
- making chicken burgers or taco meat
- cooking up grains like quinoa, rice and pasta
Here are some visuals :
I’ll make little “kits” for later like this :
And cook proteins and veggies like these (also was making focaccia that day ) :
Browned turkey for lots of uses later (quinoa on the right) :
Cooking grains in advance is game changing on busy nights :
Making the stuffed peppers in advance :
Getting the salsa chicken made in the slow cooker, the rice in the rice cooker :
Just chopping away :
All these are going to be the components of meals and they’re fine to prep in advance for the week ahead. I’ve done it for years and I honestly can say I never had had an issue with them not lasting until I need them that week.
Like some of the browned turkey becoming quick turkey bolognese :
Salsa chicken becoming this bowl with mango salsa and regular salsa :
Or a salad with arugula and avocado (tastes a thousand times better than it looks haha) :
Pre-prepped veggies and herbs becoming shrimp ceviche and tomato and corn salad :
Chopped peppers and veggies becoming a sheet pan dinner later in the week (all I had to do was chop some garlic and add a marinade) :
And toppings for things like fish tacos are ready to go!
Sometimes I’ll make what we are having on that Sunday night but then take the extra and make them into lunches, like this greek veggie and hummus salad :
The things I DO cook and make as complete meals in advance typically are Russ and my lunches, some breakfasts, and snacks (which are really just cut up veggies and fruit in little snack sized bags) For example salads – I put the dressing on the bottom of the containers, like I did in this buffalo chicken salad :
or a protein with a veggie and carb, like this simple salmon, rice, green beans and capers lunch :
I also like to make these as a breakfast or mid-day snack : Ezekiel tortilla rolled up with almond butter, and bananas and breakfast burritos (eggs, bacon, veggies.) I wrap them up and label them with a marker, and put them in one of our middle snack drawer in our fridge, which is where I keep a lot of grab-and-go items.
One snack I make sometimes are energy balls (I just made the recipe up, and here’s Reese helping ) :
And for kids, I use the convenient ingredients when I pack their daily lunch (this was before we started reducing dairy for Paige) :
Step 6 . Make it Fun.
Put on a good podcast, turn on music, if you like having the TV going on in the background turn that on to something fun, and use this time to get things done but also just ENJOY the process and time by yourself in the kitchen. I like to take in audio content, so this is the time I use to catch up on podcasts and learn something new while I do something a little more passive and mindless like chopping and stirring things.
Russ and I recently decided that for this year, it wouldn’t be a time for me to be by myself in the kitchen but it was a great opportunity for us to spend it TOGETHER in the kitchen. We mindfully make Sundays slower and he tries to be home as many Sundays as possible, but for me to cut into that time by meal prepping solo was taking away that time we had set aside for us. So this year we are going to meal prep together on Sundays when we can. So far, we’ve only had about two Sundays this year that we’ve been home together – one time it went great, the other he kind of took over lol! 😉 But that’s how all good things and routines start.
Also, if you are in our house on a Sunday, I will recruit you to help. Here’s my mom :
Step 7. Pack it Up and Organize the Fridge
As I’m prepping, I’m putting things into their containers. Links to the ones I love are below! Then the final step is to take all of that hard work and pack it up and put it in the fridge. This is a great time to extend the benefit and value of meal planning and prepping by creating an easy to use system in your fridge that helps you find what you need, quickly and easily. This is all about making things easy for your everyday of the week.
I like to create zones in our fridge :
- prepped veggies, fruit, and grains
- pre-made, individually packed lunches
- pre-made, family style dinners
- veggies in larger bags
- pre-packed snacks
Here’s a peek at a general line up and inside our fridge (it’s a Sub-Zero, we love it) :
As far as containers, I linked my favorites below!
So to recap :
- Don’t try to reinvent the wheel each week with your menus. Get inspired every once in a while to keep things interesting but make your life easier by sticking to the same, balanced, favorite staples for your family.
- Go in with a plan. Write out your menu, display it if possible, and head to the store with a list (preferably an app or a list organized by the zones of the store.)
- Prep, prep, prep. Meal prep can be creating pre-made, family style or portioned out meals for the week ahead or getting all the ingredients ready so that lunches and dinners comes together really fast on a hectic days and busy weeknights. OR BOTH, which is what I do.
- Use tools in the kitchen to help you : matching glass containers and versatile jars, slow cooker, garlic peeler, lemon juicer, Ziplock bags, freezer containers, silicone baking mats, good knives, and a “garbage” bowl.
- Organize your fridge. This lets you see all the items you worked hard to prepare so you know what you have.
- Make the prep more enjoyable. Listen to a podcast so you can passively learn or be entertained. Or do it with your significant other to create an opportunity for quality time.
Do I have weeks that I can’t get to my Sunday meal prep? Of course! Life happens, and we go out of town many weekends. But on those weeks where I haven’t prepped, I feel frazzled about what to make each night for dinner, we don’t eat as healthily (takeout, anyone?) and I end up spending more money making multiple trips to the grocery store.
I encourage you to try taking a couple hours each week – it doesn’t have to be on Sunday! – to prep yourself and your family for a stress-free week of good eating.
Happy planning and prepping!
S H O P T H E P O S T