My Secret Weapon To Cooking From Scratch – Weekly Meal Prep

Weekly Meal PrepPrepping our meals a week an advance has been life-changing for me. I’ve been doing this for years, but now that I have two little boys I notice a huge difference in the way our whole week flows when I take the time to meal prep. Before I had children, meal prepping was helpful for extra busy weeks, for days after working night shifts, when we had company or for special occasions. Now, it’s my lifeline.

This is such a big deal for me, that I just had to share my practical tips with all of you. It’s my most important secret to successfully cooking meals from scratch for my family without spending hours in the kitchen every single day. Let’s be realistic, nobody’s got time for that, am I right? We all have more important things to enjoy in life than preparing meals, cooking them, washing dishes and cleaning. With this method, I only need to spend a few hours one day a week in the kitchen. The rest of the week, the meals come together in no time, because most of the work is already done.

By doing this, you become your own future sous chef. Weekly Meal Prep-1-18 copy

So, here’s how I do it and some of the tricks that I’ve learned:

  • I start off by looking at my menu for that week and I make a list of all the things I can do for each meal in advance. This helps keep me organized, so I can see at a glance that I need to grate 3 carrots for several different meals and do it all at once instead of peeling and grating 3 carrots on 3 separate occassions. Lists keep you on a roll instead of all over the place.
  • For me, what works best is to prep as much of the ingredients in advance as possible. That doesn’t mean I cook all of our meals in one day. I know some people do that, but that doesn’t work for me. First of all, many meals won’t taste great as leftovers. Second and most importantly, I really don’t have the time to spend cooking multiple meals. Also, I find that prepping the ingredients and/or parts of a meal gives me much more flexibility.

         Let’s get even More practical.

→ Wash, peel, slice, chop, etc. as many of your ingredients as possible. Wash and store fresh herbs. (Click on the previous sentence to see a step by step tutorial on how I store fresh herbs.)Weekly Meal Prep-1-5 copy

→ If you’re new to this and don’t really know where to start, look for ideas in your grocery store. What kind of foods do they have prepped? Grated cheese, coleslaw mix, sliced mushrooms, cut peppers, cauliflower and broccoli florets cut from their stems, etc. You can do all of that yourself and save a lot of money.Weekly Meal Prep-1-13 copy

→ Prep only the ingredients that will not change their structure or spoil by prepping them a week in advance. Potatoes will turn gray unless you cover them with water. Berries shouldn’t be washed too far in advance because they will spoil faster, get mushy and start falling apart. Obviously, fresh meat will spoil if you don’t use it within a few days, so I only prep it a day or two in advance, otherwise, I keep it frozen.

→ Precook some parts of the meal.

• Roast vegetables in advance, such as beets, for soups or salads. Roasted zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, butternut squash can also be used in other meals as well as a simple lunch.How To Roast Beets-1-7

• Bake a loaf or two of bread and other baked goods, like muffins.Whole Wheat Bread-1-20

• Rice, buckwheat, quinoa, oatmeal, barley and hard boiled eggs, croutons, salsa, salad dressing can all be made in advance.

Weekly Meal Prep-1-9 copy• Cooked potatoes are great for making hash browns, potato salad, pan-fried potatoes or added to omelets.

• Brown ground meat, cook chicken to use in salads and as additions to other meals (I don’t recommend cooking chicken in advance if it will be the main part of the dish).

→ Prep some breakfasts, lunches, and snacks too.  It’s a big help to have healthy snacks on hand because hungry little people don’t like to wait. Washing and cutting fruit, such as pineapple, mango, watermelon, cantaloupe, etc. makes healthy snacking so easy. If there’s watermelon cut up in the fridge, we’ll probably reach for it whenever we want something sweet instead of raiding the cupboards looking for chocolate. I make a week’s worth of sandwiches all at once. I also like to make a large batch of oatmeal since my boys love it so much we have it many times during the week. Weekly Meal Prep-1-12 copy

Now you might be feeling overwhelmed after reading all of that, but let me assure you, you will only be doing a very small amount of this prep work each week. I only wrote SO MANY different options to show you how much of the cooking can be done in advance. I usually spend an hour on average once a week but it saves me many hours in the following week. Once you’re in a groove it’s so much faster to get more done than to get started fresh every day. Plus, think about all the dishes you’re saving. You’ll have only one mountain of dishes to wash per week instead of doing it every night. Wouldn’t it be nice to wash only your dinnerware and the pot/skillet that the meal was cooked in? 

  • Find the time when you can focus without interruptions. I do my meal prepping in the evenings or on the weekends when my husband can watch the boys.
  • Do similar tasks at the same time. For example, the first thing I do is peel, cut off the unneeded parts of all the vegetables/fruit. I stand next to the garbage and peel all the onions, potatoes, carrots, etc. that I will need for that week.Weekly Meal Prep-1-2 copy Then, I move to the sink and wash everything. I stack everything into big mixing bowls or a colander and move all the clean ingredients to the island or the dining room table where I do most of the work. (Have a freezer bag ready to save carrot peels, tops of celery stalks, herb stems to store in the freezer until the next time you make any sort of broth.)Weekly Meal Prep-1 copy
  • To make the time go faster, watch a movie or listen to something while you are doing all the tedious chopping, grating or washing. This is how I listen to a lot of podcasts, audiobooks and get some guilt-free entertainment in. Sometimes, Sergi and I will watch a movie together while I do the prepping at the dining room table.
  • I store most of the prepped ingredients in glass storage containers. I have them in many different sizes and they work perfectly for me. They don’t stain or pick up odor and I can easily see what is in each container. Weekly Meal Prep-1-14 copy
  • If I have the same ingredients to be used in several recipes, I will label the containers so I don’t have to guess later in the week. Weekly Meal Prep-1-16 copyAlso, a note about onions. I love that I can chop or slice onions in advance, but they will definitely smell up everything in your refrigerator or freezer if you don’t cover them 3 times more than you think you need to. I actually have two mason jars (1 bigger and the other smaller) that I use specifically for onions and I labeled both the jars and the lids because those lids will permanently have an onion smell to them. Weekly Meal Prep-1-17 copyMason jars are great because they have an airtight seal. I also like to use them for salad dressings and many other things too.
  • Repurpose leftovers and recreate parts of one meal to create something completely different for another meal. Not only will you have fewer ingredients to buy, you will save some time cooking the next night. I do this ALL the time.

The benefits of weekly meal prepping:

  • Daily family dinners at home, cooked mostly from scratch.
  • Less stress every day, because you don’t have to think about what to make for dinner, or where to go get it.
  • Much less cleaning!
  • More time to spend with your family and do the things that you love.
  • Your family will have healthy snacks ready and prepped so you won’t need to resort to packaged junk food whenever they want something to nibble on.
  • You will save money on groceries because it’s much cheaper to buy in bulk.
  • The crazy and hectic dinnertime will be a little bit more manageable.

I know this is a really long post, but I wanted to share as many tips and be as helpful as I could. I hope you were able to grab a few useful nuggets for yourself. I will also share some actual meal plans and the exact prep work that I do in advance so that you can get a better idea of what I’m talking about. I didn’t want to cram even more in this post than it already contains, so I’ll post the meal plan example in another post. If you want to see some more meal prep as it happens in my home, you can catch a lot more on Instagram or Facebook.

Weekly Meal Prep-1-20

Life isn’t perfect and there are weeks when I don’t have the time or don’t feel good enough to spend hours in the kitchen prepping meals. That’s ok. If you can do even a little bit of prep work in advance that’s great too. If you have pockets of time throughout the day, use that time to prep. If you’re chopping one onion for dinner tonight, think about chopping another one for another dinner that you’ll be making later that week. Any little bit helps.

The weeks that I do my weekly meal prep are amazing and cooking is a breeze. Even if I have a really busy day or the baby is cranky and I wasn’t able to do any cooking, I know that most of my meal is already set to go and when Sergi gets home from work he can be on parenting duty and I will have dinner ready in no time. Also, on days that I don’t feel well, it’s so easy for Sergi to take over and finish it for me and we’re still eating healthy family dinners.

Try it for yourself and see how much it frees up your time and gives you a lot more breathing room. I would love to hear your thoughts. Do any of you do meal prepping?

23 Comments

  • Lana

    Thank you!! These are great tips.
    Is there a way you could make an article about freezing meals. I am leaving my family for two weeks and trying to prep as many meals as possible. But running out of ideas.
    What I have so far is : pelmeni, vareniki, katleti, lenivie golubci, sirniki.
    Thank you

  • Inna

    Hi Olga, this is such an awesome post, thank you! I never even thought about meal prep but something I will definitely try! Sounds amazing!

  • VeraL

    Olga thank you for the post on meal-prep. I have kids my self 8-year-old and 4 years old, and some health problems my self so seen these ideas will cut my time in half standing in the kitchen. Thank you kindly! Да благословит вас Бог

  • Alina

    I love your meal prep ideas! I do something similar once a week. We also love to use our instant pot and we do a lot of varieties of beans, lentils and peas in there for the week prep. Keep up your blog, I’m so glad your back and feeling better, love your boys and your sweet family! Would love to see more insta pot recipes as well!

  • Olga T

    Thanks for this post Olga. I enjoyed reading it and it expires me to try prepping some food ahead of time. I’m looking forward to your next post on example of meal prep. I homeschool and a lot of times don’t have enough time to make food because school is a priority so I’m excited to try prepping at least part of meals. Thanks 🙂

  • Katie

    Hello, I was wondering if you could share a whole week’s worth of meal prep? I’ve been wanting to do it but don’t know where to start from. So if you had a list of what recipe you use everyday that would be awesome. Thank you!

    • olgak7

      Hi Katie! Yes, I will definitely share some weekly meal plans with meal prep. I already have most of the blog post edited, I just didn’t want to overwhelm you with too much info in one post. Look for that post soon.

  • Val

    Hi Olga! I absolutely love your posts and am inspired by them. Please share what you prepare for your adorable boys- mine is 2 and he does not enjoy eating much at all- I have tried so many things and not much is working. How do u get your little ones to enjoy meals? Blessing,

  • Kristina

    Hello Olga, I am glad you’re back with posting…

    Being working mother of 4, wife, 3 students in school this year, plus music instruments practices make your life not easy. (ugh forgot to mention, i always have to squeeze in my crazy schedule running or weight lifting). Back to what I wanted to say, without meal prep and menu planing this will make my life even harder. Usually,I do meal prep on Fridays after I cleaned entire house. On Saturday, I do cook enough food for 3-4 days. Sunday no cooking because we’re spending time with family at church and then relaxing between morning and evening services. On Tuesday, this is when I start to cook again, Tuesday usually always something on a grill or oven. I am trying to make easy meals (those meals should be not more than 1 hour of prep+cook). Wednesday is always leftovers for us for dinner and lunch of course. Thursday back to cooking. So basically, I cook 3-4 times a week. I cook enough meet on Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. I add that meet to my salads or sandwiches (paninis). Thank you for posting it. and I can’t wait to see your weekly menu.

  • Yelena

    Hi Olgs, thank you, thank you, and thank you again for this post! This was so helpful and so on time!!! What an inspiration you are. May God bless you and your family! I’m ready to improve my familys meals and make my life more organized and stress free. Can’t wait for your next post.

  • Sveta

    This is such a great post. I have a little munchkin myself and he doesn’t let me do anything so cooking has been really hard for me. These ideas will help me for sure. I was wondering how long does the cut up onion last in that jar? I’m always scared of having too many things cut up and then end up tossing them, which I so don’t like to do

    • olgak7

      I can totally relate with you! My youngest doesn’t let me get anything done when he’s awake, so I can only cook, clean, etc. while he is napping.
      I usually only prep enough for about 5 days in advance, Sveta. The best part about prepping in advance is that you have a meal plan and you will use up everything that you prepped. You’re not just randomly chopping onions and hoping to use them up in some way, you know exactly which day you will use the onion and in which recipe. Nothing goes to waste.

  • Marina

    Hi Olga,
    I always plan my meals but have never even thought of prepping them so this post is extremely helpful to me.
    I am also wondering if you have joined the pressure cooker bandwagon yet?If so, I would be grateful for any recipes or tips you can share. Living a very busy life, my pressure cooker has been a lifesaver to me, but I’m always on the lookout for more recipes so that we are not eating the same meals constantly. You can never have too many!
    Thank you for sharing and have a great rest of the week!

  • Anastasia

    Olga, thank you so much for this post! It’s brilliant, I never even thought to prep a week prior. I only know freeze ahead and slow cook although even those I don’t have enough good recipes for…but this post inspired me, thank you!

  • Bonnie

    Great post – batch cooking is definitely the trick to cheaper, more healthful meals. I’m vegetarian, cook mostly on weekends: big tray roasted veggies, tray of baked sweet and gold potaties that keep in fridge all week then cut up for whatever. Also make batch of bean burgers to freeze, they are great plain, on buns or on top of salads. In my Instant Pot I make chili or pea or lentil soup, and of course steel cut oats for the week and some type of grain like brown rice, barley etc. I try to freeze sauces like marinara but admit I don’t like the taste of frozen food. I find the food processor invaluable for making frequent batches of hummus and also veggie prep: onions carrots.
    So very glad to see your beautiful family and impressed with your effort to feed them so nutritiously. I wish you the best of continued healing and good health and stamina. I have been mesmerized by your story after stumbling onto your blog a few years back while looking for a borscht recipe 😊 I’m a retired L&D nurse, so very interested in your outcome. All best, Olga.

  • Olga

    Olga,

    Great post!! Thank you so very much!!! I’m excited to start meal prep tomorrow! Can’t wait for the next post! I appreciate you, thanks again, the tips are very helpful! 💗

  • Inga

    Olga, this was so helpful! I first really paid attention to meal planning when I came across it on your blog. The weeks when I do stick to a plan, I turn into this fabulous chef. And then there are other weeks where I go to the grocery store almost every day and scramble a bit more than usual. I’m big on lists, so I’ve added an onion mason jar to that and to start giving meal prepping a try. Thank you!

  • Anna

    Hi Olya! Thank you for this post!
    My question is, when you plan your menu, how do you plan it in such a way that avoids lots of leftovers and you get to eat something different each night? For example, sometimes I end up making a portion of soup or anything else for that matter, and say, on one week we go through it fast and on another week, we end up eating it 4-5 days in a row until we can’t look at it anymore. I end up wasting food because I’d buy all the ingredients that I need to have a different dinner each night and because of leftovers and sometimes being unpredictable with what we’ll be craving that night, my planned dinners aren’t made and we’re eating leftovers or something totally different.
    What about when you’re trying out new recipes and they make, say 8 servings? Do you cut the recipe in 1/2 or more?
    How do you plan how much of food your family will eat and what happens when you get leftovers?

    • olgak7

      Hi Anna!
      When I make soups, for example, I will only make enough soup for 1 dinner and the rest to be eaten for lunch by my boys and that’s it. Most soups that have rice or pasta in them aren’t that great as leftovers for days anyway. Soups that taste great as leftovers, like Borsch, I will make a bigger portion, because I know we will love eating it for a few days.
      As for planning how much my family will eat, I have a very good idea how much each person will eat, so I can estimate how much to make so that we don’t have any leftovers, or make more because I will make something with those leftovers.
      Also, if I am trying a new recipe, I definitely cut it in half, unless we have company over. There are very few recipes that can’t be cut in half.
      When I prep ingredients in advance, I only make enough to be eaten for one dinner, as I mentioned earlier. The boys and I might eat the leftovers the next day, but I typically don’t serve the same meal 2 nights in a row.
      However, there are many meals that I will use something from the night before to make a completely new tasting meal the next night and it takes a lot less time to make it. For example, if I make roast chicken one night, I will make Chicken Quesadillas with the chicken the next night. Or if I make rice as a side dish one night I will add a bunch of veggies into it the next night and make a Fried Rice type of dish. Also, if I make rice one day, I will usually make the fried rice 2-3 days later, so that we aren’t eating rice 2 nights in a row. This way, I am using many of the same ingredients, but we are eating food that tastes different and I am using up all the leftovers too.
      As soon as I get a chance, I will share some actual menus so you can see what I mean better.

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