If you’ve yet to try food prepping (as in spending a solid few hours in the kitchen to prepare meals for an entire week), it can seem like a daunting task. While there may be a learning curve when you first start out, I promise you that the daily burst of joy you will feel when you effortlessly reach for the ready-to-go food will get you hooked in no time.
Here are my favourite tips to make food prepping easier. Much easier than when I first started and didn’t know what I was doing. This article is geared toward prepping school lunches, but really you can apply these tips to prepping any meals.
Tip #1 Get your timing right
You want to set aside a regular time to do your food prepping when you aren’t feeling totally exhausted. I don’t know about you, but I hate grocery shopping and I find a sit down with a cup of tea after putting the shopping away is in order afterwards. Especially when I shop with young children in tow. So there is no way I could do some food prepping right after a shop.
I do my big weekly shop on a Wednesday but I find that if I’ve had a couple of chances to sit down during the day, I have enough energy to do food prepping that night after the kids have gone to bed. And if my husband does it with me too, then it’s really quick. Wednesday is a great day to shop because it’s the first day of the weekly specials and everything else seems to be fully stocked as well.
My big shop on the Wednesday includes purchasing the non-perishable lunch ingredients I will need the following week, and so I just need to buy a few things on the weekend – like fruit and vegetables – and then do my lunches prep (and assemble the Monday lunches) on Sunday night.
You don’t have to do it the same way as me, but if you find a regular time and you get into the habit of doing it, it will get easier over time and become second nature.
Tip #2 Separate your lunch ingredients from the rest of the food
I have two special boxes (one in the fridge and one in the pantry) that are for lunch ingredients. When I get home from shopping and I’m putting the shopping away, I put the lunch ingredients in these containers so they don’t accidentally get eaten. It also makes it easier to simply pull out a couple of boxes to get all your ingredients out when you are about to do your food prepping for the week.
When you do your food prepping for the lunches ahead, make sure you put the prepped food back into these boxes. Oh, and make sure your family knows these boxes are off limits. Put a sign and/or lid on them if need be.
Tip #3 Make it more pleasurable
Whatever makes being in the kitchen more fun for you, do it. Crank the music, pour yourself a beverage of choice, burn some essential oils, listen to a podcast/audiobook, call someone hands-free or put on Netflix. Personally, I find I slow down or start making mistakes if I am listening to anything other than music. I get too distracted. But if it works for you, go for it.
Tie your hair back so it’s not bothering you (plus its more hygienic) and put on some comfy shoes. And of course, if you’re hungry, too hot or too cold, sort that out first.
Tip #4 Set up your kitchen first
Clear bench space and clear out at least one sink. Better yet, get in the habit of keeping a tidy and clean kitchen so that it is always ready to be used.
Put a container for scraps on the bench. It’s a lot quicker to throw rubbish into this as you go, rather than walking back and forth to the bin.
Get ALL the ingredients out first – it’s much quicker this way and get all of the equipment out first too.
Print out the instructions and lay a ruler on top to keep your place in the instructions as you go.
Tip # 5 Invest in decent equipment
Think about what causes you the greatest frustration in the kitchen. Is it a tiny frypan? Chopping vegetables? I highly recommend investing in decent kitchen equipment. They don’t have to be top of the range. There are budget friendly options that work really well.
If you don’t have one, I would highly recommend getting a food processor. It’s so quick at grating and slicing and I use it in so many other ways too. Oh, and make sure you have a decent large frypan, preferably one with a lid.
I like my silicone muffin tray because I don’t need to grease it and the muffins never stick. Even little gadgets make my life easier – like my apple slicer, bag clips and mixing spoon that is also a measuring spoon and a spatula in one. I don’t want to turn this post into a list of my favourite kitchen items so I will leave it there.
Tip #6 Drink coffee
Now I’m not supporting the drinking of more coffee, but if you are going to have a coffee anyway, do it right before food prepping so that you can use that caffeine buzz to fly through your prep.
Tip #7 Get family members involved
I actually don’t recommend getting little kids involved in food prepping. Husbands and older children yes, but little kids, no because:
- it is hard to keep hygiene standards with little kids touching their noses, licking fingers, patting the dog as it walks by
- It can be dangerous for little ones when you are cooking on the stove AND oven AND using sharp knives AND moving quickly around the kitchen
- You want to get this food prepping over and done with quickly so it doesn’t become a whole “big thing”
- If you are doing the prep efficiently, you will have three things happening at once and extra distractions can easily result in accidents and burnt food.
I like having my husband help me because we are very complementary in the kitchen. While I hate washing fruit and veg but I don’t mind chopping them, and he’s the opposite. So he washes and I chop.
He’s very utilitarian about prepping and just does one step after the other. He does things fast and no-nonsense but he struggles to improvise when something comes up (like a missing ingredient). I, on the other hand, put love into my food prep and can often go off on a tangent (suddenly getting inspired to look for dessert recipes in the middle of food prep) but I can save almost any dish that hasn’t gone according to plan and I can often find ways to cook/chop/prepare three things at once.
And because we do it after the kids are in bed, we get a bit more quality time together. Otherwise, hubby would just be watching TV on the couch and I would be on my computer.
As the kids get older they will be a great help with food prepping and I can teach them everything I know about food, health and cooking. But for now, I have separate cooking sessions with them when I’m not hurried or worried about the outcome.
Tip# 8 Combine it with dinner prep
If you’re doing a weekly prep for dinners already, could you combine it with the lunches prep? Or maybe start the lunches prep while you are cooking dinner on Saturday or Sunday night. If you’re peeling and cutting carrots for tonight’s salad, do a couple more for the carrot sticks for lunch.
Tip# 9 Prep all the way to the lunch bag
Usually, but especially in summer, I like to pack the insulated lunch bags with the filled lunchboxes, cutlery – everything that I can – and put the entire lunch bag in the fridge. That way all I have to do in the morning is throw in a freezer block and go. It also means that I’m not putting a freezer block into a warm bag. You may not have the space in your fridge to do this (I don’t all the time) but think about how you can get closer to that grab-and-go scenario. Could you lay out the lunch bags with cutlery already inside? Could you put the freezer block and cutlery in the bag and then keep them in the freezer?
Tip# 10 Acknowledge your achievement
Once you’ve finished the food prep, wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. Then, take a moment to fully appreciate and acknowledge your accomplishment. Open the fridge again and see those containers of food all ready to go for the week. Look at those neat little lunchboxes, ready to be eaten and enjoyed by you and your family. Go one better and take a photo of your prepped food and post it in our facebook group so you can receive even more praise (plus I would LOVE to see your prepped food!).
Think about what you have just done. You haven’t just made some food. It’s bigger than that. You’ve used your time and energy wisely, reduced stress for yourself and provided a week’s worth of wholesome, nourishing food for your family. You have cared for yourself and them. You have been organised and efficient. Well done. You should be truly proud of yourself.
Bonus tip! – Watch out for those seagulls
Sometimes I food prep during the day. When I do, I find I have to have a snack put aside for when seagulls come into my kitchen – that’s what I call my husband and kids when they come and hover right near the food I’m preparing, pecking at it the first chance they get. So I shoo them away and direct them to a snack strategically placed far from where I’m food prepping. It saves my sanity and also reduces the chance of little fingers being chopped along with the carrots.