How to Find the Time For Meal Prep
It doesn't matter who you ask - everyone is busy.
As parent and business owner, I can relate.
If I'm not working, I'm parenting.
My time is constantly being squeezed, and I don't get time to myself until late at night.
And, of course, that's also when I'm tired out.
Now here's the thing: I know what I signed up for.
I love being a parent. I love my job.
But I can't ignore that it's becoming more difficult to put healthy food on the table.
Some days, I barely beat the school bus home and immediately have to decide what's for dinner, if I have enough time to cook it, and get the job done - all before we have to leave for dance class.
It's no wonder some people hate cooking.
It's hard to keep up. It feels like another chore you have to slide in sideways, in-between all the other things you have to do.
So that's why the concept of time blocking is so interesting to me.
What is Time Blocking?
I'll let productivity author Cal Newport do the explaining:
Time blocking is a time management method that asks you to divide your day into blocks of time. Each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task, or group of tasks, and only those specific tasks. Instead of keeping an open-ended to-do list of things you’ll get to as you’re able, you’ll start each day with a concrete schedule that lays out what you’ll work on and when.
And while time management methods are mostly applied to work environments, take a look at this list and tell me it doesn't reflect what everyday parents are dealing with:
Try time blocking if you... - Juggle many different projects/responsibilities - Spend too much time in “reactive mode” - Battle constant interruptions throughout the day - Struggle to find the time and mental space for big-picture thinking
Juggling household, work, and parenting responsibilities?
Constant interruptions from my kids when I'm trying to cook?
Reacting to time pressure and letting that dictate what I make for dinner?
Time blocking sounds like exactly what we need.
How to Get Started
I'll be honest: the first time I thought about applying this idea to meal prep, I was skeptical.
When I'm at work, the kids are at school.
By the time they go to bed, I'm tired.
"Block off two hours a week for meal prep!?!"
My laughter could be heard for miles.
But when I really dug into my family's routine, I noticed some options.
The one that works best for me is that when my kids get some TV on Sunday, I make a point of being in the kitchen.
So now the question becomes:
What are you going to do with that time?
I have a simple rule for when I'm trying something new: seek out people who know more than I do.
That led me to Jessica Fisher's book, "Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook".
The first part of the book lays out all the ways you can prep ahead and use your freezer to alleviate stress off during the week.
The author describes what you can freeze, how to freeze it, and how long it lasts.
I regularly use freezer meals for my lunches (meal kits are great for this), but what was new to me is the concept of component ingredients.
For example, if I have cooked rice and diced chicken breast in my freezer, I can make a batch of healthy rice bowls within 15 minutes. All I need to do is toss some veggies in a pan, add the frozen ingredients, some sauce, and voila - dinner is ready.
Or if I'm making an easy meal like tacos, it becomes even easier if the taco beef is ready to go.
Bringing It All Together
Here's an example of a meal prep plan that I can cook within a 2 hour time block.
Here's my simple strategy:
Start with with the foods that take the longest to cook and easy to get started - chicken breasts, basmati rice, and whatever meal kit I'm putting in the slow cooker.
Then it's the stove-top recipes - taco beef and another meal kit for lunches.
Eventually, I have time where the food is just cooking and I work on the fresh prep.
By the time everything is cooked, I have most of the dishes done, and then it's a matter of putting things away.
Is it a busy job? Absolutely!
But way less stressful than being under time pressure, and it pays dividends during the week.
Ready to Try Time Blocking Your Meal Prep?
Reality is that we're busy and unfortunately, it's often our health that takes the hit. Food becomes an afterthought and there's no shortage of highly-processed foods to fill the gaps.
Or you're stuck in a constant cycle of trying to figure out what's for dinner.
If you're looking for a solution, time blocking your meal prep is a great place to start.