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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Weekly Meal Prep and Freezer Stash 101

Meal Prep 101

If you follow me over on Instagram, you know that I live and die by meal prepping. I wholeheartedly believe it's the foundation to healthy eating, especially for those of us with busy, on-the-go lifestyles. Meal prep is the reason my family has healthy food (typically) three meals a day. This post kind of dives into two sides of my meal prep strategy: my weekly prep (what I do every single week to get ahead) and busy season freezer load up (what I do for postpartum food prep or to keep some freezer staples). 

Why Meal Prep?

I don't think I need to go into it here but in case you need the reminder, going out to breakfast/lunch/dinner or even grabbing those premade meals from your local bistro to bring home typically means that meal is an unhealthier options. They taste so good because they use a whole lot more butter, oil, sugar, salt etc than you typically would at home. The food is richer and you have zero control about the ingredients, where they are sourced, and what preservatives are used. And that convenience factor? It comes at a high cost. A recent study concluded that Americans go out for a meal (sit down dinner or lunch on the go) 5.9 times a week at the cost of about $3,000 a year. It's a lot but I personally think that number is much higher for most of us. There is also a significant value in sitting down as a family for a meal at the end of the day and meal prep makes that possible on the busiest of weeks. The other big piece of the puzzle no one really talks about is the dishes. If you do your meal prep at once, you make one "big" mess (but far less of a mess than you would making dinner each day). By meal prepping, you can reuse bowls, cutting boards, pans and what not which really lets you cruise through the week. 

How - Do it or Double Up 

One strategy is to just dedicate one day to creating as many meals as you can. If you want to build a postpartum stash, you can set aside one day a week the last month or so of your pregnancy. If this all feels really overwhelming to you, there is an easy way to build a freezer stash without spending a day cooking meals you don't even get to eat that day. Pick a meal prep friendly recipe for dinner tonight and double or triple it. It usually involves very little extra work. Example: Make chicken pot pie for dinner tonight but make three... one for tonight, two for the freezer. 

But First - Freezer Prep

Trust me on this one thing...before you go Gordon Ramsey in the kitchen, dedicate an afternoon to cleaning out and organizing your freezer. Ditch the old and frostbitten food you forgot about, organize what you have by type and date, label everything, and give the freezer a good clean. I did this for both my regular kitchen drawer style freezer and the chest freezer in the basement. 

Chest Freezers

So you have a freezer in your kitchen, do you need an additional appliance? The easy answer (especially if you have kids) is yes, you need both. Not only do you need the room, but chest freezers do a better job of keeping your food at one consistent temperature which is really important for food safety (especially for breast milk if you are an expecting mom-to-be). Your freezer drawer in the kitchen likely gets opened several times a day which is the reason for the more inconsistent temperature regulation than your occasionally opened chest freezer.

Shopping List

There are a few staples you will need to get started. I highly recommend the following:
  • Freezer ziplock bags
  • Sandwich size ziplock bags
  • Freezer safe saran wrap 
  • Foil
  • Permanent markers
  • Foil trays/baking dishes

How To Preserve

How you store your food in the fridge and freezer is really important. For items in the fridge, it's the basics you and I already know. Keep things sealed, air tight, and in a section of the fridge that is more temperature controlled (try to avoid the doors). For the freezer, the biggest thing is keeping out air any way you can. For larger casseroles, add a layer of seran wrap under the foil wrap. For food in ziplock bags, try to get as much air out as possible. For wraps and burritos, individually wrap before adding into a ziplock bag to further protect from frostbite.  

Make sure you label and date everything. You think you will remember but I promise you, you will not. Date and label everything and try to layer it in your freezer with the newer items on the bottom, and the "older" items that need to be eaten first on top. The general rule is about 3 months for food from fresh to frozen to meal. I also use a checklist that I tape to my freezer and cross off the items as I pull them out of the freezer. Certain recipes have specific ways to thaw but for the most part, I pull out the item I need the day before and pop it in the fridge. The list is key for knowing what is actually in your freezer (especially if it's a chest freezer in the garage) and for not letting any food go to waste. 

Meal Prep Weekly Basics

I am a big fan of weekly meal prep and I stick to the same basics every week. Either Sunday or Monday, I dedicate an hour or two to getting myself organized and prepped for the week. It sounds daunting but it quickly becomes another part of your weekly routine and truly saves you so much time (and dishes, don't forget the dishes). Here's what my typical weekly prep looks like


Wash, cut, recontainer fruit for easy to grab snacks for Whitney and I. I do a simple soak for my fruit with a mix of vinegar and water. I then rinse, drain in a colander, and throw in a tupperware container with paper towels. I'll cut a few things for Whitney (halve grapes, cut a mango, etc). It just makes sense to wash all your fruit right away and at once. 

Prepped Salads

This is the most helpful thing I do for myself and for Adam. It takes about 20 minutes but I grab my containers, portion out a large container of organic greens, and chop my veggies. Peel and dice a carrot, chop an onion, halve cherry tomatoes, slice up a mushroom, and add on a hard boiled egg. I then portion out dressing in individual containers and I'm 90 percent there.  All I have to do the morning of is heat up a chicken patty from the freezer. I make these on a Sunday or Monday and they truly stay fresh all week. It's a game changer for each healthy lunches. 

Hard Boiled Eggs

People really don't give enough credit to the hard boiled egg. I add them to salads, chop them up for egg salad on toast for breakfast, and just grab one or two on the go for a quick high protein snack. They are self contained, super easy, versatile, and pretty filling. I boil up a dozen every single week. 

Pancakes, Waffles, or Muffins

This one is for Whitney but it's the most important one. Whitney wakes up and immediately goes to his high chair. Within five minutes of opening his eyes, he demands his breakfast. This means that I need something FAST for mornings with Whitney, especially when he's up by 6:30. I either make a batch of waffles, pancakes, or muffins that I can quickly pop in the microwave and give to him for breakfast with fruit and a hard boiled egg. For pancakes, I put about two in a ziplock bag and either put the in the fridge overnight or pop one in the microwave for 20 seconds from frozen the morning of. For waffles, I just pop one under the broiler/toaster right from frozen. 

Mains and Sides

I keep this weekly meal prep really simple. To get ahead for the week, I try to prep a few sides and mains to make weeknight cooking as quick as possible. This usually includes making a large batch of rice or quinoa for the week, roasting or atleast prepping some veggies (wash, cut, container), and planning out proteins. I like to cook the proteins fresh that night but sometimes I will roast some tofu, cook some chicken, or bake some salmon for salads. 

Freezer Meals (long term prep)

It's important to distinguish the weekly meal prep (the simple meals/snacks I make every week to set us up for success) versus a stash of meals and snacks in the freezer for when life gets a little crazy. With both pregnancies, I really spent some time creating a steady supply of healthy meals and snacks that I could freeze and pull out fast while we adjusted to life with a newborn. I also prep meals and snacks for the weeks I just don't feel like cooking, when we have busy weekday plans, or during the holidays when you just want to throw a lasagna in the oven. 

Meal prepped frozen dinners get all the glory but breakfast is a big one. If you have a busy (and early) start to your work day or you are navigating postpartum life with a newborn, prepped breakfast and snacks are key. Some staples I focus on for breakfast meal prep are making a batch of "sweets" (pancakes, waffles, or muffins) and making a batch or two of "savory" (breakfast sandwiches, breakfast burritos, frittatas, and quiches).

Basic Quiche Recipe (add in whatever veg/protein you have in your fridge that week) - quiche is great for breakfast, lunch and dinner, cold or hot. I typically freeze the entire quiche (pre baked or raw). You can freeze individual slices but I like the have the quiche around for a few days to use as a meal with salad or quick snack. 

Basic Fritatta Recipe (add in whatever veg/protein you have in your fridge that week) - I make these when I don't want all the fat/calories from the crust. I'll throw a slice in a breakfast sandwich or eat it with toast and fruit. Sometimes I cook it in a cast iron and sometimes just bake in a square glass dish. I like to individually wrap and freeze a few squares. 

Breakfast Burritos - For a more filling breakfast, I make a batch of burritos that I throw in the freezer for when I need a one handed breakfast (CRUCIAL for newborn life). I thaw these in the microwave and serve with fresh salsa that day. I switch these up with different recipes all the time but just made a batch of these. Individually wrap and freeze. 

Egg Cups - Use a muffin tin to make some scrambled egg cups. Add in whatever veggies/proteins you have on hand that week. I freeze a batch of 2-3 in a ziplock bag. This recipe has some great mix ins. 

Breakfast Sandwiches - These are my lighter one handed breakfasts. I use an english muffin, a turkey sausage patty, an egg or egg whites, and usually try to throw in some spinach. A little spread of pesto and some cheese finish off this delicious breakfast. Individually wrap and freeze. 

Muffins (whatever variety you are craving, blueberry, banana, pumpkin, etc) - these make a great snack on the go. I'll make these in a normal muffin size and mini muffin size. Flash freeze these open on a tray and then transfer to a large ziplock bag where you can easily grab one or a few at a time. There are a hundred recipes, find your favorite and freeze. 

Granola - I make a batch to eat as a snack or mix in yogurt for breakfast/snack options. I find that it holds pretty well in a dry container in the pantry. I just made a batch of honey cardamom granola from the Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow cookbook

Banana Bread or Pumpkin Loaf - a "snacking loaf" that I pre slice and individually freeze. You can grab one on the go or thaw out a few for the week. You can make these as healthy as you want (a no sugar added banana variety and sub applesauce for oil) or as indulgent as you want (a full sugar, full oil, delicious treat like the Starbucks Copycat Pumpkin Loaf). 


Lunches are one of the harder items to "meal prep". I will typically use one of my breakfast options like a slice of quiche with a salad or a breakfast burrito. I will also make a batch of soup and instead of freezing in one large portion, freeze out in individually lunch portions in smaller ziplocks bags. Another good lunch option is something like a portioned out curry, or some frozen cooked protein you can quickly heat up and throw on some greens. Here's a fun "sandwich" option: 

Ham and cheese pinwheels - Make as directed, freeze a tray. Quick and easy one handed lunch you can pair with a side salad/greens.

Dinner items are your typical "postpartum meal prep" items you find on pinterest or the internet. They typically consist of a variety of soups, stews, and pasta bakes. I find they are typically really heavy and carb focused so I tried to include a few options that boosted up the veg and protein as well.

Soups (chicken noodle, split pea, chili, broccoli cheddar). I also made a batch of homemade bread that I froze slices of to go with the soups. You can freeze the entire batch in one large ziplock bag which saves a ton of space (freeze flat in a ziplock bag and it makes it much easier to store). You can also freeze individual portions in smaller ziplock bags (I do both).

Chicken Pot Pie - There are so many recipes out there. Freeze the entire pie and serve with a salad (bonus leftovers for lunch).

Pasta Bakes - There are a ton of options for pasta bakes out there. Sometimes I'll do a lasagna, stuffed shells, lasagna roll ups, or some kind of pasta/veggie bake. Lately, I've been making this one pan no boil pumpkin sausage ziti bake and add in spinach for some greens.

Meatballs - I opt for turkey meatballs, and I throw in a ton of veggies. Veggies can be hard to come by in freezer meals so I sneak them in whenever I can. I froze these on a tray and then combined into one large ziplock bag. I will pull out however many I need at a time and likely serve them over pasta with marinara or with buffalo sauce and rice. Here is the turkey meatball recipe I used. 

Mini/Muffin Meatloafs - Using a muffin tray to make mini perfectly portioned meatloaves is actually genius. They are perfect as a high protein snack, or pull out a few at a time to serve with a carb and veg for dinner. I treat them like meatballs, flash freeze on a tray and then combine into a larger ziplock bag. I made a batch with bison and a batch with grass fed and finished ground beef. Here is a mini muffin tin meatloaf recipe

Hash/Roasted Potatoes - I quickly realized I was going to need a few sides for an easy option to add to some of the proteins I had already prepped. I cut, soaked, dried, and roasted potatoes that I then let cool and froze - easy and delicious. 

Rice/Quinoa/Pasta - Truth be told, this is one thing I decided not to meal prep. As busy as life may be, I think I can quickly boil some rice, pasta, or quinoa to add to one of the proteins above. 

Salad/Veggies - The same goes for veggies and salad. For obvious reason, freezing certain veggies and sides can be quite challenging and I'm choosing to worry about this as I go. There are so many kits out there that make it really easy. You can find salad kits, veggie stir fry kits, pre chopped and prepped veggies, and much more. Pick your battles and feel free to leave a few things for the "day of". 

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