Your morning starts before the sun wakes up. Maybe you’re lucky enough to get a cup of coffee before racing out the door, kids in toe. After getting them to school, you settle in to start your own work day.
Before you know it, it’s 4pm and you start to wonder what’s for dinner… or rather, what you’re going to throw together because everyone else is going to be wondering what’s for dinner.
What if there was an easier way?
What if meal prep and planning didn’t have to take up your whole weekend or involve towers of pre-portioned plastic containers? What if you could make a variety of simple healthy dinners, use leftovers as lunch, and save money – AND TIME – while doing it?
Do I have your attention?
Enter…. “cook once, eat all week”.
Inspired by Cassy Joy Garcia’s book: Cook Once, Eat All Week, I have adopted a simple system. It consists of preparing 3-4 staple carbs and proteins in combination with fast veggie options to create delicious balanced dinners the whole family will enjoy.
Using the same principles, you can also create simple budget-friendly breakfasts and lunches to simplify your morning routine.
Here are my top 3 prep tips plus bonus recipes and lunchbox ideas:
Tip 1: Easy Meal Prep
When it comes to meal prep, the first thing I focus on is preparing easy proteins and healthy carbs. These require the most time and are more likely to be swapped out for processed versions when you are tired and unprepared.
Here are some protein prep ideas:
- Buy a rotisserie chicken. Shred the meat and store in a container to be used in meals throughout the week. If you want a healthier version, you can buy a whole chicken and make one in the Instant Pot. See recipe here.
- Pre-cook 2 pounds of ground beef or turkey. I prefer the Costco ground turkey. Pan fry with garlic, pepper, and salt. Store in a glass container to be used later in the week or as a simple breakfast protein.
- Hard boil a dozen eggs. This can be done in an Instant Pot or on the stove. You can also buy a countertop egg cooker if you are short on time and want a no-hassle option.
Here are some healthy carb ideas:
- Prepare 2-3 cups of brown rice or quinoa. These can be served as sides with pesto, pasta sauce, peanut sauce, butter, etc. or act as a base for taco or roasted veggie bowls.
- Pre-slice and cube starchy carbs like sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, etc. and store in an airtight container. When you are ready to cook, place on cookie sheet, massage with extra virgin olive oil, and bake at 385 degrees (top rack).
- Prepare a large batch of steel cut oats or cracked oats. My kids enjoy oatmeal chunks with cinnamon and almond butter drizzled on top as part of their breakfast. You can also add water and reheat. Favorite oatmeal mix-ins: frozen berries, hemp or chia seeds, and almond butter.
- I like to have a variety of noodles with different ingredients stocked in my pantry. Some of our favorite brands are Banza chickpea noodles, Lotus Foods brown rice and millet ramen, or a regular whole wheat noodle.
Tip 2: Simplified Veggies
When it comes to veggies, you want low-mess and something your kids will actually eat. Here are some of our favorites and easy ways to prep veggies and make them accessible:
- Cook from FROZEN! Next time you are at Costco, Sam’s Club, or your favorite local grocery store, grab a big bag of frozen stir fry veggies or cauliflower. When you are ready to eat, fill a cookie sheet with frozen veggies and massage 1 – 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil and sea salt onto the veggies. Roast in the oven at 385 degrees on the top rack until browned.
- Buy in bulk, pre-rinse, slice, and store. My favorite bulk veggies include: broccoli, asparagus, green beans, and brussel sprouts. All of these cook well with root veggies and can be roasted using the same method above.
- My favorite grab-and-go options for healthy, easy snacking include: baby bell peppers, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, beets (just beets pre-cooked brand), cucumbers, etc.
Tip 3: Healthy Plated Portions
One of the things I learned early on in my health journey is the importance of eating real food, in balance, with appropriate portions.
As a rule of thumb, I try to include a carb, protein, and some fat at every meal. This is especially important for kids. I notice a huge difference in attitude and hunger levels if every meal includes something from each main food group.
My goal is to serve veggies at every meal and fruit during snacks, but that doesn’t always happen. And if you are struggling with a picky eater, this can be an even greater challenge.
Try this tip: Serve fruits and veggies in their natural, whole form and keep offering. A cup of sliced apples has 12 grams of natural sugar, whereas a cup of apple chips has 30 grams. Kids may need 20+ exposures to a food before they are willing to try it. Keep offering but don’t force.
Every person is different, every body is different, every age, every gender. Teaching yourself and your kids to listen to their hunger and not praise or downplay one food group over another helps establish a long term healthy relationship with food.
BONUS: Lunch Box Tips
For all our mommas out there with school-age kids, here are some bonus lunch box tips I’ve put together just for you!
- Stick to whole real foods instead of prepackaged and processed.
- Watch sugar content. According to the AHA, children should have no more than 12-15 grams of added sugar in a day. (This includes things like honey and maple syrup.)
- Pack something from every food group: Carb, Fat, Protein, Veggie, Fruit.
- Here are my favorite ideas:
Carbs: Whole wheat bread with nut butter and sliced fruit, pasta, brown rice, whole wheat wrap with real food ingredients.
Fat: Nuts, olives, pesto, cheese, avocado.
Protein: plain greek yogurt with pears and cinnamon, less sugar yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, nitrite-free deli meat, rotisserie chicken with sauce, cubed turkey.
Veggies: snap peas, baby carrots, baby bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and carrots.
Fruit: Various – find their favorites and serve often!
The main thing to focus on when it comes to preparing simple meals for your family is using whole food ingredients and prepping ahead when you can. Not only will you end up eating more balanced meals, but you will stay full longer and be more likely to stick to a budget.
Easy Recipes For You
Wanna give it a try? Here are 4 simple dinners you can prep once and eat all week.
Harvest Chicken & Roasted Veggie Buddha Bowl:
1 cup prepared rotisserie chicken
2 – 3 large sweet potatoes, pre-cubed
1 pound pre-sliced brussel sprouts
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp almond butter or no salt peanut butter
3 Tbsp water
2.5 Tbsp coco aminos or low sodium soy sauce
- Dump brussels and sweet potatoes onto a cookie sheet. I like to line with a silicone baking mat first for easy clean up. Massage with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast on top rack at 385 degrees until browned.
- Reheat shredded chicken in a frying pan or oven.
- Prep sauce: Whisk together nut butter, water, and coco aminos. I prefer coco aminos to soy sauce because it’s a little sweeter (and it’s gluten-free if that’s a necessity). I also like the sweetness of almond butter, but you can experiment to find out what you prefer.
- To assemble, combine roasted veggies and chicken and drizzle with prepared sauce. Immediately pack leftovers for lunches the next day.
Spaghetti and Meat Sauce with Hidden Veggies
1 pound pre-cut & rinsed green beans
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 box whole wheat, brown rice, chickpea, or lentil pasta
Drizzle of avocado oil
1 package of frozen riced cauliflower
1 pound prepared ground turkey
1 jar of pasta sauce*
- Dump green beans on a cookie sheet. I like to line with a silicone baking mat first for easy clean up. Massage with 1 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast on top rack at 385 degrees until browned.
- Cook pasta as directed.
- Heat skillet. Add a drizzle of avocado oil and rice cauliflower. Cook until lightly browned. Add in pasta sauce and prepared ground meat. Cook until warm.
- Portion plate with green beans, a small serving of pasta, and meat sauce on top.
*Note: When choosing a healthy pasta sauce, look for real food ingredients and spices. Avoid soybean oil, canola oil, and added sugars.
Easy Chicken Fajitas
1 Tbsp avocado oil
1 – 2 cups prepared rotisserie chicken
2 – 3 bell peppers, pre-sliced into strips
½ an onion, pre-sliced into strips
2 – 3 cups prepared brown rice
*Plain greek yogurt
- Heat 1 T of avocado oil in a frying pan. Add bell peppers and onion. Season with favorite seasonings. I use garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, and salt. Cook until browned.
- Remove veggies and reheat chicken. Add extra seasonings if desired.
- Reheat rice.
- To serve add ½ cup rice to each bowl and top with chicken, veggies, guac, salsa, and cheese. *Plain greek yogurt makes a great healthy sour cream if desired.
Easiest Ever Ground Turkey and Cabbage Stir-Fry
1 Tbsp avocado oil
5-6 thinly sliced large carrots prepared
½ head of green cabbage pre-sliced in strips
1 pound prepared ground turkey (or you can cook day of)
Prepared brown rice or quinoa
- Heat a large skillet and add 1 Tbsp avocado oil. Add cabbage and carrots and drizzle with coco aminos or low sodium soy sauce. Cook until wilted.
- Add prepped turkey. Cook until warm. If you want to cook the turkey the day of, remove the veggies and cook the turkey in the same pan with garlic powder, salt, and coco aminos.
- Combine all ingredients and serve as is or over prepared quinoa, brown rice, or roasted sweet potatoes. I like to add some sauerkraut and avocados on top. Put leftovers away for lunch.
About the Author…
Mary is a former middle school math teacher turned SAHM & wellness blogger. She is mom to two, kids ages 3 and 5 and lives in Arizona with her husband who is a “homesteader in training”.
Most days you’ll find her with her 3 year old by her side, at Costco sharing label reading nutrition tips, or with her husband and daughter tending their garden and bees. She LOVES cooking, the smell of coffee, and will find a lesson in every trial.
You can follow Mary on instagram here where she helps women build strong bodies, gain confidence in the kitchen, and use their story to impact others.