Most Sundays, I spend a little time during L's afternoon nap prepping veggies for the weeknight meals ahead. I've gotten a lot of questions about this, so I thought I'd share some details to help anyone who might be interested in trying this method out. I know that spending part of your weekend chopping vegetables might not sound exactly appealing, but I've found that the benefits far outweigh the downsides—and on a good day, I can get 5 meals prepped in about 45 minutes.
Here are 5 reasons why I do weekend meal prep—and how you can do it too.
1. Saves time during the week.
I mostly work at home so I pretty much have all of the advantages when it comes to getting dinner on the table, but there are still the normal challenges—time, afternoon activities, and motivation. And of course the little ones needing attention at that time of the day. When the veggies are already prepped and chopped, all you have to do is to dump them into a pan or baking sheet and add some heat.
2. Reduce food waste (and grocery spending).
One of the biggest challenges we have with veggies is that if something gets lost in the crisper (or just winds up at the back of the drawer), we tend to forget about it. When I give everything a purpose at the outset of the week, it means that we actually stand a chance of not wasting what we've paid good money to enjoy.
3. Take back control of meals.
I have only been planning out our weekly meals for about a year, but knowing what we're going to have each night is such a comfort because it saves me mental energy at the end of the day. I know what needs to be done ahead of time and my husband and I can talk about who's doing what in terms of cooking. And when a component of the meal is already ready, it makes everything easier.
4. Keep your veggies fresh.
The biggest question I get about doing this sort of thing is whether the food stays fresh. I'd argue that this is a better way to store your food than in the original packaging, which can have a lot of excess moisture (which can cause mold). The key is that you need to thoroughly dry the produce to ensure that mold isn't an issue and in the case of leafy greens, it can also help to line the container with a paper towel for extra insurance against moisture. I mostly use wide-mouth mason jars for storage, but anything can work as long as it's air tight. I typically prep on Sunday for meals through Thursday night. In the months that I've been doing this, I've never had an issue with veggies going bad. (I don't recommend pre-chopping sweet potatoes since they will brown.)
5. Think through your meals without being distracted by little people.
One of the biggest challenges when feeding toddlers is providing variety so that our little ones get the nutrients they need and so that they eat a nice range of foods. One of the ways that I make this easier is to lay out all of the veggies and divide things up throughout the week. This ensures that I'm not grabbing a bag of frozen peas three nights in a row (though I do often turn to peas in a pinch!) and it means that if the topic of what we're having for dinner comes up, I know exactly what to tell my daughter. She does better when she has a little time to process what's coming, especially if it's new or unexpected, and I like that I've already committed to the ingredients so I can encourage her to enjoy dinner. The more variety you can build into your family meals, the better your toddler will be at eating a variety of foods!