large family meal prep in as little as 1 hour a day

How to meal plan and prep in 1 hour a day

Preparing food for my army

When I worked outside the home I would try and take a whole day, sometime during the month, and prep as much as I could to make cooking for the rest of the month easier.  It worked for a long time, but it was hard to carve out the time with my overnight work schedule and my husband’s college schedule after our 5th and 6th children were born.

When I got the opportunity to become a stay at home mom again, I was excited to finally get back into the groove with my meal prep, but I discovered I could only make room in our fridge and deep freezer for about 2 weeks with how our family was growing.

I still really love once a month meal planning, but I do not have the space I need to accomplish as much as I need to.

Introducing 1-hour meal prep!

I still plan our meals a month in advance, using my Pinterest account and other resources.  I just don’t buy everything all at the same time.  You can Pin these instructions Here.

Canned goods are not the problem, it’s fresh and frozen for this family of 8.  We have one fridge with the tiny freezer, and a 1/4 size chest freezer.

With gluten allergies, we have to make most of our foods from scratch unless we can be sure of the manufacturing and processing, so I season all the food ourselves, and I cannot buy sauces premixed.

My goal, Monday through Friday, is to set aside 1 hour after I homeschool the oldest children, to prep and cook.

What does this look like?

**Putting dried beans to soak, in preparation for cooking the following day.

**Batch cooking defrosted ground meat for multiple meals.

Batch cooking ground meat to freeze for use throughout the month
10lbs of ground meat cooking for the freezer

**Oven roasting chicken breasts and cubing them.

**Chopping veggies and putting them in containers for fresh eating or recipes.

A tower of gluten free pancakes for the freezer.  A quick meal on a busy morning.
16x batch of gluten-free pancakes

**Mixing bits of ingredients for that day’s lunch and dinner.

**Baking gluten-free eats for breakfasts, snacks, and dessert night.

Gluten free, dairy free baked oatmeal prepped for the freezer
Double batch of gluten free baked oatmeal for the freezer.

**Cleaning out the fridge on Leftover Day so that it is ready for all the prepped ingredients and leftovers until the next one.

Where do I start?

Carve out the time!

I watched a movie with my husband last night and the line that stuck with me was, “The only thing that has value for everyone is TIME.”

I am a busy mom of 6 with a disabled husband.  I had to learn to delegate some things to my husband that he was capable of in our homeschool so that I could have this meal planning time.  So, far, everyone is succeeding for the hour and Momma has her prep time handled!

Then, make a list of breakfasts, lunches, snacks, dinners for a week.  Then, prep what you can.  set the timer, and keep yourself busy.  When the timer goes off, clean up and stop working.

Mark off what you accomplished, and know that you accomplished something, and something is always better than nothing!

I put my leftovers in mason jar with plastic lids
Leftovers in mason jars

The 5 Steps to Menu Planning

1. Find your Medium

I look at menu planning as my monthly craft project, because if it has to be done I should enjoy something about it.  With any craft project you need to decide what you have to work with, your medium.  Pen and paper?  Word document?  An app?

It can be as complex as you want.  I have done a little of everything.  Sometimes pretty is nice, but it is not something I have to do.

2. How Many Days are you Cooking?

My weekly cooking routine is centered around leftover days.  I plan two entire days in the week where I get a break from cooking anything from scratch, my refrigerator and my wallet thank me a lot for this.  No science experiments growing in plastic containers, and less food waste.

For our family these days are planned on Sunday and Wednesday.  Then, my job is to decide if there is a chance we may be eating out (not likely with two Celiacs), or if we need to be out of town.    Most of the time I am planning for 5 days of cooking per week, or 20 days per month.  I do either weekly and monthly cooking, depending on our schedule.

3. How Many Meals are you Planning for?

I plan breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for each day I will be cooking.  Many plan just dinners and wing it on the other meals, but I find that lack of planning to be chaotic with the size of our family, and I usually end up lost and frustrated.

I plan one snack for a day for all the family members, usually an afternoon time is when it is eaten.  Sometimes we do popcorn for movie night or dessert, both are an after dinner event.

In one week I need to plan 15 meals and 7 snacks, and for one month I plan for 90 meals and 30 snacks.

4. Find your Food

I use both cookbooks (my favorties are Trim Healthy Mama, Trim Health Mama Cookbook, and Trim Healthy Table)  and Pinterest for recipes.  Our family follows the Trim Healthy Mama way of eating, along with our dietary restrictions of Celiac Disease and Lactose Intolerance.  We also have to use recipes that feed at least 8 people, sometimes we have to double or quadruple them.

We have several meals that are favorites, but we do not have a schedule for those.  We also do not do “Taco Tuesdays” or “Meatless Mondays” as themes.  My husband really enjoys variety in recipes, but we do plan a soup every day for lunch to help with time constraints and packing in the veggies for the kids.  Soup is a great sensory experience for those with sensory processing disorder too.

5. Make a List

Once you have picked your meals and snacks, make a list.  I go through meal by meal and see how many pound of chicken breast, and ground meat.  How many cups of milk, and cans of veggies.  For fresh produce I start with just enough to get us through a week, and then if I buy more it is with the intention of doing a meal prep day so that it won’t go bad before it is cooked.

Guess, what?  You did it!  Not too hard, and it can be adapted for any number of people.

~  Blessings to you ~   



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