easy meal prep for busy families

Research shows that we are much more likely to form a habit if it's convenient. The less time, effort, and decision-making we have to do, the easier it is to stick with an activity we know is good for us. Never have I found this to be more true for me than in the kitchen. If I make a pan of cookie bars and they're sitting on the counter, I won't give it a second thought: I'm cutting off a square and eating it immediately. If, instead, I have fruit neatly cut up in containers or a basket of crisp red apples on the counter, I'm having a much healthier snack.

My husband and I just welcomed our third baby into the family, and life is so chaotic right now!  We didn't want to make the busyness an excuse for eating processed junk food. We want our kids to pick up healthy habits, I'm trying to lose the last of the baby weight, and my husband needs nutritious fuel for long days of teaching. We knew it would be essential for us to get our act together in order to feed our family nourishing and healthy food.

And so, we dove into the world of meal prep. It started with a few cheap, matching containers, and a few colorful bell peppers, and turned into a Sunday afternoon ritual that has transformed our weeks. It's so much easier to grab a healthy snack, making lunches goes so much faster, and having all of our decisions made ahead of time makes the week feel so much calmer. It doesn't take a genius, an expert cook, or a registered dietitian to do it. If my husband and I, two very ordinary, kind of picky, non-fancy people can learn to prep our food on a Sunday, you can, too! Let me teach you everything I've picked up along the way. Here are my top 5 tips for meal prep. Be sure to subscribe for some bonus tips and a convenient printable checklist to keep on your fridge!

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1. Use an organic produce cleaning spray. 

We would love to buy all of our produce organic, but at this stage in our lives, it's just not in the budget. A great alternative we have found is to wash all of our fruits and veggies with a certified  organic spray. Just place your produce in a colander, spray, scrub, and rinse before you chop your veggies and store them in containers. We love this one

2. Make your produce ready-to-eat

Our first step upon returning from the grocery store is to wash, chop, and store our produce. Bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, grapes, and strawberries get sliced into bite-sized pieces and stored in clear containers. Apples get washed and put in a bowl on the counter. Pineapples get sliced right away. We keep all of these on the bottom shelf of the fridge so the kids can help themselves for an afternoon snack. It's been a big hit in this house! Don't forget to put a paper towel in with your greens! Moisture is the enemy of lettuce, spinach, and kale. 

3. Make use of old produce

I have always hated wasting fruits and vegetables that we didn't get a chance to eat, but never knew what to do with them. Now we find a use for everything! Overripe bananas get peeled and stored in the freezer for smoothies, or baked in banana bread. I peel apples that are past their prime and use them in apple cinnamon mini muffins. I scan the fridge for any and all vegetables that didn't make the cut and chop and puree them with tomato sauce for spaghetti. You can store this in the fridge for up to 4 days, or keep it in the freezer for a couple months for future meals! Finally, my favorite recent hack is to blend wilting spinach with a tiny bit of water, pour it in an ice cube tray, and freeze it. I then use my spinach ice cubes for tasty green smoothies!

Check out my Tropical Green Pineapple Smoothie recipe! 

4. Plan your meals and help your future self

We do basically the same meals each week: pasta, tacos, quinoa bake or burrito bowls, meat on the grill, and breakfast for dinner. After grocery shopping, I take a look at our dinners and see what I can make ahead of time to make dinner a much smoother process. At that time of day, Justin is usually not home yet and the kids are starting to go crazy, so dinner has to be fast and simple. I throw a few chicken breasts in the crockpot, sometimes with just water, salt and pepper, sometimes with salsa, then shred it with an immersion blender. I store the shredded chicken in a container in the fridge for tacos, burrito bowls, salads, and quinoa bake. I also make up a huge batch of rice or quinoa, then store that as well. Like I mentioned above, you can also make your spaghetti sauce with hidden veggies ahead of time, then all you have to do is warm it up on the stovetop when the noodles are almost ready!

Here's my healthy pregnancy meal plan!

5. Get healthy snacks ready to grab and go!

Portion crackers or cereal into bags or small containers to make it easy to throw in lunch boxes or your purse when you're on the go. I like to make a batch of mini muffins at the beginning of the week, because I know exactly what ingredients are going in, and I make some healthy swaps to make them a bit more nutritious. Finally, I whip up some energy balls or energy bars and store them in the freezer using squeaky clean protein powder and filling ingredients like oats, maple syrup, and nut butter. 

Sign up for a printable PDF checklist to keep on your fridge, and 2 bonus tips!