I’m not a big “meal prepper,” but yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon planning meals, shopping, and cooking. My husband was shocked. He was pleased, of course, because now he doesn’t have to scrounge in the fridge to find lunch for work each day…but nevertheless, he was shocked.
And honestly, although I hate eating the same thing for days and days at a time, I think I’m a #mealprep convert. I managed to prepare FIVE different dishes that we will eat throughout this week. Some of them are fully cooked, ready to be reheated, while others are ready to be put in the oven or dumped in the crock pot for fresh-tasting dinners.
- Honey Mustard Chicken
- Fajita-style Chicken
- “Lasagna” Stuffed Shells (with a freezer bonus!)
- Beef Stew
- Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry
The Plan of Attack
Here’s the shopping list and tentative meal plan I made before I went to the grocery store.
I ended up having to make a few changes because Trader Joe’s was characteristically JAM-PACKED and therefore out of a few things I wanted, like flank steak. That’s okay though, because I was in a creative mood.
Nothing complicated here. Just produce, dairy, meat, and eggs. I tried to keep things as simple and whole-food focused as possible. My husband would love to eat 100% Paleo, but I adore cheese and, more importantly, I hate strict food rules. They make me want to rebel and eat ALL THE SUGARY THINGS. This is our compromise.
In addition to the groceries pictured above, I had some things in the fridge, freezer, and pantry that I wanted to use up, including: a box of jumbo shell pasta, a jar and a quarter of spaghetti sauce, a pound of grass-fed ground beef, four chicken breasts, an egg white (I only needed the yolk for a previous recipe), a bag of frozen bell peppers and onions, and frozen brown rice. I also have a well-stocked spice cabinet, so I didn’t need to buy any of those items.
Dish One: “Lasagna” Stuffed Shells
After unpacking my grocery haul, this is the first thing I made. I didn’t really use a recipe because I was using up bits of random things, but here’s what I did:
- Put a pot of water on the stove. Once it was boiling, add the pasta and cook for 9 minutes. Meanwhile…
- Brown the ground beef with a TON of dried basil (probably 2-3 tablespoons, but I didn’t measure), plus some dried onion, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
- Add a little bit of spaghetti sauce to the meat (I used the random third of a jar of Thrive Market Vodka Sauce that I had in the fridge). Simmer for 5 minutes or so.
- In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses. Again, I didn’t measure, but for both pans shown above, I used 16 oz of ricotta, 12 oz of shredded mozzarella, and about 3/4 of a cup of Parmesan. Most recipes call for a whole egg to be added to this mixture, but I used up the random egg white that was in the fridge instead. Add salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp of each).
- Pour about one-third of a jar of spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish (I used Thrive Market Sicilian Gravy for this part–no added sugar!!). Stuff shells with a spoonful of the cheese mixture and a spoonful of the meat mixture. Arrange on top of the sauce, then cover with more spaghetti sauce and some extra cheese.
At this point, I put the sauce-covered baking dish in the fridge. Tonight, I’ll throw it in the oven at 350 degrees for a little under an hour. Tomorrow, I’ll bring leftover stuffed shells for lunch.
As you can see from the photo, I had some extra cheese mixture and extra pasta shells. Since I didn’t have enough sauce or meat to make more of the same kind, I left them plain and stored them in the freezer. Next week (or perhaps the week after), I’ll douse these plain shells in marinara sauce, sprinkle with cheese, and bake.
Dish Two: Honey Mustard Chicken
Remember how I said that my husband would eat 100% Paleo if given the choice? He can also eat the same thing every single day for lunch and be totally fine with it. Lucky guy. He appreciates a little variety, though, so even though he will be eating chicken and raw veggies for lunch every day this week, I figured I would make two different chicken recipes. The first one, pictured above, is one of my childhood favorites, and I may have snuck a bite as I was packing up his containers.
Here’s the recipe:
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/8 cup prepared mustard (preferably deli-style brown mustard, like Gulden’s)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp curry powder
- Chicken breasts (I used two boneless, skinless breasts this time, but you could stretch the sauce to make as many as four.)
Combine all ingredients in the bottom of a baking dish. Stir to coat the chicken. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, basting every 15 minutes or so.
Dish Three: Fajita-style Chicken
This was a super-easy one. No recipe needed.
- Cut up the chicken breasts (mine were still frozen, but that’s totally fine!) and brown the pieces in a pan with a tablespoon of oil or ghee (I used 4th & Heart California Garlic Ghee Butter from Thrive Market).
- Add taco seasoning. I used a packet from Trader Joe’s this time, but you could use whatever you prefer. There’s a recipe for a homemade seasoning mix in this post. Stir to coat.
- Add chopped bell peppers and onions. I used about half a bag of pre-cut peppers and onions, also from Trader Joe’s.
Dish Four: Beef Stew
I based this on my mom’s beef stew recipe, but I didn’t have all the ingredients she normally uses, so I made a simplified version.
Here’s her recipe:
- 1 lb stew meat, coated in flour and seared on all sides
- 1 beef bullion cube
- 16 oz tomatoes
- 3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped
- 1-2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 1/2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1/2-3/4 cup water
- 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp sugar, 1 bay leaf
Combine all ingredients in a crock pot and cook on low for 8-10 hours.
I won’t be making this until Thursday, so I prepared some of the ingredients and put them in the freezer bag shown above:
- 1.25 lbs stew meat, coated in corn starch (I was out of flour) and seared
- 15 oz can of tomatoes
- 3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup frozen pearl onions (no chopping needed!)
- half a bag of baby carrots (no chopping needed!)
- 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp sugar
On Thursday morning, I will add:
- A cup of beef broth
- A bay leaf
- 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped (I probably could have done this yesterday, but I honestly just forgot them.)
This will go in the slow cooker for 8-10 hours on low. About 30 minutes before serving, I will add about 1 cup of frozen green peas. They don’t need to cook all day; they become discolored and break apart if they cook too long.
Dish Five: Beef and Broccoli Stir-Fry
By the time I got to this dish, I was getting pretty tired, so I took a big shortcut and, consequently, I don’t have a real recipe, but here’s what I did:
- Coat shaved beef (I purchased it pre-sliced from Trader Joe’s) with a mixture of 2 Tbsp of cornstarch, 2 Tbsp of water, and 1/2 tsp of garlic powder.
- Stir-fry the beef in a teaspoon of ghee until cooked through. Remove from pan and keep warm.
- Add broccoli, pearl onions, salt, and pepper to the pan. Stir-fry for another 3-5 minutes, then add a tablespoon of water and cover to steam broccoli.
- Add the beef back into the pan along with sauce. This is where I took the shortcut. There are lots of recipes for stir-fry sauces on the internet, but I just used 3 Tablespoons of soy sauce and a packet of sauce left over from a package of Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken.
FINALLY! I packed everything away and washed all the dishes. All in all, there were a few great things about meal prepping that have me motivated to do it all again next week:
1. I was able to use up random things (like the egg white and the leftover sauce packet) that had been languishing in my fridge.
2. I realized that I don’t need to follow complicated recipes all the time. I know it doesn’t make for the most useful blog post, but it’s nice to realize that recipes–unless they are for baked goods–are only guidelines.
3. I was able to re-use pans, knives, and cooking utensils with just a quick rinse between dishes. I only had to truly wash them one time, and I will have WAY fewer dishes to do throughout the week.
Do you like to meal prep? What are your go-to dishes? Tell me about it in the comments.