Between helping with insane amounts of homework and shuttling two tweens to all of the activities of their overcommitted schedules, who has time to cook a nice dinner? Definitely not me. I also have a full-time job, so time is precious--especially between the hours between 5-10pm. Back in the old days (before Nathan and I had to eat gluten free) we would order a pizza or stop by a fast food establishment and grab a greasy burger between events or on the way home. Not anymore. Our little Mississippi town has ZERO celiac-safe dining options, so dining at home is our only option. Meal Prep Sunday is what I have found that works best for our gluten-free family.
Almost every week, I wake up a couple of hours before the kids and start preparing meals for the upcoming busy weeknights, but having a plan is the first step. On Saturday mornings, I look at the calendar to see which events, projects and testing are listed, then set the menu from there. I also consider what's on sale at the grocery store when making the menu. I try to save time AND money whenever I can.
Create a menu and shopping list
Planning ahead with a menu and shopping list (or checking to see what's already in the freezer and pantry) are the first essential steps to the success of Meal Prep Sunday. There's nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of cooking five meals and have brownies in the oven when you realize you don't have an onion in the house and the kids are asleep so you can't run to the grocery store. I prefer to have everything I need before I get started cooking. I also seek input on the menu from my husband and kids. Everyone gets to suggest menu items which takes the stress of "what's for dinner?" out of my way.
Make both ready-to-eat meals and faster-to-cook meals on Sundays
I prepare complete meals ready to heat and eat, but I also plan for other meals by prepping ingredients to save time on nights when we have menu items that are better prepared on the day they'll be eaten. For example, soup or chili reheats well and takes just a few minutes to get from stove to table, while reheated gluten-free pasta isn't our favorite. I would make the pasta sauce on Sunday to save time, then I would only have to reheat the sauce while cooking the pasta on the night we eat it. Washing, chopping and pre-measuring fruits and vegetables and pre-seasoning meat on Meal Prep Sunday saves a lot of time on busy weeknights.
Make more than one meal with the same main ingredients
I try to plan menu items with the same ingredients that can be used for more than one meal. For example, this week I'm making chili, tacos, chicken and rice soup and BBQ chicken sandwiches. I browned enough ground beef at one time to make both chili and tacos. I was able to buy one big package of chicken breast (with bone and skin) to make both chicken recipes. I boiled chicken which also gave me broth for tonight's soup, and I pre-seasoned the other chicken which is now ready to put in the slow cooker in the morning before work. The only prep work I'll have tomorrow is plugging in the slow cooker, then shredding the chicken with a fork when I get home. I'll put some fries in my Kalorik air fryer, toast the gluten-free Kinnickinick buns, and dinner is served!
If you have a great recipe that freezes well, double or triple the recipe, then freeze the leftovers for future meals. We often use frozen chili, soup and sauces when we travel, or on busy weeks when we don't have a chance to meal prep.
Lunch Box Life Savers
Prepping lunch for the week also is a huge time saver! Prewashing grapes, celery, carrots, etc. and putting them in individual baggies makes lunch packing faster and healthier. For the kids' lunches, we keep a plastic over-the-door-shoe organizer in the pantry to store the daily lunchbox contents. I'll buy gluten-free granola bars, chips, fruit snacks, cookies and drinks and put them in the individual packs in the organizer for the entire week to make daily lunch packing faster. The kids know to just grab the contents from the "Monday" pocket on Sunday night to get the lunchbox ready. Depending on what we had for dinner the night before, we will either reheat and put leftovers in a hot food container or make a sandwich on gluten-free bread for the main dish. My husband and I prefer leftovers or salads for lunch and are more likely to eat fruit and veggies if they are ready to eat.
Well, I can't help you with snacks. I often make gluten-free brownies or cupcakes on Meal Prep Sunday, but sadly, all of the brownie and goodies are consumed Monday. Eleven-year-old boys can eat a lot!
Meal Prep Sunday takes some planning and effort, but once I got the hang of it, I can't imagine not spending a couple of hours on one day to get meals ready for an entire week. It really frees up my evenings so I can help with homework and participate in other activities.
Need some fresh menu ideas? The Gluten Intolerance Group offers a 4-week meal plan complete with shopping lists and recipes. (click here for link). Also follow me on Facebook and Instagram at gfreegenius to see what's on my dinner table!
What's on your Meal Prep Sunday menu? Share your ideas!