There is literally no reason to be afraid of meal prep. But we so are! We cringe at the idea of spending a beautiful Sunday afternoon prepping for the week - even when we know it makes the week go so much more smoothly! Truth - I hate it too. But you know what I hate more? That "Ugh what am I going to make for dinner tonight?" question in the car on the way home that prompts a trip to the store or restaurant when I really just want to go home. So here are my hacks for a planned week without the Sunday blues.

I like to make a plan over coffee on Saturday morning. I sit down with my schedule and a piece of paper. Sometimes I use a fancy template, a full-blown meal plan and shopping list like I provide to my challengers in our private group OR I'll chicken scratch a quick plan and shopping list to take to the store/use for my online order.

The key is to just take a bit to plan what you are going to eat. This will allow you to only buy the groceries you need and to plan meals that use the same ingredients. Like shredded chicken tacos and pulled chicken sandwiches in the same week.

Leftovers are Life

When you are doing your meal planning - plan to make a double batch of dinner. Buy enough ingredients to make it - then pack up a couple of servings for you (and a partner if they loved it, too!) to enjoy at lunch later that week. Toss one in a freezer if you have a lot extra for an extra busy week.

Bonus Hack #1- keep a running list on your fridge to write down what you put in the freezer and cross it off when you eat it. Also label the containers with what it is and the date to avoid the mystery lunch. (cute notepad optional)

Bonus Hack #2 - Buy a bag of mixed greens and keep a bottle of salad dressing at work.  You can pack the small salad to go with lunch! #veggiesmost

Work Once - Eat Twice! 

Whenever you get around to making a sandwich, grabbing an apple, and some cheese & baby carrots for a simple brown bag lunch - just pack 2 lunches! It takes just a minute or 2 more to pack 2 lunches, and it saves you so much time the next day! One of the biggest indicators of successful people is to plan ahead like this to maximize time.  Boom - you are successful AF!

Bonus Hack #3 - Pack Smoothie Bags. I learned this little stand up the baggie trick when I go to a popular meal-prep kitchen here in the Twin Cities.  It's magic!  Just like making 2 lunches, I set up a little assembly line of these cool green holders and baggies. Then, as I'm making my first shake for the week, I fill the bags with the same ingredients and pop them in the freezer. I do 4 ice cubes, a banana broken up into pieces, a handful of spinach, a tsp of almond butter, and a scoop of cafe latte Shakeology. Boom boom down the line. Then pop those baggies in the freezer! Each morning, I simply pull out a baggie - break it up by throwing it to the floor (actually gentler than banging it since I don't want to break the baggie) and pour it into my ninja cup.  I add my liquid. Almond milk, coffee & water - and blend.  Makes the hectic mornings just a little less hectic! And I don't have to wash 5 almond butter spoons that week!

Keep it simple! 

Don't forget that adults can eat "Lunchables" too! Pretty sure we just call them Bento Boxes now. It's cooler! Lunch doesn't have to be elaborate - just nourishing so we have the energy for the "after recess" crazy! A serving of seed crackers, a laughing cow cheese or thinly sliced of your fav, slices of cucumber, and 6 pieces of deli meat. Makes a super simple lunch at your desk! Add a giant glass of water and ants on a log or carrots and nut butter - yes carrots, trust me on this!

Bonus Hack #4 - Use a mini crockpot. I love to bring a can of the YES! Campbell's soup and extra cut up veggies from my fridge (carrots, celery, green beans, peas - I like a mix!) I put the veggies in the mini crock pot and add the soup.  Plug it in - and hot lunch is served! Extra win is no waiting in line at the staff lounge microwave!

What are you doing while you are cooking dinner? 

What do you do when you are cooking dinner? Do you usually scroll social media, watch the news, or something else that doesn't feel productive? I know we often look forward to that "down time" but cooking dinner isn't really relaxation anyway.  We can't really unplug and unwind when we have the sauteeing on our mind. Put that precious time to work! I used to workout during this time - I'd get my food in the oven and then run to my basement to do my 30-minute sweat sesh (and stir during the breaks! - The stair climbs back to the kitchen were always harder on leg day!) But now that I do that in the morning, here is what I like to do during dinner that makes me feel productive when I sit down to actually relax when the dishes are all done.

First- I like to cook future dinners, put some chicken in the big crockpot to put on salads or sandwiches, or cut up those fruits and veggies, pack lunches, or actually cook 2 different dinners! If I'm making porkchops and potatoes on the stove, I can easily do that sausage and peppers sheet meal at the same time to heat up for dinner the next day.

Other things I do if the cooking is handled, I'll read a book, check-in with my private accountability group, create new t-shirt designs on my Cricut app or write a blog post like this! My point is that we have pockets of time to fit in some really cool things while our dinner is cooking!

Bonus Hack #5 - This feels overwhelming during dinner prep? Listen to an audiobook or podcast and sip on a cool glass of sparkling water.  We are often dehydrated and it will give us some extra energy! The audiobook will also give your mind and body a chance to relax and another tip of successful people is that they are ALWAYS learning!

I hope this has been helpful - especially as we are heading back to school!  Make sure to hop over to the Stronger with Joy Facebook Community and post your favorite meal prep ideas and share what you are doing!

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