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Back when I worked outside the home, Sunday afternoon was always dedicated to weekly food prep. It was absolutely necessary to be able to juggle all of my responsibilities during the week ahead. Now that I work from home, I usually break food prep into two sessions, but the basic premise is the same.
There are a lot of time-saving benefits to this.
You only have one big kitchen clean-up. The rest of the week your dishes only consist of your plates and flatware, and what you used to heat your food in.
You can multitask by having several things in the oven cooking at once – this also saves on your utility bill. You can also wash and prep all your produce at the same time, and then just wash your colander and cutting board when you’re finished.
Throughout the week meals are strictly grab-and-go. If your food is already prepped, dinner can be on the table in 10-15 minutes every night.
What does a food prep afternoon typically consist of?
I like to get everything done during one busy day. We have generally used Sunday afternoon for our food-prep day. On Sunday, I do the following tasks.
- Menu planning
- Grocery shopping
- Washing and cutting up vegetables
- Washing fruit
- Portioning out snacks for lunch boxes
- Doing the baking
- Preparing some basic items that can be used in different ways throughout the week (chicken, beef, grains, salad)
As soon as we return from the grocery store, we begin prepping food before it gets put away. I fire up the oven to preheat it, get the oven foods ready to go bake, and then slice up and portion out the vegetables for the refrigerator.
There are so many benefits to this.
When you prepare your food ahead of time, dinner is on the table faster than you can say “drive-thru”. Your budget will thank you because you won’t require those impromptu pizza deliveries when you just don’t feel like cooking. Your waistline will thank you because you won’t grab high-calorie, low-nutrient convenience foods. Your health will thank you because you will be eating nutritious, wholesome foods from scratch that nourish you.
And don’t look at it as another miserable chore to add to your weekly tasks. Pick an afternoon you have free, turn on the tunes, don a kitschy crazy apron, and start cooking. It’s even more fun if you get the whole family involved.
Here’s a sample menu.
Here’s a sample list of foods that we made one weekend during our food prep frenzy.
- Meatloaf “muffins”
- Baked brown rice
- A whole chicken
- Veggies for steaming
- Roasted Brussels sprouts
- Blueberry corn muffins (for breakfast)
- Boiled eggs (for breakfasts and lunches)
- Wheatberry Pilaf
- Broccoli slaw with bacon
- Veggies packets for lunchboxes
We have a big dinner on Sunday night with plenty of leftovers. Food is packaged for the week, with lunches being packed into divided containers, and the rest of the food being refrigerated in larger containers.
Other things that work well for food prep:
- Dips (hummus or sour cream-based)
- Taco fillings
- Grilled meat
- Roasted vegetables
- Baked goods
I only store the prepped food in the refrigerator through Thursday at the very latest. If you need to keep your food longer than that, you should store it in the freezer for food safety purposes.
What does the menu look like?
Wondering what meals we make with all that? I’m not an especially “fancy” cook, so you’ll find that these are simple, balanced meals the whole family will enjoy.
For dinner on a week like the one above:
- Sunday: Roasted chicken, roasted brussels sprouts, wheatberry pilaf, and homemade bread
- Monday: Meatloaf muffins, mashed rutabaga, and steamed veggies
- Tuesday: Leftover chicken stirfried with prepped veggies and rice (Any remaining chicken goes in the freezer)
- Wednesday: Meatloaf with gravy on homemade rolls, sauteed mushrooms, broccoli slaw, leftover rutabaga
- Thursday: A whatever is left free-for-all, fondly known as “Leftover Buffet“
- Friday: Homemade pizza topped with chicken, veggies, and barbecue sauce
- Saturday: Breakfast for dinner with eggs, toasted homemade bread, bacon or sausage, and fruit
As mentioned above, we eat muffins with fruit for breakfast throughout the week, and we use leftovers as lunches. As you practice with your favorite recipes, you’ll discover some things reheat far better than others. Take note of the things your family enjoys most.
Are you a fan of food prep?
Do you prep your food ahead of time? What are some of your favorite meals to prep and how do you store them? What’s for dinner this week at your house?
3 thoughts on “Frugal Food Prep Keeps You On-Budget”
I work shift work – 2 day shifts followed by 2 night shifts followed by 4 days off – so I use a slow cooker and prepare four different types of meals for when I’m working. A seafood meal, a chicken meal, a vegetarian meal and a beef meal. Generally I create enough for four meals of each with rice or potatoes and vegetables. That gets me through a month of meals for work. It’s on my days off I’ll cook something for that day.
Nice, Daisy. When my kids were younger, I did the “cook a month’s worth of meals in a day”. I did that exactly once and it was intimidating and the recipes not so great. I like the idea of using leftovers for something else. A go to for us in the winter is a big pot of chili con carne or green Chile stew, which provides lots of freezer-worthy leftovers. A big pot of soup, with sandwiches is a winner, too. In the summer, we enjoy salads, especially a good tuna or chicken salad on lettuce.
Homemade pizza is cheap and was a big favorite with my family, including their friends, with everyone pitching in to top the pizza. My adult children still have friends over to do this with everyone bringing their favorite topping.
We had friends from Brazil, where grilling is an art form, and every Sunday, they would fire up the grill and cook their meats and vegetables for the week. We were shocked at how good a steak covered in coarse salt was straight off the grill! Oh, and we also had friends who loved to entertain and do something for others. They’d buy a package of hot dogs each week for weeks on end and throw them in the freezer. Then, when local corn and produce was harvested, they bought fresh corn. Friends would join them for a weenie and corn roast potluck around Labor Day. Then in November, we’d gather at their house again, each family with a different ingredient for fresh pumpkin pies. We all took one home and the rest were donated to the homeless shelter for their Thanksgiving meal and it was a cheap way to make pies and a wonderful way to teach our children to serve others. Great traditions!
Now, I think I could do all my cooking with an instant pot alone!
There is a whole community of people who are once-a-month-cooking enthusiasts as well as once-a-week people. There are books, websites, blogs, wikis etc all about this … BUT if you run a search on the topic, be sure and spell out ONCE A MONTH COOKING (or once a week cooking if that’s your preference) because there is a whole boatload of additional meanings for the OAMC acronym (as acronymfinder.com would reveal).
There is a huge HOWEVER though, whether you are investigating the once a month approach or the once a week approach. What you prep at the beginning of that month or week then mostly has to be preserved until later when you and family are ready to eat. All of the cookbooks on those topics I’ve seen assume that you have a working refrigerator and/or freezer. Those cookbooks do not consider the prepper concern of a long term power outage!
So without thinking through and practicing recipes that could be preserved during a long term power outage, one could be left up that proverbial creek without a paddle.