Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to start eating healthier with a focus on clean, whole ingredients. You’ve combed through Pinterest for new recipes, maybe you’ve downloaded a meal plan. You’ve resolved to avoid the middle of the store and for goodness sake SHOP THE PERIMETER.
You’ve got this.
But then a few days later what’s left of your good intentions has begun to wilt and spoil before your eyes. And this brings me to my first meal prep mistake we all have made:
Trying to shop too many days ahead.
This is a curveball that many don’t factor in their meal prep planning. Meat and produce spoil disappointingly fast. You know that sinking feeling when you nervously open a package of meat you picked up a few days ago? Mentally crossing your fingers you haven’t waited too long, only to find that it smells so bad you have to double bag the thing and run it to the outside trash can like it’s a dirty diaper. Admit it. You’ve been there.
Since few of us have extra time to hit up a grocery store for a daily foraging of fresh meats and produce, we have to buy provisions several days in advance. But how far can you really stretch a trip to the store?
My best advice is to plan, shop, and/or prep your meals no more than 3 days out. (Provided that you’re storing foods properly, obviously.) You can read more about this in The Frugal Paleo Cookbook, but my favorite way to tackle meal planning is by choosing a flavor profile (or cuisine, if we’re being fancy) and choose recipes that fall within that category.
For example, you could make Mexican-themed recipes like Tequila Carnitas, Paleo Tostadas, and Easy Slow Cooker Taco Soup for the first half of the week. When you do your shopping trip, all the veggies, garnishes and sauces like pico de gallo or Spinach Guacamole “match” the proteins. You’ll use up everything you buy before it goes bad.
The second half of the week could be traditional American favorites burgers, Chicken Skillet Divan, or maybe a good Chicken and Cauliflower Dumplings. Shop just for those recipes, roll leftovers forward into new creations (here’s a post to give you some ideas for that), and avoid the waste that comes with shopping too far ahead.
The second meal prep mistake we all have done is:
Trying to tackle complicated, high-effort meals mid-week
Whatever you’re prioritizing — be it Paleo, Whole30, vegan, gluten-free or just clean-eating basics — keep recipes simple and don’t over burden yourself with mid-week meal prep that has you chained to your kitchen for hours.
No one needs to tackle a lasagne on a Tuesday night. Choose recipes that:
- Make great leftovers
- Finish in the oven so you can tidy up or prep a quick side dish
- Cook in under 30 minutes or in a single pot (Pssst… there’s a book for that: One Pot Paleo)
- Require only a handful of ingredients and a few easy-to-execute steps to prepare
- Always consider a hash or a soup, which are a great way to gather up the last of the meat and veggies from your shopping trip and save them before they turn (See above!)
Find recipes everyone likes and put those bad boys on repeat! We never get tired of:
- Easy Thai Coconut Chicken
- Tuesday Night Chicken
- Crock Pot Italian Beef
- Roasted Balsamic Chicken
- Italian Mushroom Bake
The last meal prep mistake we have all made is:
Thinking that we neeeeeed treats.
You need air. You need carbohydrates — yes, you heard that right. You need your children to go to bed on time. You need earbuds that actually stay in your ears when you run. You need autocorrect to stop changing your words to duck, shot, and ask.
You do not need cookies.
Bottom line: when you take time to make most desserts, you are taking it away from preparing the foods that will actually provide the nourishment you need. The top two complaints I’ve heard over the years is that a whole-food approach is too time consuming and too expensive. Now, consider that most dessert offerings are generally either expensive and/or time consuming. They’re working against you!
Spend your time, effort and money on prepping meals to stay ahead of the meal curve. If you find you have extra of any of those things or if it’s an occasion that you’ve set time aside for, then consider whipping up a little something something. Treats are just that, but do yourself a favor and prioritize breakfast, lunch, dinner and munchies first. Forego the idea that treats are a mainstay and free yourself up for more nutrient-rich endeavors.
And by the way, if you want an awesome dessert book that focuses on clean ingredients, look no further than Clean Eating With a Dirty Mind by Vanessa Barajas. It just released and it’s awesome. You can test out her Cookie Dough Fudge recipe on my site if you’d like to get a preview. So while your bone broth simmers and your frittata cools, use that pocket of time to whip up this easy treat.
But be sure to eat your veggies first.