Meal planning guide from A Duck's Oven

Yeah, I’m asking for it with this one. But I mean it. Meal prepping is delusional.

How many of you have meal prepped for a week before? (hands raising) Yep, me too. Did you meal prep the next week? What about the next week? I’m going to bet many of you don’t meal prep consistently. I never have.

BECAUSE MEAL PREPPING IS INSANE. I work full time. I bet a lot of you do, too. If you don’t, I bet there are other responsibilities that take up a lot of time in your day. I happen to be a crazy person that also chooses to fill her free time with side hustles, entrepreneurial passions, and other unnecessary (but fulfilling!) commitments, so free time is this thing I hear about and hope to enjoy in the far away future.

My weekends generally consist of errand running, grocery shopping, cleaning, working on the house that we’re building, working on my blog, working, working out, side hustling, occasionally attempting to see friends and sneaking in some quality time with Husband (<<< #1 priority). And you want me to add 3 extra hours in my kitchen to this precious, precious weekend time? No. Just no.

But let’s rewind. I do work full time. And I do want to get a home-cooked dinner on the table every night. And I don’t want it to take more than 45 minutes.

So that’s what happens.

Many moons and 40 pounds of weight loss later, I’ve found a system that gets the job done for Husband and I. Oh, and let’s get somethin’ out of the way rull quick: I don’t subscribe to any meal kits or pay someone to meal prep for me or anything like that (although that works for some people – you do you).

I meal plan instead.

Here’s my system: every Sunday, first thing, I meal plan our week. We happen to have an enormous chalkboard on our kitchen wall that I use for this, but a piece of paper or my template (get my template here) work just as well. This is my process:

  1. I figure out what we (but more importantly ME because I do the cooking) are doing every night that week plans-wise and write it down. We prefer to work out after work, so I include which nights we’ll work out. Literally anything that will shorten my time at home after work gets written down, even days I know I’m going to work a little late.
  2. I designate a cheat night. 99% of the time this is Friday night, but sometimes Saturday if I know we’re going out with friends.
  3. Then I plan! I start with the nights we have plans. Those nights get a dinner I know I can whip up quickly and effortlessly.
    1. This is KEY! Do not give yourself the task of a roast chicken on a night when you know you aren’t going to start cooking until 8pm. You’re setting yourself up for failure (a.k.a. pizza).
    2. Examples: tacos using Trader Joe’s pollo asada, Trader Joe’s sweet potato gnocchi with some seared chicken breast, Thai turkey meatballs using Trader Joe’s turkey meatballs, etc. <<< Did you sense a pattern? Look for my #IRLDinners in my Instagram feed to get a sense.
  4. I plan slightly more challenging (but still under 45 minutes!) dinners for the other nights. Crock pot dinners are also welcome on these nights (but not on nights we have right after work plans: food shouldn’t sit in the crock pot for 12 hours).
    1. I know what you’re thinking now – but what do I make? Here’s where I get dinner inspo (but you do you):
      1. Looking back through my Instagram for dinners I’ve made and liked before! Shortcut: search the hashtag #IRLDinner to see what I eat on an average night.
      2. Nom Nom Paleo
      3. Her book – Ready or Not!
      4. Well Fed
      5. And her book – Well Fed Weeknights
      6. New York Times Cooking
      7. Pinterest (duh)
      8. The depths of my brain
  5. I give Husband one opportunity to veto (this is more of a courtesy – he knows better than to actually use the veto).
  6. I make my grocery list based on what’s on the board.
  7. I grocery shop.

This process (minus the grocery shopping) takes me about 10 minutes. That’s way better than spending 3 hours meal prepping two pounds of carrots you’re going to be sick of by Thursday.

The other key to success: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THINGS THAT MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER. And don’t feel effing ashamed about it!

For me, this is two things in particular:

  1. Grocery delivery services.
    1. If I’m having a crazy day, I will gladly let an Amazon or Postmates shopper do the work for me. I recognize that this isn’t an option for everyone, but if you can do Clicklist or something, DO IT. If this is the difference between you grocery shopping and not, it’s worth the tiny fee because that $4 is a lot less than the $40 you’ll spend on take out.
    2. I also use this if I don’t want to go to run multiple errands. How about I go to Fred Meyer while Postmates goes to Trader Joe’s? Teamwork!
    3. I am obsessed with Thrive Market. Yes, please deliver specialty snacks, ingredients, sauces, and spices right to my door.
  2. What I call “cheater ingredients”.
    1. Yes, I like to cook. Yes, I’d love for every dinner to be made completely from scratch. But that ain’t gonna happen. Don’t get precious: use ingredients that will make your life easier! I’m talking about pre-cut veggies, jarred sauces, frozen sweet potato fries, etc. Let the brand/store do the meal prep for you.
    2. Again: if it means you’re more likely to cook yourself instead of getting take out, DO IT. It will end up saving you money and calories.
    3. Don’t worry, I’m planning to do a whole post about my favorite “cheater” ingredients and dinners I make with them.

Meal planning vs meal prepping.

10 minutes vs 3 hours.

Just create a meal plan that will be simple for you to throw together! Save the labor intensive dinners for Sundays. Or maybe just never.

You don’t get points for working extra hard for no reason.

About that meal plan template! Want to get my free template + more tips? Click this:

Meal Plan Template from A Duck's Oven