Cook All Day, Eat All Month: 3 Meal Planners Share Their Secrets

published Feb 22, 2017
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When it comes to meal planning and prepping, how much should you do in one go? I’ve always thought of meal prepping as a weekly ritual, with Sunday as the magic day to prep delicious lunches, hearty dinner salads, and budget-friendly meals that use up all the leftovers. Meal prep Sundays are not only a sacred day for many food-lovers, but also incredibly important for anyone trying to stick to a budget.

Well, maybe it’s time to reconsider this weekly strategy. I realized recently that there are droves of cooks who are able to knock out a whole month’s worth of meals in just one day.

Yes, it’s possible to cook in one day and feed yourself and your family for a whole month. Yes, you’ll probably save money and time by meal planning this way. No, you don’t need a degree from Hogwarts to pull off this magic.

Does it sound intimidating and unrealistic? I completely understand. That’s why I asked three prolific meal preppers to share how they are able to make this happen. Having an extra chest freezer handy in your home is very helpful in month-long planning, but it’s not the only trick.

Here are the secrets of three meal-prep champions on how they meal plan for an entire month.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

3 Meal Planners Share Their Secrets

Jessica is a writer, the blogger behind Good Cheap Eats, and cookbook author. She’s also authored many articles for Kitchn on food budgeting. Here, Jessica shares her strategy for prepping ahead but still eating healthy, plus the recipes that she relies on the most.

Life is busy. And dinner times can be even busier. Regardless of how busy I am, I still want to eat well and feed my kids healthy, home-cooked meals — at least most of the time. Spending a couple hours each month prepping food for the freezer helps bridge the gap between busy nights and enjoying a home-cooked meal.

Since I enjoy lots of salads and fresh vegetables, I tend to focus on meal components and favorite casseroles for my meal prep. Prepping taco meat, meatballs, big vats of pasta sauce, and cooked and chopped chicken buys me time but allows me flexibility at mealtimes. I can combine the ingredients in different ways depending on what I feel like making that day.

It doesn’t take much longer to prepare three pans of enchiladas instead of one.

I also prep simple casseroles like mac and cheese, lasagna, enchiladas, and “lawnmower tacos” because these are easy for my kids to slide in the oven when I can’t get to the kitchen in time.

It doesn’t take much longer to prepare three pans of enchiladas instead of one. Bonus: Everyone loves these homey casseroles.

Jessica’s Favorite Freezer-Friendly Recipes

Here are some of my favorite freezer-friendly recipes.

Gina is the blogger behind The Shabby Creek Cottage, where she shares a lot of DIY projects and easy, delicious recipes. Gina relies heavily on the freezer for making a month’s worth of meals. Here are her tips on meal prepping for the freezer.

Freezer meals don’t necessarily mean you’re creating an entire meal. You can prepare components that take longer to cook, so that the rest of the meal is a breeze. I love making shredded chicken breast, homemade marinara, and pre-cooked meatballs in advance. Make a big batch, break it up into meal-sized portions, and freeze.

Want to make things even easier? Utilize a slow cooker to prep for freezer meals. Cook chicken breasts on low for a few hours while you do other things, then use a KitchenAid to shred them in just a couple of minutes, then cool and freeze. Then you can make Taco Tuesday in about five minutes — just heating up the chicken with taco seasoning while you chop veggies. Super easy!

Remember that the whole point of freezer meals is to make your life easier. Start small so you don’t get overwhelmed and work your way into marathon cooking if that’s your goal.

In my book, any freezer meal is a good idea.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Natalie is the blogger behind A Turtle’s Life for Me, where she shares DIY projects, recipes, and adventures she has with her family. Here, Natalie talks about how she organizes her freezer, what she makes in advance, and the simple sides that make dinner easy all month.

The freezer is essential for month-long cooking. I’m fortunate now that we do have an extra freezer devoted to meal planning, but that wasn’t always the case.

In order to make the most out of your freezer space, make sure to keep everything organized. I lay my bags flat on a cookie sheet and put the whole thing in the freezer for an hour or so until they’re fairly frozen. Then you can remove them from the cookie sheet and they will be a nice, flat shape that is easily stackable.

Multi-tasking and purchasing meat in bulk is the key to making your cooking day go quickly. I have pork roasts going in both Crock-Pots while all four burners have frying pans filled with browning ground beef. While that’s cooking, I mix up a large batch of marinade (teriyaki is a favorite) that will get split between various kinds of meat. By using different meats (salmon, chicken, pork, shrimp, etc.), it feels like you are eating different meals even though you are using the same marinade.

Once you have your protein in the freezer, you need to think sides. For sides, as you’re getting used to a new routine, make sure you stock up on boxes of rice, a box of Bisquick for quick biscuits, boxes of pasta, potatoes, and other similar things. You can throw some potatoes in the oven, top them with a bag of shredded pulled pork, and serve with a side of broccoli with only about 5 to 10 minutes of effort after a long day of work.

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Do you have any meal-prep secrets for cooking a month’s worth of meals in a single day? Please share with us in the comments.