Friday, August 11, 2017


If you follow me on instagram, you've probably noticed that I've been meal prepping like a crazy person. This all started back in mid-May. I had just taken a 16 week unpaid maternity leave and our cash flow had taken a bit of a hit. (Well, I guess technically I got 60% of my salary for 6 weeks, but it was from my own short term disability plan that I paid into myself. My company paid for nothing. I know, don't even get me started...) Anyway, James and I sat down one night and decided to take a hard look at our overall spending to understand where we could make cuts to get us back on track.

Well, it didn't take long to see what the major cash-sucking culprit was: FOOD. James and I were both eating out for lunch every single day (approx $10 per lunch per day per person, which is about $100+ a week in lunches alone), we were probably eating out/ordering in dinners 3x a week, and my grocery store game was all about what looked delicious in that moment. It was all adding up in a big way, and we needed to make a change.

So we set a budget goal:
$100 per week on groceries (includes the entire family's breakfasts, lunches and dinners). 
$100 per month on eating out (includes Friday night pizza nights, any special occasions like neighborhood pot-luck get-togethers, friend's birthday dinners, etc.) and any lunches James and I choose to eat out with coworkers.

For us, this was a major overhaul. And being the competitive person that I am, I have really gotten into it. I've found that setting a specific goal and making myself accountable really helps me work towards something versus just saying, "let's try to not eat out as often."

So far, it's been the most positive change I think we've ever made, both for our family and for me personally. I have never felt this productive or this healthy in my entire life, and with 2 kids now, seems so crazy to be able to say. For the past 3 months, I have either hit our budget goals or have come in slightly over, which to me is still a win. We are saving more money than ever, even with the added expense of a 2nd child. Joe is eating the healthiest and the most variety he's ever eaten in his life. I no longer throw any food away (I used to quickly toss leftovers we'd get sick of, let fruit and veggies rot in the bottom drawer of our fridge, and let food go well past the expiration date). I get to spend more quality time with my kids after work and we now sit down at the dinner table as a family every night of the week. And, an added bonus, I've lost a total of 26 lbs! Woot woot!

So how have I done it? Well before I share some of my experiences, I first want to say that I have never meal prepped anything in my entire life. I had a few meal-prep lunch recipes pinned to my pinterest board from years back, but never quite had the time or energy to actually do it. I also want to note that I wouldn't consider what I'm doing a "diet." I've always been a yo-yo dieter, and at this point, I've tried it all -- counting calories, counting points, cutting out carbs, cutting out sweets. And I will admit, many of them were successful short-term. But like most dieters, I would typically lose a bunch of weight then gain it all back after whatever it was I was losing it for (like a trip, my wedding dress, a bridesmaids dress, or whatever).

Since May, I have not counted 1 calorie. I have not denied myself of any food that I want. I've had dessert, I eat pizza every Friday, and I kid you not, have eaten bread and chocolate every single day. It's just been all about balance, something I will share more about later on in this post.

So without further adieu, here are some learnings based on my experiences...from one extremely busy, no-frills, full-time working mother of 2 to another.

It's all about the prep work  
The first week out the gate, I had no idea what I was doing. I printed about 10 different recipes from Pinterest and ended up spending $100 just on ingredients for my lunch recipes. I realized quickly that I was going about it all wrong. The key wasn't fancy recipes, it was about fast and easy 5 ingredients or less recipes (and even better if some of those ingredients are standard staples you already have in your home!).  

Here's how I do it. Thursdays have become my "prep day." During my lunch hour, I plan the meals for the following week, and create almost like a calendar (Sunday we will have X, Monday we will have leftovers, Tuesday we will have X, and so on). It helps to know which days you're making what so fresh fruit/veggies get used before they go bad. I print out the recipes (extra points if some of the ingredients are in multiple meals that week so you don't waste anything!), and I make my official grocery list. I then go back through and organize the grocery list based on aisle so I'm in and out of there within 30 minutes. Every minute counts.

I've also gotten into the Kroger app and go through my grocery list and clip digital coupons to my rewards card. The app makes it so easy and I don't have to look like a crazy coupon lady with paper coupons.

Depending on our weekend, I either do my grocery shopping Saturday or Sunday during Joe's nap. If Faye is awake, I take her along.

Here's the mental checklist I've set for myself whenever I look for new recipes:

Is it relatively healthy?
Does it look easy?
Are there minimal ingredients?
Do any of these ingredients go in my other planned meals for the week? (For example, if a recipe calls for 2 tbsp of Dijon mustard, I then search pinterest for a "Dijon Mustard Recipe" so that I don't just let the rest of the bottle sit in our fridge)
Will Joe actually eat it?

If I find a new recipe that's easy and the family likes, I add it into the rotation. There's no point in reinventing the wheel every single week with new recipes. I typically only try 1 new one per week now that we have some go-tos.

Lunches should be easy
I will add that I usually try out new recipes on dinners, not lunches. My lunches are built pretty easily.

Start with a carb: Couscous, brown rice or quinoa (I've found quinoa helps with my milk supply, so I've been sticking to it while I continue to nurse).

Add vegetables: Whatever is on sale that week (usually 2-3 different veggies)

Add protein: Ground turkey or chicken

Add sauce: I'm all about pre-packaged sauces to make meal prep faster and easier. Favorites are Bertolli Pesto, Lawry's Baja Chipotle marinade, BBQ sauce, taco seasoning (for ground turkey) topped with salsa, and Greek yogurt salad dressing

I stretch my lunches to save money and calories. After the first couple weeks I was hungry after lunch, but now they fill me up. Most of them have been really yummy and I look forward to lunch!

Note: I typically prepare 8 lunches at once (4 for me, 4 for James). For 8 lunches, I only use 2 large chicken breasts and slice them up into small pieces. I usually cook the pieces over the stove in garlic, seasonings & olive oil, then add them to whatever veggies I've cooked, then add the sauce & divvy them up between our lunch containers. I also only make 2 cups of quinoa (uncooked). Once cooked, it comes out to about 1 cup per lunch.

Here are some of my favorite lunch recipes. Like I said, any time it calls for a homemade sauce, I look for store bought!

Greek Chicken (made the seasoned veggies as-is, but cheated and bought Kraft Cucumber Greek Yogurt dressing instead of making it homemade) 
Pesto Chicken (I put this over quinoa and buy 2 packages of Bertolli Pesto Sauce)  
Balsamic Chicken (made this as-is!)
Taco bowls - I buy 2lbs lean ground turkey, add 2 packets of taco seasonings, put that over brown rice with sauteed tomatoes, onions and peppers, then divide a jar of salsa to pour on top!
Sunday Funday
On Sunday afternoons, I make my first dinner of the week, and while that is cooking, I prep all of our lunches. Since I'm all about portion control and stretching meals, our dinners last at least 2 nights. I always pick my most time-consuming recipe to make for Sunday dinner and easier/faster/crock pot meals for the week. The best weekly recipes are ones that I can throw in the crock pot in the morning before I leave for work. Since everything is planned ahead for the week, I don't scramble to start dinner at 6pm. The most I "cook" is 10-15 minutes of final prep.

Here are some of my favorites!

BBQ Chicken Tostadas This one might be James' favorite. I cook the chicken in the crock pot during the day and assemble/put in the oven for 10 minutes after work. And to give you an idea, we only eat 1 tostada each and I serve with a veggie or fresh fruit. This lasts 2-3 days if you portion control!
Honey Garlic Meatballs This is definitely Joe's favorite. He at 4 giant meatballs in 1 sitting! Super filling and fairly healthy.
Beef & Broccoli - This lasted 3 meals for us!
Note: The best gift I've ever received is my wireless crock pot (Thank you, Peggy!). I can now turn on, off, adjust temp and set to warm from my desk at work. If you don't have one, I highly recommend it!

Adding Joe's Lunches 
Many of you probably don't know, but we actually have a nanny now. Both kids stay home with the nanny (whom we love!), but the only downfall is I'm now responsible for buying & planning Joe's lunches and snacks. I keep it super simple for Joe - yogurt, sandwiches, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, cheese sticks, carrots & dip, etc. I write out his lunch menu & snacks for the day so our nanny knows what to make, and I try to use up the fresh fruits earlier in the week so they don't go bad.

Breakfast of Champions 
For breakfast, I usually rotate between 3 things: 1 pc of toast topped with 1/2 mashed avocado & fried egg, 1 english muffin or 1 pack of oatmeal. James takes 2 hard boiled eggs every morning, and I rotate Joe between Eggo waffles, oatmeal, english muffin, egg sandwich, cereal, peanut butter toast and cinnamon/sugar toast, all served with some sort of fruit. All cheap and last a long time.

It's all about BALANCE
So I've learned a lot from all this. The first is, if you think with your wallet instead of your stomach, you are less likely to eat something. I think I've become so focused on meeting that $100 per week goal that going out to eat or a Starbucks run with my coworkers at 3pm doesn't sound so good anymore. It all comes with repercussions now... money spent in one place means money cut somewhere else. But the biggest ah-ha thing I've learned (though it's no big secret), is that it's really all about balance. On Fridays, I eat less during breakfast and lunch because I know I'm eating pizza for dinner. I love chocolate, so I allow myself 2-3 mini snickers bars throughout the day. If we have birthday cupcakes at work, I eat half of one instead of the whole one. And the craziest thing? I stop eating when I start to feel full. Funny concept, huh? I never did that before. I swear, I ate until I was full and in pain every single meal. Now, I just eat half and I feel way less sluggish during the day.

On top of eating less and better, I have also tried to exercise 2-3 times per week. Since I work full-time and literally have NO extra time in the morning, I go jogging at night after the kids go to bed. I've actually started to enjoy having that me-time. My work also has a personal trainer that comes in 2x a week for a boot camp (free to employees), so I try to go once a week from 5-6pm. I typically pick a day when we are having left overs so James can have everything heated up and ready to go when I get home. :)

So there you have it... nothing earth-shattering, no "secret formula" or fancy diet...just some of my thoughts and experiences. I hope they are helpful!