Monday, March 7, 2016

Pre-baby Meal Prep - Part 1

In preparation for baby #2, I decided that this time around I wanted to do a better job of having some meals and food options on hand for us. (How was it that I didn't even think about that with baby #1???) Well, this idea QUICKLY got very out of hand...and I decided I wanted to prepare a full MONTH of meals!! Yes, I am insane. Yes, everyone already knows this.

So the goal was to plan roughly 30 meals and we are hoping that between leftovers combined with meals prepared by friends/family this would last us OVER 1 month... hopefully closer to 2 months if we're lucky.

The benefits of preparing meals in advance are obvious, but I'll go ahead and share ALL of the reasons why I chose to do it this way...

a.) To keep me and/or hubby from having to do major weekly grocery trips (worse case he runs to the store for a few items or stops on his way home from work)
b.) If someone else who happens to be on their way over to meet the new baby asks, we can provide them with an exact list of just a few items they could potentially pick up at the store for us
c.) To eliminate as much meal prep as possible, so if hubby or someone else (or me) is the one actually doing the cooking there is no guess-work, no measuring ingredients out and minimal slicing and dicing required - just following a recipe and using the provided ingredients
d.) Lastly, from what I remember postpartum is NOT a time where you want to be standing/working/thinking about anything. AT ALL. That, plus recovering physically from childbirth AND throwing the physical effects of breastfeeding into the mix makes for one RAVENOUS (not to mention hormonal/hangry) mama. With my first post-partum experience, I would freaking lose my mind if I couldn't find anything to eat... or if I had to work too hard to find or prepare food or if I had to put too much TIME into getting meals ready for myself (even simple meals like breakfast)! With a newborn in the house, there just is no time to go spend 20 minutes preparing yourself a nice meal of eggs, toast, bacon, etc. etc. You need to be able to grab and go (go and sit back down on the couch I mean).

Preparing so much in advance... it really is for the state of my own mental health!

I have broken this down into 6 different "phases", because it took a lot of time and preparation before even heading to the grocery store! I'm hoping that by breaking it down this way it will be as easy as possible for someone else to understand... well actually for myself too because I know one month from now I will have no idea how or what I even did! Okay so here we go!!

Phase 1

- Determining WHAT to make: I went through every recipe I have ever used and then some. Pinterest seemed WAY too overwhelming when the search was for "crock pot dump meals"... also it's really difficult and stressful to try and sift through hundreds of thousands of those meals to find ones that aren't 90% canned/preserved goods. I always seek out recipes that contain lots of veggies, meat and "pure"/unprocessed ingredients... all of which are even MORE important to post-partum recovery and breastfeeding, so I tried to stick with what I already knew. As I sorted through hundreds of recipes, I would save recipes if they either a.) required very few perishable ingredients OR b.) if they could be prepared 100% ahead of time and frozen. I call the recipes that fall under the first category "shoebox meals", because most/all ingredients can be measured out and separated ahead of time and placed in their own labeled shoebox (or in my case, shopping bags because I didn't have many shoeboxes on hand and didn't feel like seeking any out).

Phase 2

- Creating an excel spreadsheet: Once I had picked out around 30 meals (I ended up with 13 shoebox meals and 15 whole freezer meals) I sat down to put all of this into an excel spreadsheet. I started with shoebox meals and then made my way down to whole meals. (See image below for this explanation to make some sense!)

- Determining ingredients needed and separating into columns: Once I had typed out all of the meals, I went through each recipe and wrote out basic ingredients (some with actual amounts of ingredients if it was larger amount), separated by how the ingredient was to be "stored". I did this for a few reasons... a.) to make creating the grocery list easier. I can easily see exactly how much of which items I need to ensure we have on hand or purchase (especially meat)! b.) The "perishable" ingredients are already listed out so if hubby gets sent to the store (or anyone else for that matter) all we have to do is just pick which meal we want to have and boom! We already know exactly what we need and how much.

I also color coded all of the recipes based on the type of meat and how it was to be prepared. (For my recipes, the different "colors" were frozen raw chicken breasts, cooked chicken breasts, shredded chicken, shrimp, ground beef, ground turkey and no meat/other.) This was MOSTLY helpful to do for the "whole meals" as it was just to help me prepare all "alike" meals at once - Example: If you look at the image below, the 3 meals in blue all require pre-cooked shredded chicken. So, I will cook ALL of that chicken at once and prepare all 3 of those meals at the same time... as opposed to cooking chicken, shredding chicken and making one meal. Then another day cooking chicken again, shredding chicken again and making another meal. Once the meal was done, I would turn the row back to white - my way of "checking" it off the list. (Which is why the image below most things are white except those 3 blue lines you see -  At the time this post was written I had not yet made those 3 dishes.)

I also plan on preparing some breakfast items (like banana bread, pancakes, etc.) to freeze once I am 100% done with all of these other meals, I just haven't had time to sort though that idea yet ;).

Okay hopefully this is still making sense...

Phase 3

- Making the grocery list: In order to spread out the COST of doing all of this (essentially cramming in the cost of 2 months worth of groceries into 1 month) I initially intended to evenly spread out the meals over the course of 4 weeks. That did work out pretty well for the shoebox meals, but for the whole meals what actually ended up happening was I just planned on preparing certain meals on certain days that were free and then adding those items to the grocery list that week. (This also had a lot to do with the meat and how it was prepared! Like my 3 shredded chicken meals in the image above...) I still managed to be right on budget MOST weeks, but went over by about $50 this past week with a lot of the whole meal ingredients... (so much chicken!!) You could also choose how to approach this part too based on just how strict your weekly grocery budget actually is.

- Go grocery shopping! The complicated part is over! Now it's just about getting the goods and organizing everything that you buy.

Phase 4

- Separate and measure out non-perishable ingredients: Once I unloaded all the groceries, I grabbed my shopping bags and labeled them based on the number of the meal on the excel spreadsheet (don't start with #1 or you will get thrown WAY off!)  Then I measured out spices and put those into a snack sized ziploc and placed all other non-perishable ingredients into their corresponding bags. After the first grocery trip, I had bags #3 - #9 prepared!

- Freeze meat: All meat was then labeled with it's corresponding meal number and placed into the freezer. To make life even easier, I trimmed the fat off of each breast of chicken and placed the number of breasts into a labeled ziploc bag. Yes, this made for several INTENSE sessions of fat-trimming but now that part is already over! (Again, less guess work or trying to figure stuff out in the moment.)

Preparing for chicken trimming! (You can also see some shredded chicken thawing for our dinner that particular night in the background next to our crazy fake cardinal who keeps me company in the kitchen!) 

All done - WHEW! (At least for today!!)

- Prepare all freezer meals: Once the shoebox meals were "complete", I moved on to the whole meals. At this point, I still have about 8 or so more to go before I am completely done. Also, as I mentioned above, it is way easier to break down the whole meal prep into HOW the meat is prepared, so you can knock out as much at one time as possible.

Italian sausage day (actually it's "Italian seasoned ground turkey day" technically). Pictured is lentil soup on the left and then the two pots on the right are both for lasagne rolls.

(Yet another) chicken day... this particular day I literally trimmed the fat off of TWENTY EIGHT breasts of chicken (half-breasts actually if you want to get technical).

Cooking 8 half-breasts...

Preparing 6 "dump" meals... meaning raw chicken and ingredients all get thrown into one bag and placed into the freezer. Then when we're ready to eat them, they get thawed and then contents of entire bag get tossed into the crock pot!

Ready for the freezer! Also, a bag of frozen broccoli to use as a side for some yet-to-be-determined meal. There are also 2 extra breasts that didn't have a home that I will save just in case as well. I have a little section on my spreadsheet for "extra items/side items" that we have in the freezer so we don't forget about them. 

The cooked chicken placed into it's designated casserole - on the left is spinach artichoke chicken and the right is a chicken/broccoli type casserole recipe of my mom's!

Shredded chicken day! 3 different casserole dishes.

The aftermath - lots of CLEAN dishes (thanks to Ryan for that) and lots of recycling! Also some jars of leftover broth from boiling chicken that we will pop into the freezer to use in recipes down the road. 

Phase 5

- Have a baby!!

- Pick a meal from the menu: Each morning (or day before) we plan on referring back to the "menu" (excel spreadsheet) to decide what to eat that evening. If it's a shoebox meal, then Ryan will pop into the store (or we provide friend who asks) with list of perishable ingredients for that specific meal. If we pick a whole meal then obviously we would just pull it out of the freezer, thaw and cook/heat up!

Phase 6

- Snuggle new baby (and/or take naps) with all of this time you have saved yourself!!

WOW. Okay well there you have it. Many hours of brain power (and my head swirling around trying to figure out how to execute this idea) condensed into one blog post. I hope you were able to stick with me!! I am happy to answer any questions at all that you might have so feel free to comment below with any thoughts!!!

I would also LOVE to provide some of the recipes I used for this "project", but I just haven't quite figured out the best way to do that yet...(nor have I actually had time to put a lot of thought into it yet). This is mostly due to the fact that my recipes come from all over the place! Random websites, word documents, email text and Pinterest links....any suggestions you have to make this happen please let me know ;). I hope this is helpful to all of you future mamas preparing for baby - or just for anyone crazy enough to do some intense meal-prep just for fun!!

***Update! If you are looking for recipes for the dishes I prepared all in one place as well as my spreadsheet, continue on here: Pre-baby Meal Prep - Part 2


  1. You could create a Pinterest board and pin your recipes there! If they're in Word, you can pin a picture of it. Then provide the link to the board on here! Love the post! Way to go!

  2. I am SO impressed! I want to be like you when I grow up!

  3. Thanks for taking the time to share this! So so helpful :)