How to Meal Plan and Prep Effectively
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How to Meal Plan and Prep Effectively

By Aimee McNew, Contributor
January 4, 2021
How to Meal Plan and Prep Effectively image

One of the biggest challenges to eating The Paleo Diet® consistently is all of the cooking required. Or so people say.

But really, the extra effort it takes to eat a diet that is significantly healthier than the pre-packaged standard American diet is well worth it. It’s especially worth it when you realize that there are some simple things you can do to make meal planning, prepping, and cooking a lot more efficient.

Through trial and error, I’ve found some easy ways to save time and money in the kitchen while still eating a whole food, delicious Paleo Diet with plenty of variety. Here are some of my top tricks and tips for meal planning.

Choosing your recipes

The first thing to do every week is to identify the recipes you want to make (psst... check out my What to Eat This Week column to get some ideas!). I personally always have five or six tried-and-true meals that I consistently cook, to save time and mental energy, then work in some new ones for the sake of variety and excitement.

Writing your list

Once you’ve picked your recipes, make a quick shopping list. If you’ve been eating Paleo for a while, you probably have many of the staples on hand already.

Everyone’s must-have Paleo list is different, but here’s a great example:

  • Avocado oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Ground beef
  • Chicken thighs and breasts (sometimes whole chicken)
  • Apples
  • Onions
  • Bell peppers
  • Garlic
  • Citrus, like oranges and lemons
  • Kale, spinach or some other dark leafy greens
  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts or some other cruciferous vegetable
  • Salt-free seasonings

If you want a handy grocery shopping guide of all foods that are Paleo, check out our free list.

Grocery shopping shortcuts

After making a grocery list, consider how or when to shop. Because of the pandemic, I have opted to do a lot more online shopping and pick-up orders, which simplifies the grocery process.

In my weekly What to Eat This Week column, I usually have at least one soup or stew recipe, which is a great way to utilize vegetables you’re not sure how to cook. Roasting vegetables to go with chicken is also another easy meal that requires little planning ahead and can work to use anything you have on hand.

Tip: This summer I started using Misfits Market, an online produce delivery service that delivers a random selection of vegetables and fruit each week. There are several similar services, but just remember that none of them are exclusively Paleo – you need to still pick your foods. You can also look into local farm CSA boxes to be more intentional about eating plenty of fresh produce while saving time and money.

Bulk prepping

When you have everything you need, try to prep as much as you can, instead of just prepping for a single meal. This saves time and makes sure that you use up produce before it spoils.

When you get home with groceries, transfer extra meat to the freezer to cook in the Instant Pot later (if you have one). Leave some meat in the fridge to cook later today (more about that in a bit!).

Don’t pre-wash any veggies unless you’re about to chop, dice, or cook with them right away. If I know I’ll be using vegetables in the next 24-36 hours, I will go ahead and prep them, such as:

  • Dicing or chopping carrots, bell peppers, or cauliflower
  • Washing and chopping kale (freeze anything you won’t eat right away for smoothies!)
  • Mincing garlic

Then, store the prepped ingredients in glass containers or silicone bags in the produce drawer of the fridge.

Tip: Don’t slice onions or fruit ahead of time, since they don’t stay good for long.

Food storage

Here’s how to store foods you don’t prep right away:

  • Sweet potatoes and other root vegetables should be kept in a dark, cool place.
  • Onions should be kept in a dark place, but not in the same place as your sweet potatoes.
  • Fruits should be stored in the fridge, away from vegetables whenever possible (they tend to cause vegetables to spoil faster.)

Batch cooking

After you’ve prepped and stored your groceries, take one or two kinds of meat that you’ve set aside, such as chicken or ground beef, to cook ahead of time.

To make chicken thighs or breasts, stick 4-6 pounds in the Instant Pot to cook for later use in soups, to eat with roasted vegetables, or to prepare a Paleo barbecue.

For beef, slow-cook a large roast and eat it for dinner that night, then use leftovers for stir-fry or beef stew in the next few days.

Tip: Be sure to eat plenty of veggies with your meals to make meat lasts longer (even with always-hungry growing kids!).

The bottom line

The Paleo Diet does not have to be time-intensive or overwhelming. You can be as creative or as simple as you desire in your meal planning and recipe choices. Opting for produce delivery or batch prepping and cooking can save time and sanity, but still yield the same healthy results.

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