Ep. 38: 5 Tips to Avoid Meal Prep Burnout

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The Fed+Fit Podcast | Nurturing a Healthy Mindset for a Healthy Lifestyle

We’re back with our 38th episode of the Fed+Fit Podcast! Remember to check back every Monday for a new episode and be sure to subscribe on iTunes!

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Episode 38 Topics:

  • Avoiding meal plan burnout [5:14]
  • Tip 1: Do it in small batches [7:24]
  • Tip 2: Avoid an all day prep [9:55]
  • Tip 3: Grocery shop more than once [11:13]
  • Tip 4: make basic components ahead of time [15:05]
  • Tip 5: cook for your actual needs/make use of your freezer [19:54]

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Ep. 38: 5 Tips to Avoid Meal Prep Burnout

This week, we’re going to talk about 5 ways you can avoid the dreaded meal prep burnout.

1. Avoiding meal plan burnout [5:14]
2. Tip 1: Do it in small batches [7:24]
3. Tip 2: Avoid an all day prep [9:55]
4. Tip 3: Grocery shop more than once [11:13]
5. Tip 4: make basic components ahead of time [15:05]
6. Tip 5: cook for your actual needs/make use of your freezer [19:54]

Cassy Joy: And we’re back! Thanks again for joining me you guys! This is Cassy Joy Garcia of FedandFit.com. I’m so excited to have you today; it is me, I’m running solo today so. {laughs} I’m just going to be talking to you, which is really just like talking to myself sitting in my office. {laughs} But that’s ok, I think Gus can hear me, so at least someone will give me a nod.

Anyways, I’m excited about today’s episode. In case you missed it, we just finished up a mini-series on the Fed and Fit college student. And I wanted to knock that out for two reasons; the first reason being really actually talking to college students about how to build their own healthy lifestyle is something that is really important to me. Gosh, now it’s been a while, I’m coming up on 30 in March, but it feels like college was just around the corner. And I remember being there, and I remember not having the information at my fingertips to really make decisions that were going to put me in a great spot to make great decisions for my health when I was in college. And that resulted in me being really unhealthy a couple of years after I graduated. I wouldn’t change a thing; going back I definitely would keep it the same way, because that is what allowed me to discover this grain free lifestyle, and it also allowed me to figure out what it is that I wanted to do.

Anyway. If you missed the series, I encourage you to give it a listen, or I encourage you to share it with somebody who maybe is a student, or anybody who is going through a transition. It was really important to me, but I did it for the one reason, like I just said, because it is such an important topic and one that is not really spoken about a whole lot, and if you’re listening, if you’re a college student and I’ve spoken to you at your university, welcome. I’m glad you found the show. So that’s there for your reference.

The other reason I did it is because I really like the idea of mini-series on this podcast, because it allows me to provide more information without feeling like I have to rush through a topic. Because often times, I try to keep the show at or under 30 minutes, we can often rush through topics too quickly. And there’s more to say; there’s more that we can touch on.

So now having said that; today is actually going to be just a one-off episode. And it’s something that, the inspiration for today’s episode hit me when I was in the kitchen today doing my own meal prep for the week. And meal prep has become such a buzz word for, if you’re having trouble staying on your paleo lifestyle or your grain free lifestyle, or if it feels really impossible, then you just need to meal prep. You know? Meal prep has almost become the scapegoat; whether that be the scapegoat, that’s what we’re blaming, the reason why you don’t have success, or that’s what we’re blaming, it’s the reason why I can’t pursue this anymore, because I hate to cook. The meal prep is just too much.

So I kind of want to just shed some light on meal prep, and hopefully make it seem a little less intimidating. So we’re going to talk about ways you can avoid meal prep burnout; because it is a real thing, and I think knowing that’s a real thing going into it will help you extend the expected useful life of this healthy living lifestyle. I hate to use a term from another industry that I’m in, but really trying; what I want you to get at is, y’all know this, this is not a diet. This is a healthy living lifestyle. We’re making decisions that make us feel great. You know, we’re putting nourishing foods into our bodies. We’re exercising and we’re moving our bodies with our physical fitness routines because we know that’s good for it too. We’re doing all of these things; we’re sleeping more and we’re drinking more water, and we’re consciously trying to reduce our stress levels, all because it helps us be healthier, happier human beings.

One of the avenues to get there, of course, is to cook your own food. Because that’s one way to have ultimate control over what you’re eating. When we start to cook our own food, it can be intimidating. Whether you are an awesome cook or a brand new cook. Knowing that now you’re responsible for preparing, let’s say even 80% of your own meals. Let’s say you eat out 20% of the time; that’s a lot of cooking. And if you’re new to it, it can seem like a lot of work.

1. Avoiding meal plan burnout [5:14]

So today I want to talk about some ways that you can avoid burnout. Because if you jump in; let’s say you’re 2 weeks into a paleo challenge. So many people find paleo because of a paleo challenge. And let’s say you’re 2 weeks into a challenge of that sort, and you’re cooking 100% of your meals, and you’re going on full steam ahead. And then all of a sudden, after 2 weeks, right when your body starts to feel great and you start to really feel the effects of the foods that you’ve been eating; you have more energy all of a sudden and you’re more positive and you’re sleeping better at night.

It just so happens that right when you start to feel better is right when you get so tired of cooking. No matter; you know it’s doing great things for you, but you tend to get to this point where you’re like; oh my gosh, if I have to go and stand in front of that stove for another dinner, or another meal, I’m just going to cry. And I’ve been there! I have been cooking like this for 5 or 6 years now, so I get it. I love to cook; it brings me so much joy. But even then, I do not like cooking all of my meals.

And that’s where meal prep comes in; where folks will tell you that you just need to cook a lot of your meals at once, you know, a lot of people recommend, let’s say Sunday is your day off in the week. A lot of people recommend that you dedicate an entire day to meal prepping, and you make all of your meals for the week on that day, and then you eat them and you don’t have to cook every single day. And that’s a great concept; but often times, when you are doing that full day of cooking, every single week, it starts to really build up and it becomes less fun when you’re really feeling like you’re just a production kitchen.

Cooking can be fun; even when you are making 805 of your meals. So I’ve got some tips for you today, and I hope that you find them helpful. I’ve broken them up in 5 different categories, and {laughs} because I wanted to keep it at 5, my last category has turned into a run-on category, but that’s ok.

2. Tip 1: Do it in small batches [7:24]

Ok, so my number one tip to avoid meal prep burnout is I recommend you do it in small batches. This is counterintuitive to things you’ve probably heard, right? You’ve probably heard; and by small batches, I mean small stents in the kitchen. So I’m kind of discouraging the 8-hour meal prep day. So how do you put this into practice? You can make a huge batch of a side dish during dinner one night. So if you’re family is having, let’s say sautéed spinach. When you’re making dinner for your family, and you’re making the sautéed spinach that they’re going to eat, keep that pot out and whip out a whole nother bin of spinach. Or two, or whatever. Spinach reduces a lot, let’s say kale. Kale stands up a little bit sturdier. Go ahead and sauté an entire extra batch of sautéed greens so that you can eat those throughout the week.

They become a great addition to your breakfast plate. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m big into greens for breakfast. I love some sautéed kale with some lemon juice or lime juice and sea salt next to my eggs in the morning. It almost becomes like a chewable multivitamin; you can think of it that way.

Anyway, back to small batches. So if you’re able to spend just, let’s say, 5 more minutes in the kitchen at dinner time, when you’re already making dinner. You’ve already got that pan dirty, go ahead and make an entire nother batch of that veggie side dish so that you can pack it away while everybody is having dinner, put it in the fridge, and you’ve got it done. That is meal prep that you didn’t have to really go out of your way to get there for it.

Another way you can do it in small batches; let’s say if you do smoothies in the morning. Something you can do is, when you’re already making your smoothie, your berry smoothie in the morning, go ahead and make an extra one, and maybe leave out one ingredient. Maybe that’s, I don’t know, ice. If you like to put ice in your smoothie, or if you like to put protein powder in your smoothies in the morning. Whatever it is. Leave out one ingredient so you can at least whip it up and make it fresh whenever you need it, but pour those into mason jars so those are ready to go. It’s kind of like, you’re already making yourself a smoothie, so just stay in the kitchen for an extra 5 minutes, and make yourself 2 or 3 more. So that’s what I mean by small batches. I mean small stents.

3. Tip 2: Avoid an all day prep [9:55]

My second point is that unless; and I’ve already touched on this a couple of times. But unless you absolutely love cooking, like you love Thanksgiving so much because you like standing on your feet for 10 hours making a meal for 12 people. Unless you love that, I say avoid an all day meal prep event. That’s my recommendation; and I know there are going to be some people who argue with me about that. But I really believe that if you are banking all of your healthy meals for the week on one singular day, you are setting yourself up for burn out because that’s a lot. People usually have to kick back after they make Thanksgiving dinner, and that’s essentially what you’re asking of yourself every week.

And then, heaven forbid, what if you miss that day of the week? What if you had a shower to go to, or you’re out of town because it’s football season and you’re in College Station every weekend going to those games, and you miss that meal prep day. Does that mean that you have to eat out every single day of the week? Instead I think it’s better to prepare ourselves, or put ourselves in a direction of being more nimble in our meal prep methods by choosing like we said in the first point, choosing that one dish that you can make a whole bunch of.

4. Tip 3: Grocery shop more than once [11:13]

Number three; again, this is a little bit counterintuitive to maybe some things that you’ve heard, but I recommend that you split your grocery store visits up into at least 2 visits a week. So I’m not a proponent of going to the grocery store once a week and getting everything you need. The reason for that is twofold; number one, you don’t really know; let’s say you grocery shop on Sunday. Let’s say when Thursday rolls around, the week can change so much. And who knows? Even though you may have bought food for every meal and night and dinner and you’ve sat there and you’ve planned everything out and you’ve gotten all of your grocery lists as paired to the recipes that you want to make your family that week, the weeks can change and you might be left with extra food. It kind of puts you in a position of being, possibly being more wasteful.

So that’s one reason why I recommend splitting your grocery store visits up so that you are able to go to the store every 2 to 3 days and actually buy what you need. Because when you’re trying to plan 2-3 days out, it’s much easier to feel confident about your schedule and the things that you need and the things that your family needs. You know that you need another 5 pounds of sweet potatoes, or you know that you need another couple heads of cauliflower because you’re going to go ahead and make some cauliflower rice. But it’s more difficult when you’re looking 5, even 6 days out to say with confidence what your family really needs. So it makes that grocery shopping trip more stressful, and I’m trying to avoid that. We want to make it really intuitive for you.

The second reason that I recommend splitting your grocery store visit up, in addition to avoiding waste/wasted expense, and also being able to plan better. But also because when you get home from that enormous shopping trip, and I’m speaking to you guys from experience, I’m not just saying these things because I imagine them happening. I have so been there! But you come home on Sunday with all of your groceries for the week, and you put it all on the counter, you get all of your produce washed, you get all of your proteins kind of organized in your fridge the way you want them to be. Everything is dried and put away in the refrigerator the way that you want, and it’s packed. I mean, it is just packed. You look at your refrigerator, and you’re like wow, it’s beautiful! It looks like a grocery store!

And then you open it up and you look at all that raw food, and you’re left thinking; holy moley. I have to cook all of that. And it can be overwhelming. Again, there is an escape clause; if you are that kind of person that truly lives to cook, you know. You might look at that and think, hot dang, I cannot wait to cook that roast I’ve got planned on Thursday. You know? But if you are like me, as much as I like to cook, I know that when Thursday rolls around, I have had 3 really big days, and I’m probably tired, and I’m probably wishing at that point that I had some extra food in the fridge that I could just eat.

Anyways, that’s why. I want you to avoid having to open up your fridge and it be so full that you’re all of a sudden faced with this enormous task like you have to spend an entire day cooking. You have to do one of those marathon meal prep days, because you’ve got all that fresh food and you can’t let it go to waste, so you’re forced into that really long day on your feet of meal prepping. So that’s why I recommend splitting your grocery store visits up into two times a week. At least two times.

5. Tip 4: make basic components ahead of time [15:05]

Ok, number four; how to avoid meal prep burn out. Make basic components in bulk, and then get fancy on the day of. What I mean by this; it’s a lot easier to meal prep basic components than it is to meal prep specific meals. So, some basic components that I’m talking about; let’s say in the world of vegetables, crunchy vegetables would include cauliflower rice, mashed cauliflower, parsnip mash, there’s a really good recipe on my website.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but it’s really good for brown buttered parsnip mash. If you’ve never had a parsnip before and you are tired of the vegetables that you are eating, this is a game changer. It’s so delicious. And then the person at the checkout grocery line will be checking out all of your parsnips, and they usually look at you and say; what is this vegetable? I’ve never seen it before. So you can educate them.

Other vegetables could be sautéed kale, sautéed spinach that you could make in bulk. Those are really basic components. Roasted root vegetables; just chop up some beets and carrots and fennel and onions and roast them in the oven. Just put them; oh gosh, I don’t know which Food Network person it is that says this, but it’s like, set it and forget it! Just put it in there, roast them until they get nice and crispy, and then you’ve got that nice side dish of roasted vegetables. All of those vegetables you’ve got set aside now that can become the base for a meal. You’ve got; let’s say if you cooked up, I like to buy that prewashed prechopped organic curly kale from the grocery store. It’s in a big bag. I like to buy a couple of those bags at a time, cook them all up, and then I’ve got this huge bed of sautéed kale that I can eat some shredded pork on or ground pork or whatever it is I’ve got in the fridge at the time. Not always pork.

Starches that you can make that are really basic are like baked sweet potatoes. Toss 3 pounds of sweet potatoes in the oven at 450 degrees and leave them in there until; I mean, gosh, maybe 45 minutes. But I would get an oven mitt on; you know they’re done when you have an oven mitt on and you reach in to try to pinch them, and they give really well. So that’s when you know that the sweet potatoes are done. Those are starches; those are things that you can make in advance and just keep in the fridge. And that’s what I do; I constantly roast sweet potatoes in bulk.

And what I mean by make basic components. If you’re able to make those kind of; gosh it’s like a canvas for a meal, the vegetables and the starches. And even some protein, like shredded chicken. If you’re able to make those basic things, then when it comes to meal time and you’re trying to avoid food boredom, and that burnout we’re talking about, you’re able to mix things up. I will have sweet potatoes; sometimes I’ll take them and I’ll whip them up and mash them, I’ll make a quick sweet potato mash, and we’ll have that with some grilled pork chops for dinner one night. I’ll ask Austin to go fire up the grill, and he’ll grill us up some pork chops and then we’ll have the sweet potato mash, and it took me no time at all because they were already cooked.

Or, sometimes I’ll come home and I’ll think; you know what, I really want a loaded sweet potato. And I’ll reheat a couple of them, I’ll add some ground beef on top of it and some cilantro, and other yummy things, and it becomes its own totally different meal. It allows you then to only have to cook one thing at each meal. And that’s kind of what we’re trying to get at; if you’re able to make all those basic components, and I encourage you to meal prep that way.

I’m actually working on a resource that will guide you through this concept in more detail, but you guys are smart cookies and I know you can figure it out. If you’re able to really think about your week in terms of what are the components that I can make in advance, because making components are way easier than whipping up an entire roast. Cooking from start to finish an entire roast with sides, all on a Sunday, in addition to making all of your lunches and a couple of casseroles for later in the week. That’s so much more work than if you’re able to make all of the components; the cauliflower rice that goes into the casserole, or the sautéed kale that you can eat with your breakfast. That means that breakfast rolls around, you only really need to fry up a couple of eggs. It just becomes that much easier.

So if you’re able to only make one thing fresh at each meal, you’ll avoid that meal prep burnout and you will also still find a way to spend less time in the kitchen. And this whole time, it still really supports your healthy living goals.

6. Tip 5: cook for your actual needs/make use of your freezer [19:54]

Ok; my last point, number 5, is the run-on point, {laughs} but I think it’s good. So, I recommend that you cook for your actual needs, and make excellent use of your freezer. So what I mean by cook for your actual needs; I want you to take a look at your week, and be really realistic with yourself. Let’s say you work out, and you have a tendency; let’s say you have a tendency to prepare food for your family’s benefit; you know that your kids really love those all natural fruit based gummies. You know they love those, so you’re going out of your way to make them for them, so that when they get home from school they’ve got these gummies to munch on.

That’s really sweet, and you probably spend a lot of time doing that, but when it comes time to eating something after your workout; having a little bit of that starch, that veggie-based starch, after a workout to replenish those glycogen levels, maybe you’re scrambling in the kitchen. You’re trying to find something to eat, because you spent your time meal prepping for the more specific things in your life. The more specific recipes, instead of making some of those basic things that will actual cater to your needs.

So take a look at your week, look at what your needs actually are. If you know that you’re going to have time this week to spend a little time in the kitchen, then your needs may not require you to make an entire casserole on a Sunday. You can leave that for a couple of days from now. Anyways; what I really want you to get out of this point is, I want you to prep for the foods you actually need to eat. So if you know you actually need to eat starches after your workout, then make that starch in advance. Don’t fly by the seat of your pants on that one, unless you just prefer fresh sautéed plantains as a post workout. That could be an example, that’s fine. That’s going to spend you more time in the kitchen. Or you could just take an entire acorn squash, like I did this week, and I’ll post it on Instagram. If you’re listening to this on Monday, I bet I did it this morning. {laughs}

But like I did this week, I took an entire acorn squash, I chopped off the stem head and I cut the rest of it in 8 wedges. I scooped out the seeds, I rubbed some ghee on it, dusted it with sea salt, and I baked it at 350 degrees for an hour until the wedges were nice and soft and starting to brown just a little bit. Pop those in the fridge so they can just be there, and what I’ll do is I’ll just grab one of those wedges after my workout, and it’s just for me because that’s a need I have, and I’ll enjoy it. Delicious, it’s already done, and it just makes life so easy. And best yet, I didn’t have to sit in the kitchen while I was making that acorn squash. All I had to do was chop it up, put it in the oven, and I got to go on with my day and do other things.

The rest of this point; make use of your freezer. I recommend that you be really strategic with your freezer space. And if you do not own a deep freeze, I really encourage you to go home and talk to your significant other, and talk about the benefits of one. I think it’s a really wise investment. Because; let’s say if you have; ok, this example is coming to my mind because someone recently told me that they make it a lot, a dear friend of mine. She makes the chicken taco casserole on my website a lot for her family, because it’s one of the few dishes she says where she can get her young children to eat cauliflower. So what she does; it’s a pretty involved casserole. It requires making cauliflower rice, it requires making shredded chicken, and then the rest of it is kind of just components. Small things like pico de gallo and a cream sauce, but those two other components, if you’re doing it just if you come home and you decide you want to make that casserole for dinner, it can take a little bit of time.

So what she does; she will make 2 or 3 of those casseroles at once, because making extra takes less time than if you had to whip all that material out again and make it all over. So you’re only dirtying the dishes once, you’re only going through the motions once. So what she’ll do; I don’t actually know how she freezes it, but I will do when I’m making extra casseroles is I’ll buy those aluminum tin foil pans, the casserole pans. You can find them at the grocery store. I will throw half of the ingredients of the dish that we’re going to eat that night for dinner, and I’ll throw the other half into the aluminum pan. I’ll wrap it all up really well with aluminum foil, I’ll put a date on it, and I’ll stick it in the freezer. That way, when I have a hectic week, and less time to cook, I’ve already got that meal ready to go. And it took me, at that point, no time. It was an investment that I made early on.

So be really strategic with your freezer. I encourage you to plan on making casseroles for those rainy days. I also encourage you to peel; excuse me. Prewash, peel, and cut vegetables, and then place them into serving size bags for easy cooking. And what I mean by serving size bags is, a bag big enough to feed your family. So whether it’s just you, or you and your husband, or you and 3 kids. However much you need to feed your family at that meal time; measure that out into a bag. I’m thinking right now okra, for example, is in season. But it could be any vegetable. It could be Brussels sprouts. If they’re on sale at the grocery store, go ahead and buy them, chop them up, put the amount that you think your family could eat in a meal into a bag, date it. That way when you come home from a busy day, the bag is already cut and washed. You can just take it out, dump it onto a roasting pan, set it in the oven, and it’s cooking. So you have to spend less time prepping.

And I recommend that you really organize your freezer. This is my last point today, but that can make a really big difference, especially if you have a deep freeze like me. We’ve got one of those enormous deep freezers. We also actually have two full sized refrigerators, so we’ve got those 2 half freezers on them as well. So we have a lot of freezer space, but we have to be really strategic with it. So I’ve got a section in our freezer for, of course there’s one for entire meals, and that one is probably the section that I turn to the most when I need an entire meal already done. I don’t even; I’m not even looking to just grab a protein. I’m looking for something that’s completed, I can just put it in the oven and be done with it.

So I encourage you to have a section for entire meals, a section for cooked side dishes. So if you really do just need to grab some parsnip mash. Let’s say you were making parsnip mash one night for dinner, and you decided to make double batch so you could freeze half of it for later; again we’re getting into that really quick, intuitive, more shorter bursts in the kitchen kind of meal prep. You’ve got that in the freezer ready to go; have a section just set aside for those. Have a section set aside for raw proteins, and if you really want to be type A, like I am, you’ve got a section for ground beef, ground pork, breakfast meats; there’s also all the other beef cuts, pork cuts, seafood, so on and so forth. I also have an others section in my freezer where there’s a duck {laughs} in there. I’m going to make that duck soon. And then I encourage you to have a section for raw vegetables, and then another section for fruit.

Just being more organized will help make your life so much easier. You’ll be more aware of what you’ve actually got on hand. Again, it will save you time. You’ll be spending less time wondering what to make, and wondering what you have on hand, and more time eating, enjoying your life, spending time with your family, and avoiding that meal prep burnout.

So those are all of my tips for today! I hope you guys found all of this helpful. As always, please leave me a review in iTunes if you are enjoying the show. Also, if you’ve got some questions or comments, put them on either social media, I’m happy to hear them there, or on the blog post if you have questions specifically about today’s show, or if you have requests for future shows. Something that you’d really like to see me cover; I’d be happy to do that. Thanks again for joining us; we’ll be back again next week.

Meet the Author
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Cassy Joy Garcia

HOWDY! I’m Cassy Joy and I am just so happy you’re here. I’m the founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Nutrition Consultant here at Fed and Fit. What started as a food blog back in 2011 has evolved now into so much more.
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  1. DeAnn says

    DeAnn —  09/22/2015 At 19:52

    Someday, I would love to pick your brain about meal prep for my family. I have 8 children including two, very hungry teenage boys. The blogs or articles for feeding large families all include lots of pasta, bread, tater tots, etc. I’m all about easy but two of us have to be gluten-free and I’d really rather feed us with a Paleo/Primal influence. This is proving to be time-consuming and expensive!! If you have any resources or ideas for making this a little easier I’d love to hear it. Feel free to email me privately as well. 🙂

    • Kelly says

      Kelly —  10/11/2015 At 22:17

      Hi DeAnn! Sorry for the delayed response. Eight kids is a lot of meal prepping!! I would say your crockpot would be your best friend for making food for a lot of people. You can easily throw a lot of meat in there with some liquid and spices and have it all week long. You can also roast a lot of veggies, make hard boiled eggs, cut up fresh veggies for snacks, and bake some sweet potatoes for all week long. I suggest setting some time aside on Sunday to day this. If you have any direct questions email us at cassyjoy@fedandfit.com. Also, Pinterest could be very helpful as well!!