We all want it ― easier, low stress, at-home meals. We want to eat healthier and not have to stand in the kitchen for two hours a night cooking and then cleaning up after dinner.
We wondered if weekly meal prepping might free up a few hours in our evenings. So, we caught up with Michelle Scotton of Las Vegas, Nevada. She is a busy mom who used to work full-time outside of the home. Currently, she is a stay-at-home mom and home educator.
We interviewed Scotton because she is a meal prep genius. For years, she has been prepping healthy meals for herself and her family on Sunday evenings so that she can save time, money and calories throughout the rest of her busy week. She also moderates a healthy living group online, where she helps other folks learn how to eat healthier and spend less time working in the kitchen.
Scotton graciously agreed to an interview with us. We asked her the most basic questions about meal prep. If you’re ready to get started and need a little direction, settle in for Meal Prep 101.
EFI: How many people are in your household?
Scotton: Three in total. However, living in Las Vegas, we have a revolving door of loved ones staying with us.
EFI: How many nights a week do you eat at home?
Scotton: We eat at home five to six nights a week.
EFI: Which meal planning schedule do you follow?
Scotton: Currently, I plan weekly, but I’m changing to monthly. I am hoping this will put even more time back into our lives.
EFI: Which days of the week do you prep meals? Why?
Scotton: Generally, I prep on Sunday evenings or at 4 a.m. on Monday if the weekend has not allowed for it. For most people, including us, Mondays through Fridays are the days that are filled with chaos. Hence, those are the days I like to prepare for in advance, in hopes that they’ll go smoother ― and they do.
Though weekends are busy too, I find more windows of opportunity to squeeze in an hour at the grocery store and one to two hours of prep time in the kitchen – either early mornings or later in the evenings.
EFI: Which meals do you make ahead or prepare ahead of time? Is it just dinners or other meals and snacks?
Scotton: I primarily prep for dinners. However, I prep staple items that make completing breakfast and lunch happen quickly ― often even grab-and-go options.
EFI: When you were a full-time interior designer and traveling for work, what was your meal schedule and practice like?
EFI: Now that you are at home full-time and homeschooling, what is your schedule like?
Scotton: Honestly, the schedule has remained mostly the same. On weeks that I don’t get prep done, I usually pull my son into the kitchen with me to help as we scramble to make dinner. I get him involved in hopes that he’ll appreciate cooking, baking and all that it entails.
EFI: So, there are some weeks when you don’t get around to planning meals? On those weeks, what differences do you notice?
Scotton: Gosh, there are so many consequences. I have more chaos and stress, which impacts my son’s behavior and cooperation. I end up with wasted food that was purchased and not eaten because we resorted to eating out. We waste money and eat poorly. This is just a few of the differences.
EFI: What kinds of containers work best for you when you prepare ingredients and store them. Do you prefer plastic or glass? Bags or containers?
Scotton: I only use glass containers with leak-proof lids. I use BPA [bisphenol A]-free plastic storage bags for the items that are grab-and-go, such as washed fruits and vegetables. Often, I grab the glass containers to go too. That’s why I use leak-proof. Also, things like onions do not cause an odor in the entire refrigerator when they’re in the leak-proof glass containers.
EFI: Tell us about some of the best meals you’ve made ahead?
Scotton: Some of the best are breakfast casseroles and soups. I don’t do a lot of make-ahead meals for dinner. Instead, I like to plan meals that take less than 30 minutes to make, provided I have done my weekend prep. Then, often, these dinners turn into leftover lunches for the next day.
When we have houseguests, which is often, I make breakfast casseroles, which are wonderful to make the night before.
In the winter, I love to make big batches of soups on the weekends. Most of them are even better after a day or two. Soups and salads are very common meals for us in the winter.
EFI: Which ingredients do you always prep to have on hand?
Scotton: Fruit. I soak all of my fruit in organic apple cider vinegar. Then, I rinse and cut them, and then store some in bags for grab and go and some in glass containers.
Based on the season, I always have two to three of the following fruit options washed and prepped:
- Oranges, particularly clementines
- Apples, with a squeeze of lemon to prevent yellowing
- Peeled and frozen bananas for homemade ice cream and smoothies
I also have the following vegetable staples washed, cut and on hand:
- Bell peppers
- Carrots (I usually buy organic mini carrots.)
- Romaine lettuce leaves
Based on my meal plan for the week, I often have things like cleaned and chopped Brussels sprouts, broccoli, zucchini, spaghetti squash, kale, celery, cauliflower, and cabbage prepped.
Other staples I like to always have on hand include:
- Hard-boiled and peeled eggs
- Healthy dips and dressings
- Protein bites
- Washed and cut lemons
- Cooked rice
- Cooked quinoa
- Homemade bean salad
- Browned ground meat, if my meal plan calls for it
EFI: Would you please share some of your best tips and food prep ideas with us, beginners?
Scotton: I believe the first and most important steps in developing a sustainable food prep mindset are these:
- Have your kitchen in order: The key is to get as much done in as few steps as possible ― I guess that’s the designer in me talking. If possible, have things like the strainer, cutting board, knives and food processor near the sink. Keep your drawers and cabinets organized so that items can be put away quickly and grabbed with one hand. Have your refrigerator clean and ready to fill with awesome prepped food. You’ll find your refrigerator organization will be easier to maintain when you’re prepping your food.
- Purchase some good gadgets: I have purchased items that seemed useful, and then I find that I go through seasons with my gadgets and recipes. There are some gadgets that make food prep more efficient.
An adjustable strainer that can reach across the sink and suspend food so that it’s not sitting in rinse water is a good one. A stainless-steel scraper is helpful to scoop up chopped items so that you don’t drop them on the floor or countertops. I also love my grapefruit knife. I use it to clean out pepper seeds and spaghetti squash. I use assorted size, trigger-release, ice-cream scoopers for meatballs and protein bites. A good set of assorted knives are must-have items. I like my stone cutting boards. It’s essential to have a good set of pans. Insta-pots, slow cookers and air fryers are also good to have.
- Get in the mood: Let’s be honest. For most people, carving out one to three hours of our weeks, especially during a precious weekend, for food prep can feel like the ultimate torture. Trust me, the more we do this and realize the benefits, the more we will want to do it.
Like anything, the more often we do it, the better and more efficient we become. I’m a big music girl. I love my music and pick my favorite playlist, insert earbuds, wear comfortable clothes and get in the zone to prep. It has become a time that I enjoy to myself. Plus, it benefits the entire family.
EFI: Which ingredients are the easiest to prepare and store for several days?
Scotton: Hard boiled eggs, rice, quinoa, carrots, celery, peppers, onions, pineapple, and grapes. Prepped meat is also easy to make ahead and store. If I prep it on Sunday, I use it by Wednesday or Thursday.
EFI: What are some of the ways prepping your ingredients ahead of time has helped you and your family?
Scotton: I am a big advocate for healthier eating and exercise. It’s one of the best investments, if not the best, that we can make in ourselves and our families. As a busy mom with a demanding career, I have been guilty of planning every part of my life, except food and meals. When I make food prep a priority, it allows our family more time in every other aspect of our lives.
Additionally, the domino effect of doing this is truly endless. Your health will improve. I have lost 37 pounds. You will not feel as much like you’re flying by the seat of your pants. You’ll have less stress in relationships. You save money ― lots of money. You’ll spend less time at the grocery store. It’s easier to get your children and family involved in the kitchen. You’ll inspire others and set a good example for your family. I could go on and on about the benefits.
EFI: What is your advice for people who are considering meal prepping?
Scotton: My hope is that you will feel inspired to incorporate meal prep into your life if you haven’t already. If you commit to a solid month, you will be amazed at the rewards. I promise.