10 steps to prepare and cook weekly meals in advance

For the last 6 weeks before I quit my previous job, I had to travel for business. Half of these trips were from Monday through Friday where my husband had to care of the household by himself. In two of these trips, schools were closed due to Polar Vortex. I wanted to at least take cooking/meal preparation out of his hectic schedule. I spent my Sundays preparing and cooking meals for the week in advance.

I used to plan my weekly menus before. Adding prepping / cooking in advance for the whole week worked so well for us, now that I am working in the offie, I am trying to cook meals for the week on Sundays as our weekend schedule permits. The preparations eat a good portion of a Sunday up, but I’d rather do it in bulk in 3 hours instead of spending more than an hour in panic every evening. It also helps us eat dinner early so that children can go to bed on time.

Important Note: The meal preparation I will explain is NOT the “meal prep” for athletes or body builders you might see online. This is weekly meals for a family. I try to plan and prepare a different dish for every day. I plan to have balanced amount of protein, vegetables, grains and legumes but I do not calculate macros or micros.

1. Prepare weekly menu:
Weekly menu planning is a lifesaver for all busy parents. If you are not doing it already and run around in panic like a chicken with its head cutoff every afternoon, do your homework and plan your weekly menu over the weekend.

2. Shop for the ingredients:
Now that your menu is set, list the items you need. Search for coupons before going out for shopping. If you planned meals that can be frozen, buy for 2x servings. You can cook 2 batches and freeze one for later.
Cooking for the week
3. Cook the dishes:
Bring your grocery at home. I prefer to shop right before cooking or cook right after shopping to avoid stocking and picking the grocery multiple times. I lay the ingredients in order. I open my cookbooks or iPad, which I had marked while I was planning for the menu. I put on my apron, turn on my music and go into a cooking trans. It’s more fun if kids help.

4. Prep the dishes or meat that will be cooked/baked/grilled last minute:
Some dishes can be cooked completely and last a week. Some dishes I prefer to marinate or cook/bake lightly in advance and cook / bake / grill on the night of the meal.
Cooking for the week
5. Pack, label and refrigerate weekly quantities:
I pack and store my meals in pyrex containers. Then I label them with white paint tape. They are easy to write on with a CD marker and easy to peel off. Even though I plan weekly, day by day, my husband doesn’t have to go by that same day/meal combination. He can pick whatever he or the children wants.
Cooking for the week
6. Pack, label and freeze extra batches:
If I cook a meal that is freezable, I double my batch and freeze the extra batch for future use. I might put down a dish that I had frozen previously in my weekly menu plan.

7. Prepare salad ingredients:
We eat salads 4-5 times a week with the meals. Prepping the salad ingredients in bulk take time. Washing, cutting, slicing, shredding and packing or bagging in advance cuts on individual salad prep time.

8. Plan for making use of leftovers for lunch etc.:
Depending on how hungry everyone or how popular each dish is we might have leftovers. Sometimes, I just cook more ground beef or grill more chicken than we need. Then I use them to prepare burritos or sandwiches for kids’ lunch.

9. Defreeze any frozen meals or meat to be served in the morning:
I take out the frozen dish we’re going to serve a night before and put it in the refrigerator to thaw instead of trying to defrost it the whole frozen dish in the microwave.

10. Make final preps:
With all the advance preparations, all you need to do is reheating the dish, doing the final bake or grilling and tossing the salad.

My final tip is to have the children set the table.

Please share your meal preparation tips and tricks in the comments.


  1. hatice says

    Hi my children are not old enough to set the table but i hope one day they will do it. As a working mother i liked your advice s. I put garlics into olive oil and take out of jar one by one..

    • Practical Mama says

      Sue, I freeze almost anything. Mostly hamburger helpers you can find the recipe here http://practicalmama.com/category/home/kitchen/page/4/. I freeze soups, meatballs, cooked legumes (instead of canned), chicken or beef broth. Anything you can think of. I use either pyrex (glass) containers that I buy from Corning/Revere outlet stores or freezer safe plastic storage containers or ziploc bags.

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