Luckily (for my sanity’s sake!), I don’t have to travel on business very often. But when I do, I always find myself a smidge panicky about the same thing. What is my family going to eat while I’m gone?
It sounds so silly, because I know they’d survive on Cheerios for a week if needed. I know they would. I know they’d be just fine with all the plethora of dining options available to us in these days. Buuuuut part of the way I tangibly show love to them on a regular basis is by putting healthy food in their bellies. It makes me feel good to know that throughout their day, they are getting good nutrients and luckily, they *usually* enjoy what I make! Win/Win!
It took me a few trips out of town to master my pre-travel routine, but now that I have, I’ve reduced my stress (and mommy guilt!) considerably.
In addition to using this when I travel, I often will do this same prep/planning routine if I’m just heading into a busy week. I may be the one doing the actual cooking on the night of, but at least my weekend self has made my job easier!
Here’s my “go to” for prepping/shopping/meal preparation:
(Note: I usually head out for my work related trips on a Monday, so I start my prep the Saturday before. Obviously, you’d want to adjust for length of trip/schedule.)
The Meal Plan
Weekly staples – do we need paper towels? Shampoo and Conditioner? I make sure all the essentials are stocked. I also stock up on fruits, snacks, eggs, milk, cheese, etc. Just the usual items that we go through each and every week.
Breakfast items – I’ll make a batch of OOG for quick and easy breakfasts and rely on Dad to fill in with scrambled eggs and toast on a few mornings.
Lunch items – To make packing lunch a breeze for the week, I rely heavily on pre-made salads from Trader Joe’s and turkey sandwiches/wraps. Monday, Wednesday and Friday will usually be a sandwich or a wrap, and Tuesday and Thursday will be a pre-packaged salad. With our food allergies/nutrition needs, buying lunch at school isn’t an option, so I’ve found that this combination is easy enough for everyone to handle. Throw in a bar and/or some fruit, and voila! Lunch box complete.
Snacks – Peanut Butter Energy balls are quick, easy and a great source of protein to help fuel after school activities. They are a staple at our house and I always have a fresh batch ready to go before I head out of town.
Dinners – So, this is the biggie. If I’m gone Monday – Friday, I need to make sure we have 4 meals on hand that are easily assembled. Here’s my standard dinner plan.
Monday – Flank steak, grilled veggies and brown rice
Tuesday –Pineapple Salsa Chicken Enchiladas
Wednesday –Sloppy Joe Pockets and quick tossed salad
Thursday – Homemade Chicken Nuggets (Gluten-Free!) and baked sweet potatoes
The Plan of Action:
Saturday or T-2 days: Grocery Shopping
For the purpose of this post, I’m just going to list the ingredients for the 4 dinners below. You’ll need to fill in with the items for breakfasts/lunches and snacks.
Small Flank Steak
Your favorite steak marinade. If you are GF, I recommend Allegro .. a little goes a long way!
Pineapple Salsa – or really, your favorite brand of jarred salsa will do!
Roasted Chicken – Shortcut: Buy a large rotisserie chicken already cooked then just shred at home or a package of Simply Roast Chicken at Trader Joe’s which is cooked and sliced!
Shredded Cheddar or Colby/Jack Cheese
Fresh Pineapple – Shortcut: Splurge on precut fresh pineapple spears and then chop quickly at home. When doing the prep work for a weeks worth of meals, its worth it. You are welcome!
Can of green chiles – optional
1 fresh lime
1 lb ground beef
1 small onion
1 red or green bell pepper
Fresh garlic – Shortcut: For a dish like this, I used the pre-peeled garlic in the vacuum sealed packages. So. much. easier. And the garlic is a subtle flavor anyway, no need to make your hands stink.
Dry Mustard powder
Chebe Original Gluten Free Cheese Bread Mix + ingredients listed on box (or if you aren’t gluten free, you could use a refrigerated pizza crust just as easily! I’d buy 2 cans.)
Favorite Bagged Salad
1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
1 cup flour (gluten free or regular)
Granulated Garlic powder
Bag of your favorite potato or corn chips (We like salt and pepper potato chips or Frito’s)
- Place steak in a ziploc bag with marinade and put back in fridge
- Combine all veggies into a ziploc bag for easy pulling
Prep for Tuesday Dinner (20 minutes):
Assemble enchiladas according to directions. DO NOT BAKE. Place in a freezer and oven-safe casserole. Cover tightly with foil and place in freezer.
Prep for Wednesday Dinner (25 minutes):
Make sloppy joe pockets according to directions. BAKE in oven until lightly golden brown. They will get “baked” again when heated, so try to keep them on the light side this first go around. After cooled, wrap individually in tin foil and place in freezer.
Prep for Thursday Dinner (30 minutes, including cooking time):
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Cut chicken into 1 1/2″ cubes
- Place flour and garlic powder in a large ziploc bag. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add chicken pieces and toss well to completely coat.
- In a bowl, whisk 2 eggs and a splash of milk.
- Open the bag of chips but do not empty chips out. Crush the chips in the bag with your hands or place on counter and crush with a rolling pin. You want the chips to be well crushed into small pieces. Then empty the chips into a separate bowl.
- Shake excess flour from chicken. Dip into egg mixture until well coated. Dip into crushed chips and press down on both sides until well coated. Place on a cutting board while you make all of the nuggets.
- When nuggets are ready, pour 2-3 Tbsp oil onto a large baking pan. Place pan in oven for 3 minutes exactly. Take pan out of oven and place nuggets on pan. they should sizzle a bit. Place pan back in oven and bake nuggets until lightly golden brown. About 12-15 minutes, depending on size of nuggets. Check for doneness.
- Let nuggets cool and then place in a Ziploc Freezer Bag and place in freezer.
Monday before heading out to the airport: I’ll leave these instructions with Dad or Grandma, whomever is “on duty” for the week.
Monday Dinner: (20-30 min depending on size of grill) – Slice zucchini in half. Peel onion and slice into 4 ringed sections. Wipe down mushrooms with a wet paper towel. Lay veggies on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt/pepper. Grill flank steak. Grill veggies. Microwave brown rice for 3 minutes.
Tuesday Dinner: (30-60 minutes cooking time, depending on if thawed at all. Essentially no prep) – If you remember, remove enchilada casserole from freezer and place in fridge in the morning to thaw. Heat oven to 350, place enchiladas in oven COVERED, for 30 minutes. Remove cover and heat until cheese is slightly browned and everything is heated through.
Wednesday Dinner: (20-30 minutes cooking time. 5-10 minutes prep) – Heat oven to 350 and unwrap sloppy joe pockets. Place pockets on a cookie sheet. Place in oven until crisp and heated through. Toss salad.
Thursday Dinner: (15-20 minutes cooking time. 10-15 minutes prep) – Heat oven to 375. Place desired number of chicken nuggets on cookie sheet. Place in oven for 15-20 minutes until heated through and crisp. Meanwhile, wash sweet potatoes. Pierce with a fork. Place in microwave for 4 minutes on high. Turn sweet potatoes. Microwave on high another 3-4 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork. Carefully remove. Slice open and add a pat of butter and cinnamon, if desired.I assure this plan is kid tested and Dad-on-Duty approved! It’s manageable and relatively nutritious with a variety of proteins, veggies and starches.
Have other great make-ahead meals to share? I’d love to know!!