Danon from Eats Salad Daily is sharing her meal prepping journey, tips to prepare your meals efficiently, and how to stay on a budget while meal prepping.

Artichoke, basil and tomato salad.

HOW IT STARTED

I HAVE BEEN WORKING TOWARDS THIS MY ENTIRE LIFE AND JUST REALIZED THIS TRUTH.

I feel like I was the one person during the pandemic that didn't make sourdough. Instead, I took a deep look into how much we were spending on groceries (feeding a family of 5 including 3 teens), and how much we were wasting - during a global pandemic - and it opened my eyes to the fact we could do better.

During the lockdown, we had to figure out our stuff because we were only shopping every 2-3 weeks. It was here that meal prepping to the degree I do now, began.  It is where my passion for reducing waste ignited as it became a game. How little food can we have in the house and what can we make with it? This then turned into, if I buy this and make this, what's next? My "Food Pivots" were born and became a staple in my prep process.

And thus, Eats Salad Daily began; something I have been working towards my whole life having been immersed in hospitality and the restaurant industry. I love food; I am obsessed with the art of the perfect bite (trust me this is a real thing); and the moment of sheer foodgasm (you know the one), when your head tilts back and your eyes roll around and you have a mini When Harry Met Sally moment?? Well, that feeling is possible no matter if you're at home or out to eat, and I am here to break down any fears you may have about that. I wholeheartedly support the notion that anyone can cook (yes Ratatouille is one of my favourite movies), and remove any doubt that you have that you don't have time or what it takes to prep. Healthy choices start with healthy preparation. Together, we will tackle the Art of the Prep.

CONTENTS

04 GETTING STARTED - Meal prepping isn't something you just dive in. There are a few key components to a successful prep and we will break them down.

05 THE ART OF THE PREP  - A deep dive into what considerations to make when starting to meal prep. Without a clear map, it can get overwhelming.

07 MENU PLANNING - The nitty-gritty of how to map out your approach to menu planning, shopping, and prepping!

08 EATS SALAD DAILY’S ESSENTIAL TIPS & TRICKS TO A SUCCESSFUL MEAL PREP - Breaking down key steps so you have a clear path through this process.

10 PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER - Now that you know what to do, here's how to do it!

12 ABOUT THE AUTHOR - An introduction to Danon Pascoa of Eats Salad Daily. Her ethos, her message, and more! Follow her @eatssaladdaily 

GETTING STARTED - FINDING YOUR WHY

I get asked all the time to share how I got started on my meal-prepping journey. The truth is that I needed to do SOMETHING during the pandemic. We were all stuck at home, doing our best with the situation at hand, and after hearing from my kids "we don't have anything to eat" for the hundredth time I had a mom meltdown. I am certain it would have been a viral moment if anyone got it on camera (though am so thankful they didn't).

I pulled the family into the kitchen and opened all the cupboards/drawers. I pulled every item from the fridge and freezer. I was spewing what options we have at home ("you can make this, there's this" and so on). There was also a moment when I saw red. I was giving a Shakespeare-Esque soliloquy about how the only reason they think they don't have anything to eat is because it would literally take E-F-F-O-R-T to make it. It was at that moment that it dawned on me. If we have readily accessible foods when we open the fridge, our decision-making ability is geared towards those options. I also thought of how amazing the elimination of having to choose what to prepare can also support other behaviors like choosing a healthy option first, not to mention the fact that if the prep was already done, 1/2 the mess is avoided. 💡

After I figured out a system that would work for me, I set out to have my family participate in this initiative to limit waste, to use up our items, to make delicious and healthy food, and because I am a visual eater - to make it pretty!

GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD

Perhaps my "beginning" may resonate with you; perhaps you are intrigued because you have an incredible Pinterest board full of meal-prepping ideas but aren't sure how to get started! Maybe there's a question on repeat in the back of your head of "how can I find more time in my day?" or maybe you are looking at ways to support healthy choices. No matter where you are starting from - getting to a place of confidence with your meal prepping can take just a few steps!

There are hundreds of reasons/excuses that I hear all the time on why people can't meal prep:

“I don't have time; I can't cook like you; I work so much;  My kids are picky eaters”

Whatever is in your head right at this moment (because you're likely cycling through common thoughts you have had or experienced), let's just forget them for a moment. Let’s start from a new space where that isn’t in our vernacular. Let's start at the most substantial step of this process.

LET'S BUILD A BUDGET!

Now you may think, why are we talking about money? My friend, we aren't! I am talking about a budget for your time. If we take a look at a week block, let's figure out exactly how much time you currently spend shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Then factor in how many tough conversations you may have (these are the ones with tiny humans that go like this "This is what I made for dinner, so you'll eat it" or maybe it's the one I was sick of hearing "we don't have any food" when you have a full fridge/pantry).

How much time does that take? How much mental weight does that put on you or those in your household? How much would it mean to you to not have as many of those??

Your budget will consider your Current Spend (what you just tallied) and will transition into what time you will budget to menu plan, grocery shop, and meal prep). Instantly you will find added time back into your personal time bank. This may open up opportunities for you to find time for yourself. 🙌

Herbs

TAKE A NUMBER AND JOT IT DOWN

Taking inventory of the bar or in the kitchen was one of my least favorite tasks. However in hindsight, it really was grooming me for this phase of my life! When we meal prep, we need to be sure we know what we have to start with to then build our shopping list only of what we need. Perhaps many of you have watched The Bear recently; it’s on Hulu - it’s incredible - please do it, just maybe after you finish reading this! This showcases one of the most accurate depictions of why prepping is so important!  It’s been ingrained in my being since I started in the restaurant industry at 12, and has carried through to this day.

For a successful menu plan/meal prep I feel it is essential to start with the inventory in your fridge, pantry, cupboards, and freezers. This means everything, all jars/packages, etc. It is also a great task to tie in with cleaning out your fridge/pantry as often there are jars that are almost empty and ways to purge what you have to get rid of.  Once you have an idea of what you have, you can then have a bit of fun with the next step.

Eats Salad Daily Pro Tip: those mostly empty jars of mustard, mayo, yogurt, sour cream or ketchup SAVE THEM and make sauces, dressings, and marinades from them!

WHAT WILL YOU PREP?

A common experience I see in our friends and family, through conversations in my social media community, and in daily interactions is how hard it is to get everyone's likes/dislikes covered in all meals. I have one friend who shared with me that they cook one meal for 3/4 of their family and another full meal for the remaining 1/4 as they don't like certain items. While this is totally up to the individual to do, I was really shocked hearing how trapped and stuck they felt and that they thought they HAD to do it this way. I needed to help them unravel and get a plan in place STAT!  We spent 2 hours together and created their plan of action: Tackle Aversions and Allergies While Including Everyone!

How can you implement this in your life?

Well, you can hire me OR you can create an "Inspiration board". Designers do this to get a sense of what a space should look and feel like - so why wouldn't we do this for our meals? There are so many platforms and mediums to pull from but I prefer a digital version. I can create my own library or repository of info (think Pinterest). This way it's easy to access, available on all devices, and I won't have another pile of paper lying around somewhere to sift through.

Next, you connect with those in your home. This could be a simple family meeting, individual conversations or whatever works for your home.

Regardless of the approach and whatever your personal situation, you will invite those members of your family/household if any, to contribute their ideas. This includes (age-appropriate) children too. They will be tasked with contributing recipe ideas they want to enjoy or try!

For those with younger toddlers/children, it opens up the opportunity to spend some time together connecting over food and what they may like to try. Please don't discount this step. For anyone who may have selective eaters in their home/life, getting their buy-in into different foods is a HUGE step.

This is also true for children and what clothes they wear daily. I can recall so many stressful moments during our daughters’ early years when they wanted to wear something different than what I thought they should. I learned very quickly a) they were not going to let up and b) I hadn't thought to include their voice in something that impacted them. Opening the dialogue up for food conversation allows children (and adults) to explore visually what they like, and what they don't like and gives a way to share and communicate in a manner that is inclusive and represents what their interests are for clothes, food or other daily choices).

When you build your collective menu inspiration board, you will then have everyone's preferences available to you. This saves time on your end (add that to your time bank) and also gives you leverage. Now, it may not be needed; however, if anyone says, I don't want that or I don't like that, you have the opportunity to have the conversation that they selected this item. (VICTORY)🏆

How this works in my family, I send a message out via text to the teens and husband that says "Hey, add recipe ideas or send recipes to me by Wednesday. They all go to Pinterest/TikTok etc., add what they like, share in our group chat what their needs may be this week and then I get to my next step.

For you, this could be simply, looking at what items you have come up with (with those in your home) and checking off the boxes of what you need (do you work and need dinner ready, do you need some pre/post gym items, etc.).

Once you review all options and outline the recipes to prep, another check-in with your household is needed. My meal prep is typically for lunches, partial-prepped dinner items, and snacks. As my goal is full family buy-in to this process, I want to ensure they can speak to their needs for the week. Sure, I have narrowed the list to 4 or 5 options, but they can tell me how much of what they want.

I usually send a text saying "Hey family, here's this week's menu. Who wants what for lunch? Need to know by Friday at 2pm". I literally type out the recipes I have created or we have found including the title and snapshot of what it is and send in the message.

The responses will come in where #1 wants 3 in total (one option a, c, d); #2 wants 5 lunches (one of each) and #3 wants 4 (all of the same kind) and so my prep list has a foundation.

Your prep list should now be taking shape. A great visual aid to use when going through this process is to use a calendar or weekly planner to jot down what is needed and when. You can then also review all recipes against what you have in your inventory to determine your shopping list.

This is the step that usually is something that is a learning step because knowing how many servings a specific volume of produce yields may not be apparent at first. The great news is this is YOUR PREP and you can take time and adjust as needed.

Eats Salad Daily Pro Tip: Learning how to look at food and find the PIVOTS is really key! Knowing exactly what portion is required for your recipes and finding the same main ingredients across recipes helps shape this step!

Menu for meal prepping

SHOP THE SEASON

My favourite part of this whole process outside of surfing Pinterest is grocery shopping. I love the stores and speaking with the people at the markets and shops!

I tend to do 2 versions of a grocery list. The first is messy and it's all ingredients for each recipe in columns, then I scratch out what I have from my inventory; highlight what items repeat through each recipe, and then figure out how many of what I need to get.

The 2nd version is a clean list that I follow and use to take note of any sale prices, abundance, etc. These added notes allow for me to bulk up on non-perishable items that may be on sale. It saves time down the line and always gets used up! Prepping for me also includes prepping my pantry!

I list what stores I am heading to and make my way with my list in hand with a goal that I will always be under budget and NOT purchase items that aren't needed

I think part of this step is knowing where to buy most items. I am a believer that you don't do a full grocery shop at one store. If you are in an area that doesn't have this option, that makes total sense but if you are in a heavily saturated area, find where the best deals are.

I buy my canned goods at Food Basics, No Frills, Walmart, or if they go on sale at major retailers like Fortinos, Longo's, or Sobeys. For my produce, I start with the farmer's markets (depending on what I am getting and what is in season) then hit up Farm Boy or Longos as their produce sections are really great and full of local gems. For my bulk items, containers, and other needs it is COSTCO all the way.

It may take a bit longer and there may be a few stops, but once you get into the groove, I promise that you will not only be so happy about what you have saved, but how easy this was. Because remember, you're not shopping for every item each week (or however you prefer to do your shop), you're going to shop only for what you need.

TAKE CARE OF THE FOOD YOU EAT, SO IT CAN TAKE CARE OF YOU!

I am a firm believer that when you take care of the foods you consume, they will take care of you. By this, I mean when you get home from your shop, take the time to prep it. Wash your greens and wrap them in a cloth; clean and slice your peppers; clean your herbs and add to a jar of water. If you buy a large quantity of meats, this could also mean portioning and making the marinade you will use on them. This not only cuts down your actual meal prepping time but allows those healthy choices we talked about earlier, to be a natural part of your grocery shop. It is another step closer to healthy choices being readily available when you want them.

I did an experiment with my family where I had a bag of carrots, a bunch of celery, and 4 peppers on the shelf in the fridge beside a tub of hummus. Everyone knew that we had veggies and hummus as a snack, but it wasn't eaten for 3 days! I was slightly frustrated but knew that by taking care of the food - it will then take care of us. So I washed and prepped the veg, slicing, adding my celery and carrots to a sealed mason jar with water and I put the portions of hummus stacked beside the veggies. Literally, the very next day, 90% of them were eaten.🤯 It really is about giving the choices we want them (our kids/loved ones/roommates) to make but making it accessible so the decision is automatic.

Jalapeno, cilantro, cauliflower salad.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

On the day of your meal prep, get a coffee and review your list. Are there items that can be prepped at the same time? Can you cut down your prep by combining efforts? For example, if you're making some boiled eggs to have in salads or on the side, but you're also making a cold pasta salad you can partially cook the pasta and then add the eggs into that pot for 6-7 minutes and take them out, drain the pasta. Boom 2 foods, one pot!

You then want to prep the items that need cool time, and long cook times (such as meats, grains, roasted veggies, etc.). This allows them to cool if needed and also allows for you to be able to chop veggies, make dressings, etc. during this cook-time.

Work smarter; not harder is the best motto here. I think it's key here to not get too frustrated about how much time it takes during your first prep. There is no race against the clock! If you're competitive like me, making a game really is a great motivation. Once you have done all the cooking, chopping, cooling, and mixing it's time to play with your food. Here's where extra hands are a huge help! I like to clear a large space (my kitchen table), set out all the containers I am using, and have all my items lined on cookie sheets ready to move in an assembly line.

All dishes that get lettuce, get the lettuce. All dishes that have grains get the grains. I add each item into the containers as the recipe calls for and have prepped dressings/sauces on the side ready to go. Once they are packaged, the lid goes on and I put it in the fridge.

I know that some of you may be wondering about the real estate in your fridge and how that works with all of these containers. Well, if you're prepping all you have and will use, as you take a prepped item, more space becomes available. Additionally, as you have prepared everything you're only filling the space those ingredients were taking up. It eventually balances in the wash.

THAT’S A WRAP!

You have just completed your first meal prep all on your own. You had a plan, saw it through, maximized your groceries, and are going to find that prepping like this will lessen how much waste is produced. You will love how your family/household automatically pulls the prepped items and how less you hear how there isn't any food. You may be surprised when you hear how much they love being a part of the plan and love all the options available.

THAT’S A WRAP!

You have just completed your first meal prep all on your own. You had a plan, saw it through, maximized your groceries, and are going to find that prepping like this will lessen how much waste is produced. You will love how your family/household automatically pulls the prepped items and how less you hear how there isn't any food. You may be surprised when you hear how much they love being a part of the plan and love all the options available.

Eats Salad Daily Pro Tip: cleaning as you go, REALLY helps not feel overwhelmed during this process. It is another prep as your equipment is ready for your next task.

Beans and herbs

The Art of meal Prep is written by Danon, she shares her recipes and meal prepping ideas on Eats Salad Daily. Follow Danon on Instagram

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