Imagine it’s 6:00 p.m. on a weeknight. Your kids are complaining that they’re starving, the chicken is still frozen, and everyone is getting pretty hangry — including you. Well, you could avoid mealtime meltdowns (and having to order a pizza again this week) if you only made some meal prep magic ahead of time. And that, coincidentally, is the new book from Weelicious founder Catherine McCord. She spoke with Celebrity Parents about the importance of meal prep and organizing your kitchen, why she wants to see more of a revolution in terms of meal prep, and how mason jars are truly the unsung heroes of meal prep.
I absolutely love the new book, Meal Prep Magic. The cover is so colorful and with the rainbow style, I have a feeling that you might be a The Home Edit fan.
[laughs] Well, the funny thing is that Clea was my son’s preschool teacher. When they had 5,000 followers, she said, “Can I come over and do the kids’ bedrooms?” I was like, “Sure!” and to see their success makes me so happy.
But I do love a rainbow and the cover was meant to be about health and wellness. And I love refrigerator porn more than anything! It’s tied into all of it.
I just got my first refrigerator bins a few weeks ago and it totally changed my life.
Isn’t it funny how those little things, like bins, makes a difference? Everything gets lost. That’s why the name of the book is an acronym, because POPE is Purge, Organize, Prep, and Execute. If you can rid of stuff, it gives you a reset.
You can’t have a successful mealtime if you don’t have an organized pantry. You can’t just wing dinner when you have kids.
No, because then they’re just mad and they don’t eat, and you’ll just wind up making something else. The day that I realized that it was 21 meals plus snacks per child for 18 years, I don’t think that anyone would have ever had children!
In doing research for this interview, I found this stat from the National Poll on Children’s Health: 72% of parents say that when they’re stressed for time, fast food is a good option. I think it goes back to the idea that they’re stressed about what to feed their families because they haven’t done the meal prep.
Well, for me, if I have meal prep, it’s life changing. I do wake up some mornings and think, ”I didn’t make anything.” So you go through your Rolodex of what everyone loves and how much time it takes. Do you have overnight oats to creamy chia pudding? I make this blender banana bread loaf that’s not gluten; it’s just oats. If you have meals that are prepared and you’re prepping, you’ll be saving money and time. I don’t know if you realize, but those few hours you spend in the kitchen meal prepping to get you through the next few days or weeks, you’ll save a lot of time and stress when you think, “Oh, I don’t have anything, I’ll just do fast food because that’s the only option.”
What would you say to parents who say, “I’m too busy to meal prep. I’m working, I’m chauffeuring kids here and there, I have too much to do?”
Weekends are the time you can slow the train down and get them involved. Make freezer stash burritos; put out the tortillas and let the kids choose the ingredients. Then get a marker and write down which one is which. That way, they know what’s in the food so they’ll eat it. Most of the recipes in Meal Prep Magic have 4-7 ways to make them or make it your own. That’s part of meal prep; if you have a large family, everyone is getting that base recipe that they love but then they can modify it.
I have 4 kids and while they might eat the same meal, they’re still going to eat it four different ways.
Right, I’m very into DIY meals so even when I’m meal prepping for our family, I’ll make a ton of rice, pasta, roasted vegetables or grilled chicken, and then I’ll mix and match them so that everyone can DIY their own meal. Everyone gets what they want and it’s so much better.
It started at the beginning of the pandemic. My husband had gone and bought 200 cans of beans at Costco. He was just buying everything in this crazy bulk, and I was like, “What am I going to do with 200 cans of beans?” [laughs] I realized that when you’re cooking, you don’t necessarily think breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert. You think more like, “I have rice. What can I make?” So the book is broken down by foods opposed to recipes that follow breakfast lunch, and dinner. The recipes came because I had all this time and there was no going out. So I was cooking every meal and I had more time to organize. I realized that I was saving so much more time by meal prepping and organizing. It helped me to shift my focus.
The book is very comprehensive and bulleted. I like things that are tidbits; if I see paragraphs, I get very overwhelmed. I also like a book that has a lot of pictures, too. Being visual, I need to see the food and the organization, like meal prep containers and what do they look like.
In writing and researching for the book, did you come across some new level of meal prep or organization that you didn’t know before?
I’m still learning! Even with my refrigerator and pantry, I’m finding new gear. It’s almost like a girl in her closet. I’m constantly rejiggering and finding new things. Ceramic egg holders, for example, are amazing. Paper cartons don’t look good, or they get wet and an egg breaks, so I’m always so excited to find something new.
Plus, food is so expensive now and everything costs a dollar more. I think showing people how to make your fruits and vegetables last longer in terms of storage is so important. I think mason jars are the unsung heroes of meal prep and they’re inexpensive, too.
[holds up book] This is my pantry, and just taking everything out of the boxes and getting a ton of Lazy Susans so you can visually see everything that you have is so much more aesthetically pleasing. I personally feel like I want to cook more instead of five boxes of Ronzoni pasta stacked next to each other. My kids can find the healthier snacks like prepped celery, carrots, and humus or even the sweet and salty snacks.
Boxes are great for bulk buying, but definitely not for storage. But I think an excellent point in the book is that when you’re organizing, it has to work for everybody. Because even if you’re the one who’s cooking the most, you know that your partner is probably going to come in and wreck everything.
It drives me crazy! [laughs] Thank God my husband is super organized, but my kids…! [laughs] You have to do a weekly reset. There’s a lot of traffic if you think of your refrigerator like a highway. How many times is the refrigerator door opened daily if you have a family, right? In my fridge we have blue tape — we have a mustard and ketchup side or dressings that I make. It’s blue tape, so there’s nothing sexy about it! [laughs] You can organize economically. I have shoe bins in my freezer for frozen fruits and vegetables. Because if not, then it’s just a shelf and you’ll dump everything in there. The shoe bins keep it organized and they’re easy to clean.
And you can do it little by little. You can do one shelf in your fridge or one shelf in your pantry. You don’t have to go all in all at once. And I don’t think you should because as you start to organize, you’re going to find what works for you and what doesn’t instead of spending a lot of money on products that you don’t need.
Catherine, what would be your one hack that any parent can pull off if they want to meal prep?
I think the easiest meal prep is make a bunch of one food on a Sunday that your family loves. Make a ton of it and turn it into four recipes. You can turn rice into cheesy brown rice cakes, leftover rice pudding, stuffed peppers, or soup. All the recipes in the book are meant to be enjoyed that way.
You can also give your family a cookbook and ask them which are their two favorite recipes, and see which ones cross over. Then you can have those two recipes ready at all times. And doubling recipes is also a great hack. Anytime you make muffins or bread, eat half and then freeze half.
Do you find that if you’re meal prepping, and you have that time to yourself and no one needs you for anything that meal prep can be peaceful? I find that chopping with a good knife feels so pleasant. The rhythm is hypnotic for me.
You feel like you’re on a cooking show! There’s something about that motion that is wonderful. I make a lot of soups on the weekends so I’m the same way. There’s something very fulfilling about being able to do just that. You and me, we would live a happy life together with our seven children! [laughs]
I personally love it but you’re probably talking to the wrong person. I like it because I give them jobs. When we come home from the farmer’s market, they’ll stem strawberries or shuck sugar snap peas. They really enjoy it. And when you include them in the meal prep, or bring them in at the last-minute preparations, they’ll know what’s in the fridge. Put it at their eye level, so that can help steer them away from packaged foods and towards the healthier options.
But you can also do meal prep alone, too. Put on a podcast or some music, and really relish those two hours by yourself. Once you start doing it, it can feel like some nice selfish time and plus you’re preparing meals for the week ahead, so it’s a total win/win.