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Back to School Series: Meal Prep as a Busy Teacher
Episode 409th July 2024 • The Teaching Toolbox - A Podcast for Middle School Teachers • Brittany Naujok & Ellie Nixon, Podcast for Middle School Teachers
00:00:00 00:24:24

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Today, we are delving into meal prepping as busy teachers. Let’s see what we have cooked up for you today!

Topics Discussed

  • Busy teacher friendly meal ideas
  • Tips for meal planning as a busy teacher

Resources Mentioned


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Brittany 0:00

Hey Ellie, what do you like to do on Sundays?

Ellie 0:02

Well, besides resting, relaxing a little bit, and working out, Sunday afternoons have always been a big planning time for me planning for the week, especially when my kids were younger. How about you?

Brittany 0:15

Yeah, planning is a big thing for me on Sundays, too. I love to sit down with my calendar in the afternoon, and update my calendar and make sure all my appointments are updated. And make sure I'm set to go, that I have everything I need for the week and double check all our meal plans, and just make sure I know where I'm going every day and that my phone is updated. And we're all set.

Ellie 0:43

Very smart.

Brittany 0:44

Welcome to the teaching Toolbox Podcast. I'm Brittany, and I'm here with Ellie.

Ellie 0:50


Brittany 0:50

Today we are delving into meal prepping as busy teachers. Let's see what we have cooked up for you today.

Brittany 1:00

Let's start with what many people consider to be the most important meal of the day breakfast.

Ellie 1:05

What do you prefer to have for breakfast Brittany?

Brittany 1:08

I tend to never eat breakfast, and I know that's bad for you. But I covet sleep more than nutrients. When I do eat the first meal of the day, I tend to like egg based meals or just cereal. How about you, Ellie?

Ellie 1:29

Well, I actually don't eat breakfast anymore, either. And that's because I do intermittent fasting, for a variety of reasons. And so I don't usually eat until about 11 o'clock. But when I did eat a breakfast breakfast, I'd have toast or grab a protein shake or a protein bar of some kind. But I know there are people out there who are awesome at prepping their breakfast.

Brittany 1:54

So how can we meal prep breakfast, we're usually grabbing and going, how do you prep stuff for that ahead of time.

Ellie 2:03

Overnight oats are pretty popular. From what I've heard. As I said, I haven't done it. But for this you can mix rolled oats with your milk of choice like a day, dairy or a plant based milk. Add some yogurt for some creaminess, maybe a little honey or maple syrup for sweetness. And you can add your favorite mixins like chia seeds for extra fiber, nuts for some crunch. I love having some crunch. So I would definitely have some type of nuts or granola in there. Yeah, and then berries for some you know freshness and getting your fruits in there. And then you just seal the mixture in an airtight container. My daughter has done this and they think she uses mason jars to put her overnight oats in. And then you can let it soak overnight in the refrigerator. So then in the morning, you have a great satisfying breakfast waiting for you, which you can enjoy warm or cold like you can warm it up if you want to. But then you can just kind of grab it and go.

Brittany 3:00

So I know you've never done this before. Neither have I? Do you know if you can prep it for a whole week, or by Friday? Will it be mushy?

Ellie 3:09

What I was thinking to prep ahead is that you could probably like measure out all your oats into your different mason jars for the whole week. And any of the dry extras like the chia seeds or nuts or granola and then each day add the wet ingredients and put it in the fridge.

Ellie 3:26

Oh, that's a great idea. Yeah, yeah, if listeners have any good tips for that, please let us know so we can share. Make I think I might actually try that. I can prep that and that can be my lunch.

Brittany 3:38

Yeah, we have tons of like oats. My son would buy them all the time and then he'd end up using them for like three days and never touching them again.

Ellie 3:48

I understand that.

Brittany 3:51

When you do have time to meal prep, egg cheese muffins, or egg cheese bagels or biscuits made beforehand and then zapped in the microwave or heated up in a toaster oven tend to work well. You can just wrap them in saran wrap or and put them in a baggie and those work really well.

Ellie 4:12

That just reminds me that I did do that like did egg muffin kind of things. Yeah, some broccoli and eggs and stuff, scrambled egg kind of thing in the muffin tins and then save them for the week.

Brittany 4:24

I tend to be a muffin person and my husband is more a bagel or a biscuit person. So we would just get our bread of choice and then set them up.

Ellie 4:35


Brittany 4:36

Another option you can prep ahead of time are breakfast burritos. Just cook up the beans, eggs, cheese, whatever you want. Wrap it in a tortilla, put them in the fridge and then you can pop them in the microwave to heat up and go.

Ellie 4:50

Now I've never had this but I've heard that chia pudding is another simple make ahead breakfast. You'd mix chia seeds with coconut milk or any milk of your choice and add a little sweetener. Let it sit for a few minutes and stir it up to break up any clumps and then cover it and refrigerate it overnight. And I guess the seeds swell creating a pudding like consistency and then you can put fresh fruit or nuts or granola on it in the morning. So that sounds kind of yummy.

Brittany 5:21

Yeah, I have two questions for you. Have you ever had chia seeds?

Ellie 5:25

No. I have not. Have you?

Brittany 5:28

My husband's eaten them quite a few times. But I have not.

Ellie 5:32

I'm pretty sure my daughter has them too.

Brittany 5:35

I don't know how they taste.

Ellie 5:37

I don't either. Something we should try.

Brittany 5:40

And then have you ever had coconut milk?

Ellie 5:42

I have had coconut milk mixed with other things.

Brittany 5:48

How does it taste? Is it sweet?

Ellie 5:50

I don't think so. Since it was mixed with other things. I didn't get the taste of it. You know what I mean? And I've only it's only ever been once or twice. So I'm not 100% Sure.

Brittany 6:03

Okay, thank you.

Ellie 6:04

So if you don't have time, or don't want to do the prepping time, you know spend prepping time on your breakfast, then you might just buy some quick things that you can grab in the morning fruit that you can eat on the go. Like bananas or peaches. I'm allergic to those so I can't have those bummer. Strawberries, tangerines, apples , allergic to those tpo. That used to be one of my favorite lunches, apples with peanut butter and then I developed an apple allergy. But for those of you who are not allergic to those lovely fruits, they are great to have on the go. You could grab granola bars, breakfast bars, protein bars that you can take and have those on those rushed mornings. And yogurt and parfait is are also another quick option that you can have buy at the store and have ready to go in your refrigerator.

Brittany 6:56

When you're prepping lunches for the classroom and those rushed 30 minutes. You tend to have to be choosy about what you're going to eat or what you're going to take with you. But there are actually a lot of choices you can pick for lunch, I got those little plastic bento type boxes from Amazon, they looked like a big thick sandwich box when closed. And altogether there were six slots in them three on each side, and some were bigger than others. And I do a quarter or half a sandwich, a fruit, a veggie, and then some carb like crackers. And then a quick sweet treat at the end maybe an Oreo or a handful of m&ms, something like that. And that made a really good lunch.

Ellie 7:44

Sounds good. Something you could prep ahead of time are salads in a jar. I've done it a few times. And I definitely prefer to take the salad dressing on the side and add it in at the time I'm going to eat it but if you don't do that, you can put your salad dressing in a small medium sized mason jar first, then add in anything that you would like like sunflower seeds, croutons, bacon bits, maybe put in some diced green or red peppers, little grape tomatoes, shredded cheese, of your preferred variety. And then get all the fixings in there and then put in your lettuce, kale, cabbage, spring greens and that kind of stuff last by doing it that way your lettuce does not get all soggy and gross. And you can just shake it up and mix it together. When you're ready to eat.

Brittany 8:36

I would recommend that you try to stay away from the quote, healthy dinners unquote that need to be microwaved each day, as that process alone will take up half your lunchtime. And that doesn't even count waiting your turn for the two microwaves that you have to share between all the staff who are off at that one time, right true. If you do want something hot and your microwave situation isn't too bad. Another item you can prep for lunches is small helpings of dinner. For instance, if you're making a pan of lasagna for one night that week, just make it slightly bigger and then take two or three portions out. Put those in plastic ware for two or three lunches that week.

Ellie 9:26

Yeah, dinner leftovers can be great for lunch. My husband is not a teacher, but he takes whatever's leftover from dinner and uses it for lunch and he often will throw any leftover meats into a salad and just use that for his lunch.

Brittany 9:40

I know this is an issue for therapy, but I can't eat leftovers. In my childhood, my birth father would give my mom and allowance every week and she'd have to buy all the food for five people with that allowance. And so we often will I'd have like one or two big meals, and then all week long, we just have leftovers to eat. And so I just cannot stand them now they just make me sick. Bring up bad memories.


I'm sorry. I am not good at eating the leftovers. I don't have the bad memories attached, but I'm just not good at it.


My husband is great at it, so he takes care of it.


Oh, good mine too. So you can also batch prep some meats for your lunches. I know my son in law, who is a teacher often cooks a bunch of chicken on Sundays to use for lunches during the week.


My son would do this too. When he worked at the carwash he would prep chicken and broccoli for the week. So he wasn't tempted to go eat at all the fast food places. Most days between copying, emailing parents, putting out those fires from the morning, I would simply have what I would call snack food lunch. In the bottom drawer of my desk, I kept a plastic shoe box that had a lid so as to deter the critters. And in it, I would keep small sleeves of crackers, beef jerky, applesauce, pouches, and other non perishable snack foods I liked that weren't just total junk food, I would grab 1-3 of those most days and snack and eat as I handled all those items that needed to be done over lunch.


My lunch was usually small items that I would eat at my desk also, or in between those activities like run to the copy machine, copy something really fast, come back and have one piece of the of the lunch. Like I would usually have an orange, a yogurt, some type of crackers or something. And our lunch was fairly early to it was like before 11 o'clock. So I wasn't all that hungry then. But thinking of keeping things in the desk drawer. I usually had candy of some type. And I would snack on that all day. Which is really bad. So it had to be at the point where I couldn't keep it anymore, because I just it was for the kids. But sometimes they didn't get it. I just ate it. We don't even know that. All right on to dinners, which might seem like the biggest challenge of the day, but it doesn't have to be. There are so many options for us without having to hit the fast food places. Unless you really love the fast food places, then that's that's fine. But if you don't want to, there are lots of options. And Brittany, what is your favorite way to prep for dinners?


My all time favorite way to meal prep dinners is Hello Fresh. Both my mom and my brother were very good cooks, my brother actually was a chef and had his own restaurants specializing in exotic animals. So I just never learned how to cook. And so my brain does not really think well in terms of meal prepping and recipes. I cannot visualize what I want to cook, what I need, whether I have it, what are the correct amounts I need and so on my brain just does not process recipe. So when my husband got a much more demanding job, and I had to start cooking four to five nights a week HelloFresh was my godsend. It can seem expensive. But if you're always throwing out food that are leftovers, or letting foods spoil because you bought it thinking you would use it, but then you forget about it or you don't know how to use it HelloFresh can actually be much, much cheaper. We used to go to the grocery store like once every two weeks and just buy drinks like soda or bottled water. And then we get essentials like milk, butter and eggs and we were out of there in 15 or 20 minutes. And that was nice because we also hated shopping.


Awesome. That does sound like a good plan. I have tried HelloFresh a couple of times I really enjoyed the meals and made me feel like I really was a chef but that I didn't keep using it. I've been a pretty big crock pot user over the years from beef roast and pork roast so that I could use to make like we would make sandwiches out of those or barbecue pork sandwiches or even burritos or quesadillas with the you know so we kind of used it in different ways. We do that or make red chili or white chicken chili stews, different type of chicken dishes. I use that a lot. So that made dinnertime very easy. I would just throw everything in the crock pot in the morning. If I did need to prep anything like cutting up potatoes for stew, I might do that the night before but I'm a pretty decent morning person. So I often would do it in the morning before heading out to school. And then by the time we came home, it was ready to go. And one nice thing about the crock pot was that if we had different activities, and we all weren't home for dinner at the same time, we could grab the dinner from the crock pot when we needed to.


Great idea.


Another thing you might consider doing is having just a big prep day once a month and make things like lasagna or meatballs or soups, and then freezing them. So they're readily available anytime you need them during the month. And casseroles or traybakes can be easier to prepare, throw all the ingredients together and then pop them into the oven. So dinnertime, prep doesn't have to be a really long time.


It is May, early May when we are recording this. And it is currently blizzarding outside my window, and you are making me so hungry for something hot and homey. I also stand by splitting the duties of cooking with your family. We have a system where my adult son cooks Mondays, my husband cooks Tuesdays, I cook Thursdays, and my adult daughter cooks Fridays, Wednesday is usually a fast food night because of other obligations. And then Saturday and Sunday, we either do leftovers, or what we call get your own where people can make like mac and cheese or a frozen pizza or something like that. So


yeah, and you know, even younger children can help out with the duties, the splitting the duties with your family, as you said, you know, they can wash vegetables, they can stir ingredients, measure things and see like how fractions and math might be used in cooking. Gotta throw that in there. And this kind of prepping can make dinner prepping more of a family activity. It doesn't have to be just one person.


Yes, yeah, we also have the system whereby whoever cooks does not clean. So the non cooks are responsible for cleaning up dinner, feeding animals, doing dishes. And that works really well for us. I also recommend a Phomemo printer, that's p h o m e m o if you're wondering, Phomemo you run it off an app on your phone. But then you have to have this printer that you get from Amazon, we use it to print what's in the container and then the date. And because you know sometimes after a few days, you can't exactly tell what's in the container. But we label all our leftovers. And we also label what we put in the freezer with this printer. And so you know exactly what went in the fridge or the freezer. And when it expires. And we'll link the little printer in the show notes. It is an affiliate link, but I really only earn pennies, pennies off those things. So if you're interested, you can pick that thing up,


I might need to look at that I need a system. So sometimes when we think about meal prepping, it can be a little bit overwhelming. I mean, you might not be able to do the overnight oats or throw things in the crock pot or even think to do so if you haven't planned for it. So we've got a few tips for this aspect of meal planning.


Plan your meals in advance, spend some time each week planning your meals like on that Sunday afternoon, or maybe on Friday nights before you go shopping Saturday mornings. This doesn't have to be a lengthy process. Even just jotting down a quick menu on a sticky note can work wonders. Think about recipes that are both nutritious and easy to prepare. Planning helps you shop more efficiently and avoid the temptation of just grabbing that unhealthy convenience food. Next, plan your shopping list. Make sure you have your shopping list ready to go when you hit the store. So you don't find yourself needing to stop again during the week. Because you didn't get all you needed for your plan meals, those extra shopping trips will kill you.


That happens to me. I have to say, there are times you know, I just don't write down everything that is needed. And so I forget I'm like, Oh, I'll remember that. But then I don't remember that. And I was also thinking if you find recipes that need something that you don't buy very often, like I don't buy sour cream very often. So if you know that you have things you'd like to make that use sour cream, maybe plan those in the same week, so you don't end up only using half the container of the sour cream, as some of us may do. And then a couple of weeks later think oh wow, I could have made this with the sour cream. So, try to think about those special ingredients that you might not buy all the time and see if you could fit them into the same week. Third tip is to batch cook and use your freezer. One of the most effective meal prep strategies is to cook in large quantities and freeze things for later. Like we mentioned before stews, soups, casseroles and breakfast items like pancakes and those burritos we talked about can be made in larger batches and then frozen and then just reheat it during the week that can save you a lot of time during a busy school week. Also invest in some quality containers. Good quality, portion size containers are a game changer for meal prep. They make it easy to store and transport meals without spills or leaks. Look for containers that are dishwasher and microwave safe for easy reheating. As Brittany mentioned, bento boxes are great for packing diverse balanced the lunches with multiple components.


You also want to incorporate raw vegetables and fruits. Not everything has to be cooked. Raw vegetables and fruits are nutritious and save prep time. Carrot sticks, cucumbers, bell peppers, apples, berries, those can all be washed and cut in advance for easy snacks or to add a fresh component to your meals. And then also you can consider theming your days to simplify your planning. Consider theming your meal prep days for example, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, stir fry Friday, or if you want to instead of always having tacos every Tuesday, you can make it more like Mexican Monday and then maybe you have tacos and enchiladas and burritos and that sort of thing to add more variety. So this can make deciding what to cook easier and add variety to your diet without the need for constant creativity.


I think I need to incorporate some of these rules a little bit better at this point in my life. Remember, the goal of meal prep is to make your life easier and keep you nourished throughout your busy week. You need your nutrition. Start small experiment with what works best for you. And then adjust your routine as you need. Maybe start by prepping just dinner, or just lunch or something and then kind of build up. With these tips. You'll be able to enjoy healthy homemade meals every day without spending your entire weekend in the kitchen.


We hope you've got some great tips here to add to your teacher life toolbox. Feel free to share a meal prep tip with us on Facebook or Instagram. Make sure to tag us and we'll talk with you again real soon.






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