This has become somewhat a series, going through weekly meal planning, meal planning on a budget, budgeting for groceries, and today some tips/tricks for meal prepping that can help you stay on track to at-home cooking instead of eating out or opting for convenience foods at the store (which also helps staying on track with the grocery budget).
Meal prepping has become essential for our smooth(ish) functioning during the week.
Let’s get real: the time of day that you are most depleted of energy (and maybe motivation) is the time of day you really have to rally because it’s just so darn busy.
Getting dinner on the table, eating, baths, and bedtime routines for a crew of littles, kitchen clean up and dragging your own exhausted self to bed (hopefully after a shower to remove the days worth of vomit compliments of the littlest who struggles with reflux and is a barfing machine)…
It’s a lot.
And it’s easy to look at the clock and think “ughhh….uber eats tonight?”.
BUT, if you have food already bought and prepped in the fridge that can come together more quickly and simply than starting from scratch you’re most definitely more likely to choose that route versus Uber Eats.
If you are like me, there is a fine line between prepping ingredients for a quicker come-together during the week, and having everything fully made for re-heating during the week (leaving you feeling a little like you’re just eating a bunch of leftovers night in and night out).
Some recipes lend themselves well to a complete assembly prior and a simple re-heat. In fact, some recipes are BETTER this way. Soups and casseroles tend to be good examples.
It will take some time for you to determine where this line is with your recipe line-up (and I will try to do better to give the prep-ahead tips I use on my recipes going forward) and prep accordingly.
Here are some things I take the time to knock out on the weekends to ensure meals can meet that “quicker and easier” standard through the week:
Cook all Pastas and Rice
Rice, in particular, takes a long time to cook. This can be a deal breaker for assembling a meal on a week night when you’re already fried. I’ve found that rice is often times actually better after it’s been cooked and had time to chill in the fridge.
In fact, I’ve been known to cook a whole large batch of rice at once and then freeze it in smaller portions. It thaws and re-warms wonderfully (side note: rice in the freezer has come in handy when I’ve had sick kiddos who need a bland bit of something for their tummies and waiting around for rice to cook simply wouldn’t be an option).
Ever been working on a recipe only to discover that you didn’t get the water for your pasta set to boil…and now you’re standing around literally waiting for a pot to boil?
Pasta also cooks and re-warms well.
Cook your rice and pasta (cook pasta to al dente) then store in air-tight containers in the fridge until ready to use.
Rice will need a simple stir and re-warm in the microwave if your recipe can’t do the re-warming and pasta can use a quick rinse under warm water and you’re all set!
Wash and Chop All Fruits and Veggies
Once fruits and veggies are washed and cut into their recipe appropriate size and shape, store in the fridge in airtight containers by recipe and timing of addition for cooking.
Example: if I have a stir-fry on the menu that calls for garlic and onions to be added to the wok before the peppers, I will store the garlic and onions in one container and the peppers in another. Then, if I also have a roasted veggies side dish planned for another night, I will prep all those veggies and store them together in yet another container.
You get the idea…
It can add up to a lot of containers, yes. I have a dishwasher so I don’t get too worried about that (and honestly, from night to night it really isn’t a stack of dishes). If you worry about the abundence of dishes, zip-top bags are an option as well (they’re just an added expense).
A note about potatoes: If prepping potatoes (chopping, cutting into wedges, etc.) prior to cooking, be sure to store completely submerged in water otherwise they will turn black. Added bonus of soaking in water before cooking? Water will pull some starch out of the potatoes and they will crisp up nicely when it comes time to cook.
Fully cooked potatoes can be prepped ahead of time, start to finish, and stored in the fridge until ready to re-warm. See this example for mashed potatoes made in large quantity and kept in the freezer
Cut Meats According to Recipe Specification & Start Marinades
Having meats already cut, and stored in containers per recipe, is a time and mess saver on a busy night.
Added bonus? If a recipe calls for a marinade and you prep this detail on the weekend you 1) won’t forget and run out of time for the marinade to work its magic and 2) your meat will have time to absorb LOTS of flavor, which is the whole point of the marinade to begin with.
Brown Hamburger and Sausage
Cooking meats ahead of time isn’t typically a recommendation of mine but hamburger and sausage is the exception. You won’t notice a bit of difference re-warming either of these when it’s time for your recipe to come together.
Cook with appropriate seasonings and store in air-tight containers in the fridge until time to use.
Added bonus tip: I tend to use the same pan for browning these meats. Hamburger first, drain and quick wipe with a paper towel, then brown sausage. ONE pan to wash when it’s all said and done!
Assemble Soups, Sauces, Casseroles & Dressings
Soups, sauces, casseroles and dressings tend to get better after the ingredients have time to mingle. Assembling them on the weekend and allowing a few days before eating will add an extra element of YUM when it comes time to eat.
Note: if you are preparing a sauce that will go over pasta later in the week, I’d recommend storing each separate, then re-warming and adding sauce to pasta the night you serve that dish. Otherwise your pasta may over-absorb the sauce and get mushy.
Assemble Crock-pot Meals
Any crock-pot meals you have on the agenda during the week can likely be assembled in large containers or zip-top bags for an easy dump-and-go (or do yourself one better if you have the fridge space and assemble in the crock of the crock-pot, pop the lid on and the day of simply pop the crock in the cooker and turn on).
See? So much can be done on the weekend, saving you precious minutes during the week and helping keep you on track to at-home cooking/eating.
I promise the day you food prep your kitchen will be a HUGE disaster! My husband always just shakes his head. BUT, remember that mess would happen eventually anyway and clean up really doesn’t take all that long in the grand scheme of things. I know I’d rather tackle that task along with the bulk of the cooking when I have more hands on deck for entertaining the littles.