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Pointers for Weekly Food Prepping

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.

Wouldn’t you?

Photo Credit: Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash

Simple Chicken Noodle Casserole

In anticipation of J leaving town for a week on business a couple weeks ago, I got to work food prepping so I could more easily manage the single mom scene during his absence. I’ve mentioned that I’m crazy about casseroles right now. Mostly because of the simplicity, but also because cold weather just lends itself to these ‘stick to your ribs’ recipes. Another of my favorites, and part of my food prep prior to J’s departure, was this simple chicken noodle casserole.

A short list of ingredients come together to create this creamy and delicious dish. The cheesy/crunchy topping give it that little something extra that will have you reaching for seconds!

Chicken Noodle Casserole Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
    Note: I used shredded chicken from my freezer, but you could shred up a rotisserie chicken for simplicity sake if you don’t have time to cook and shred a couple chicken breasts at the time of making this recipe.
  • 2 cups homemade cream of mushroom soup
    Note: canned cream of mushroom soup is also an option (about 2 cans) and you’ll want to thin with a splash of milk.
  • 12 oz whole grain egg noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Chicken Noodle Casserole Directions:

  1. Combine the chicken, egg noodles and cream of mushroom soup until the cream of mushroom soup evenly coats the chicken and noodles.
  2. Pour mixture into a greased casserole dish
  3. Mix the seasoned bread crumbs with the melted butter
  4. Fold the shredded cheese in to the bread crumbs
  5. Sprinkle bread crumb and cheese mixture on top off casserole
  6. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until warmed through and bread crumbs/cheese are slightly browned on top, about 30 min

Veggies could most definitely be added to this dish. I’m not a fan of canned peas so those are an absolute no-go for me, but a possible option for those who like that sort of thing. The addition of some lightly steamed broccoli would definitely be complimented by these ingredients.

I prefer to skip the veggies inside and instead serve this simple chicken noodle casserole with a side salad or green beans canned from the 2017 garden. Sweet heaven, there just isn’t anything quite like home-canned green beans.

It’s so rewarding to get a good homemade meal on the table AND to get to spend quality time with the kids all in the same half hour.  A good casserole brings the best of all worlds together with a little planning and prep time on the front end. There’s no mommy-guilt when I can spend these extra 30 minutes playing, rather than slaving away in the kitchen.

Want to minimize clean-up? Food prep your casserole in these disposable casserole tins. Added bonus? These disposable tins also come with aluminum lids! A pack of 40 for just $15.99 (seriously, less than 50 cents each) – PLUS free shipping if you’re a Prime member – can’t be beat!

 

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Bowtie Pasta Salad

It’s summertime which means grilling out and having cold salads as a side is a way of life.

There are so many things I love about summer, but for the purpose of this particular post, I want to specifically call out the way summertime eating is just easier on life. Minimal prep, minimal effort and minimal clean-up. There we go, now I have your attention!

As you are aware, I try to spend time each weekend prepping for the weeknight meals ahead. Regardless of how busy with tasks I am during the week, it’s a rare occasion that I get home from work and have energy for much more than finding my way to the couch. Summertime lends itself to preparing meats in marinades and salad side dish recipes to toss in the fridge. I can make 1 mess in the kitchen on Saturday or Sunday and then the week is filled with delicious marinaded meats off the grill and salads from the fridge.  At most there will be a handful of items to rinse and put in the dishwasher and we’ve eaten well despite my fatigue.

This Bowtie Pasta Salad is one of my favorite make ahead side dishes. I love the simplicity and the addition of veggies that not only makes it totally tasty but also helps fuel our bodies with something nutritious.

 

Ingredients:
2 cups bowtie pasta, cooked
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Zesty Italian dressing (I make my own, a recipe for another time, but store bought works too)

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, stir ensuring even distribution of dressing
Chill prior to serving

The veggies and pasta in this dish stand up well for several days. You don’t have to worry about it becoming soggy and un-edible from putting the dressing on too early, which makes this a perfect make-ahead side dish. A quick stir just before serving and you are all set!

Hope your summer is treating you well.
-H