Fall seems to be such a busy time of the year for many, especially for parents as the children are back in school with all that entails including a myriad of activities. It may seem very difficult to get a home-cooked, healthy meal on the table. In this Cooking Tip, I would like to give you some ideas that might help.
Although a lot of us do not like to hear this, the number one piece of advice is Meal Planning. It sounds like a chore and will take some time and thought but will help you in the long run. Meal planning is simply deciding what you are going to make for the upcoming week. Once you know what you want to make, you can ensure you have all the ingredients on hand. So, when Tuesday comes, you do not have to wonder what you are going to make; you already know and you already have everything you need in your pantry/refrigerator.
If you need help planning your meals for a week, there are plenty of websites that offer weekly meal planning suggestions. Even my local supermarket sends out such an email each week. You may want to consult more than one as you probably won’t like all the suggestions from just one site.
Here are just a few to get you started but there are plenty more out there.
- Prep from Eating Well
- Whole Foods Market offers what they call the Easy Weekly Meal Plan
- Tastes Better From Scratch has premade plans and also offers an option for you to customize the plans from their repertoire of recipes.
- King Soopers offers Weekly Meal Recipes
As part of your meal planning, have your recipes (if using) ready to go. Have a folder for printed copies. Bookmark recipes that you find online so you can find them again easily.
You can’t make great meals if you do not have a stocked pantry/freezer/refrigerator. Once again, there are plenty of Pantry Essential lists available with suggestions for what to have on hand at all times. Here is one I wrote.
Planning ahead also allows you to take freezer items out to thaw either the night before or the day of your meal.
When you have the time, cook ahead. Make larger batches and freeze in dinner-sized portions for future use. When you are really short of time, grab for one of your own make-ahead meals rather than a store-bought one.
When it comes time to actually cook, speed up the process with some simple techniques.
- Cut for speed – rather than cooking whole chicken breasts, cut them into strips or cubes. They will cook much faster. Rather than roasting an entire pork tenderloin, cut it into small medallions and cook quickly on the top of the stove.
- Multi-task – while your potatoes/grains are cooking, get organized to cook your meat. Don’t waste “down” time. While a dish is simmering, wash a few dishes, wipe down your counters, etc. Clean up will be easier and quicker if you do it along the way rather than waiting until the end of the meal.
- Embrace pan sauces – making a pan sauce is quick and easy and can transform your meat into something special and something different each time you make it. See this prior Cooking Tip on how to make a pan sauce.
- Utilize eggs – eggs are not just for breakfast. Eggs are nutritious and cook so very quickly. Whether they are used in omelets, frittatas or just fried, they can make a very easy and delicious dinner. Make them your own by adding cheese, veggies, bacon/sausage, etc.
- Consider dinner salads – boil some eggs before you leave for the day and put them in the refrigerator. For dinner, put them on top of a large plate of greens, veggies, cheese or whatever toppings you want.
- Make grains ahead of time – although many starch/grains don’t take that long to cook, some of the whole grain ones might take a bit longer than you wish. If you are making something that takes under a half-hour, just put it on to cook as soon as you get home. For the longer cooking ones, make large batches when you have the time. They will keep in the refrigerator for a few days and for longer storage, you can freeze them.
- Consider Bowl Meals – See this Cooking Tip for how to quickly put together Bowl Meals, a tasty, healthy and colorful meal choice. Some do call for a bit of veggie chopping. If you do that ahead of time and store in the refrigerator, putting the bowls together is a cinch, especially if you have those grains stored in your refrigerator.
- Make it Pizza Night – if you make a simple pizza dough and freeze the dough balls, you can have a fun dinner on the table quickly. Take the dough balls out of the freezer in the morning. Top as desired, bake and see the smiles at the dinner table. I always have a bag of pizza balls in my freezer for those busy nights when I need a simple dinner.
What about you? What are your favorite strategies for speeding up meal prep? Do you have a favorite meal planning site?