11 Meal Prep Hacks to Cut Your Time in the Kitchen

In Healthy Eating by Alicia S. Hyatte, MSW, LCSW, CIHC

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(Last Updated On: 11/11/2017)

Imagine going from cooking 3 or 4 days a week, to just once.  Or better yet, being able to take two weeks or an entire month off from cooking? What would you do with the extra time?

As a mom, you want to provide healthy, nourishing meals for your family consistently but it’s just not possible to be an on-duty chef all day every day.
With some savvy planning, you can keep the healthy meals coming all week long without being on stove-duty nonstop. Whether you’re cooking several pounds of ground turkey and storing in usable portions, or pre-seasoning all your meats for the month, there are many ways to save yourself time in the kitchen and still give your family healthy meals.

My use of time has always been important to me, but since I became a mother, it has become increasingly important for me to use my time in the most efficient way. Although I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen, over time I felt like the stove was a ball and chain around my ankle.  So, what’s a mom to do? Batch cook, of course!
If you’re a beginner, meal-planning and batch cooking may seem daunting at first but with the right system and good preparation, you can become a pro.  Let’s look at a few tips!

1 Make a plan 
First, decide on your goal.  Do you want to prepare a week’s worth of meals or go for the gusto and aim for a month?  Once you have that figured out, select your recipes.  Four or five recipes should be enough for 1-2 weeks of cooking.  For a month, you may want to select 5-8 recipes.   Set aside adequate time to shop, prep, cook, and store.   This can sometimes be an all-day or two-day process so plan your time accordingly.

2 Write the shopping list 
Make your shopping list to include all the ingredients for all recipes, including your sides and snacks. Remember to include herbs and spices on your list.  Outline which markets or stores you need to visit and head out!  Ideally, my shopping day is the day right before my cook-off day.  Having a thorough, well-planned recipe plan and shopping list will eliminate any surprise supermarket runs!

READ THIS NEXT:  5 Simple Tips to Plan Healthy Family Meals

3 Use a meal planning service 
Don’t have time to sift through recipes and write a shopping list?  It can become quite exhausting looking up and planning meals week after week after week. Save a lot of time by using a meal-planning service like TheScramble.com where all the research has been done for you.  A meal-planning service basically provides you with customizable weekly meal plans.  They often have choices for certain dietary preferences or restrictions, and food sensitivities offering gluten-free, wheat-free, soy-free, and others.

4 Involve others 
From making the meal plan to chopping and prepping, If your spouse is able or your kids are old enough, get them involved! A cooking mom can sometimes feel isolated in the kitchen. Turn cooking time into a fun event for the family.  It’s also a good way to demonstrate (especially to the kids) that healthy meals are important and that as a family you’re willing to invest the time to ensure you eat healthy together.

5 Get proper storage containers and freezer bags 
If you’re investing the time to shop for and prepare healthy meals for your family, then it would make sense to have adequate storage, right!? (I prefer to use eco-friendly, non-toxic storage).  And, besides, nothing’s worse than spending loads of time doing all the planning and cooking, to have inadequate storage containers for your masterpieces.  Prepare your storage accordingly and save yourself headache and possible freezer-burn.

6 Freeze in family-friendly portions 
There’s no rule that you have to freeze an entire pot of stew in one massive block. Break up your meals into portions that make sense for your family size.  Also, smaller freezer portions make it easier to store, defrost and warm up meals.

7 Take short-cuts 
Don’t want to cook everything all at once? Try to partially make some meals to be cooked later.  For example, stir-fry a few pounds of ground turkey or chicken and freeze in appropriate sized bags.  When you’re ready, just pop them out of the freezer and into your pot, soup, stew, or casserole.  Half the work will already be done!

READ THIS NEXT:  6 Tips for Smart Grocery Shopping During The Holidays and Beyond

8 Slice and dice twice or thrice 
Cut & chop up bulk quantities of veggies and store them in portion-sized bags for easy use, or let your food processor do it for you!  I especially love to do this right after returning home from the Farmer’s Market so veggies stay fresher longer. Some of my favorite things to chop & freeze are peppers & onions as I use this mixture a LOT in cooking just about everything.  But there are many other things that freeze and store well.

9 Don’t over-season 
When cooking in large quantities, it can be tempting to double or triple the spices according to the recipe size. But don’t!  If anything, under-estimate the amount of seasonings you need so that you can “correct” the recipe. You can always spice up the meal, but can’t go the other way.

10 Label everything 

Ever find a “mystery” container of food in the back of your freezer and have no idea what it is until you thaw it?  My husband and I once found a mystery freezer bag and placed bets on what it was.  Turns out it was chicken soup!  Save yourself the guesswork and label everything.  I use cheap stickers from a local dollar store to label my batches.

11 Don’t forget breakfast and lunch 
Dinners are not the only meals to be cooked in large quantities. Prepare (or partially prepare) lunches by preparing wraps and pizzas and freezing those for easy baking or warming in the toaster oven. Or batch cook some breakfast goodies like hemp “cuddle cakes” which are a favorite around my home.

As with everything, preparation is the key!  When you plan things out ahead of time and think outside the (recipe) box, you can often keep the meal preparation process quite interesting and even fun!  Imagine that!  Hope these tips were helpful.

Your turn!

What’s your meal planning strategy? I’d love to hear your ideas! Please share in the comments below!

Alicia S. Hyatte, MSW, LCSW, CIHC
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Alicia S. Hyatte, MSW, LCSW, CIHC

Alicia Hyatte is a Mental Health and Family Wellness Expert, Psychotherapist/Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and Health & Wellness Writer. She is the Founder of Whole Family Living where she supports health-conscious individuals, families, and health professionals to adopt healthy, sustainable habits. Connect on Facebook and Pinterest @wholefamilyliving or Twitter @wholefamilymag.
Alicia S. Hyatte, MSW, LCSW, CIHC
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