Imagine going from cooking several days a week, to just once a week. Or better yet, being able to take a couple of weeks off from cooking an entire meal from scratch. We’ve put togethe the best meal prep tips that save time while making meals for your family at home. Follow these steps to go from feeling overwhelmed by cooking to feeling cool and confident in the kitchen.
As parents, we want to provide healthy, nourishing meals for our families 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 for a large or small family, there are many ways to save time in the kitchen and still give your family healthy meals.
If you’re a beginner, meal-planning and batch cooking may seem daunting at first but not to worry. I’ve broken down these steps even further in the free guide, Smart Tips for Easy Meal Planning & Prep. Get a free copy of this guide by signing up here. With the right system and good preparation, you can become a meal prep pro. Let’s look at a few solid tips to get you started!
Easy Meal Prep Tips That Save Time in the Kitchen
1. Make a meal plan
We need to kick off our list of meal prep tips that save time by first talking about planning. First, decide on your goal for making meals. Do you want to prepare meals for a few days this week or meals for the entire week, or are you aiming to knock out two weeks of meals in one shot? Once you have that figured out, select your recipes. Select enough recipes to fill up your meal slots. Remember that depending on the size of your meals, they can also be planned into leftovers or next-day dishes.
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!
3. Use a meal planning service
Don’t have time to sift through recipes and write a shopping list? Another strategy from our meal prep tips that save time involves having someone else do some of the research for you. 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 prep work, 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 having adequate storage containers is a must. 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 a 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. After all, if the meal takes forever to thaw and reheat that defeats the purpose of using these time-saving meal prep tips, doesn’t it? When you’re preparing to freeze for future meals, 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 during busy weekdays.
7. Take shortcuts
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!
8. Slice and dice
Save time in the kitchen by cutting and chopping fruit and veggies in batches, or let your food processor do it for you! I especially love to do this right after returning home from the market and put them into portioned freezer bags or storage containers. This way they’re on standby to use in meals or as a healthy snack. Two of my favorite items to chop & freeze are peppers & onions as I use this mixture often in family meals. But there are many other things that freeze and store well.
9. Don’t go overboard on spices.
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 seasoning 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? 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. As you implement these meal prep tips that save time in the kitchen, don’t forget to place a label with the name of the dish and date!
11. Don’t forget breakfast and lunch
When we think about using meal prep tips that save time, we’re usually thinking about dinner. But dinners are not the only meals that can be planned or made ahead of time. 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.
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Alicia Hyatte is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Wellness Advocate, Health Educator, and a Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. She helps parents to build healthier habits and routines to better balance home and work life. Her website, WholeFamilyLiving.com, provides motivation and simple strategies for handling everyday challenges like managing stress, being active, eating healthier, losing weight, and more. Alicia is a beach lover and gardening geek in her spare time.