5 tips to cooking meals in advance
Preparing home-cooked meals ahead of time with healthy ingredients makes life easier, saves money and reduces food waste.
Meal prep consists of cooking meals in advance – or getting some of the steps done – to make better use of your time when you have a busy schedule.
It also helps you resist junk food cravings, plan balanced meals for the family and eliminate stress brought on by the age-old question: “What’s for dinner tonight?”
Organize your workspace
Set aside a spot in your fridge to store supermarket staples so that you can easily see the ingredients you already have, information that will come in handy when making your shopping list.
Do you have old bills, papers, kid art lying around on the kitchen counter? Make some room.
A clean and tidy workspace will inspire you.
Plan the menu
Determine the number of meals you have to prepare and the necessary quantities. Should you also plan some lunches?
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Choose family classics and tried-and-true recipes that everyone likes so mealtime will be a lot more enjoyable.
Switch up the menu from one week to the next to add some variety to your meals and avoid boring repetition.
Offer a diverse assortment of snacks.
Think about doubling recipes that freeze well. Easy peasy to heat up and serve when you don’t have much time.
List staples to buy
Once you have set the menu, list ALL ingredients you need to pick up.
Always keep basic ingredients stocked in the cupboard or pantry:
- Seasonings: salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, etc. Essentially, any herbs or spices you often use.
- Oil, vinegar, sauces, juices: olive or grapeseed oil, balsamic or rice vinegar, soy sauce, lemon, lime or orange juice, etc.
- Mustard: Dijon, old-fashioned, etc.
- Staple vegetables: garlic, onions, shallots, etc.
- Canned veggies: peas, diced or crushed tomatoes, etc.
- Dried or canned legumes: chickpeas, black beans, lentils, etc.
- Dried fruit: dates, apricots, raisins, etc.
- Sweet treats: caramel or chocolate chips
- Nuts: almonds, pecans, hazel nuts, walnuts, etc.
- Starchy staples: rice, pasta, quinoa, etc.
Add these basics to your list – milk, eggs, flour, fruit – and you’re off to the races.
Word to the wise: never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. You will avoid straying from your list and spending more than you expected.
Get to work!
Does it seem like a waste of time to make a list of all the ingredients required for every one of your recipes? Au contraire! You will actually save yourself a lot of time.
Peel fruit and vegetables at the same time. Are you making four recipes that each call for an onion? Peel all four onions together.
Also cut everything at the same time, cleaning your cutting board and knife after each use.
Measure spices, herbs and other seasonings and put them in bowls, ready to be used.
Cook foods that take the longest first. When using the oven, start with food cooked at the highest temperature, then reduce the heat.
Some people prefer not to prepare everything from scratch on a daily basis. They swear by the prep-cook-freeze technique, also perfect for slow cooker recipes.
If this is your idea of prep paradise, be sure to clearly mark ingredients in the freezer: items will be ready to grab and cook when needed.
Clean as you go
Keep your workspace clean: wash or soak bowls, pots and utensils after each use or place in the dishwasher if you are done with them.
Also regularly clean the stove and countertops. You’ll appreciate working on a clean work surface and won’t waste time looking for utensils or anything else you need.
Do you find meal prep awfully long and boring? Hang in there! You’ll develop your own tricks and get faster with practice.