Cooking from scratch can be a love, hate relationship for me. I love to eat yummy, fresh foods that are nutritious for me and my family. As we all know, we pay for our help now or later, and healthy food choices are one of our best defenses against disease later in life.
Like everyone else, sometimes it seems like so much extra work. To solve this problem, Sunday is the day I go to the farmers market and plan our weekly meals.
Here are some tips that I have for making your meal preparation a little bit easier.
Organize Your Fridge and Cupboards Weekly.
Even before you plan your weekly meals check out what is already in your cupboards and refrigerator.
Most of us have leftovers lurking that sometimes spoil if they are forgotten in the fridge. And many people like me have ingredients in their cupboard that need to be used up before new produce is purchased.
Therefore, doing a little “research” to see what you already have on hand is very important for two reasons. You won’t buy what you already have. And when you get home the refrigerator is ready for all of the new produce.
Pick A Day to Plan Your Weekly Meals.
It seems like it takes a long time to plan out your meals for the week, but in the long run, it saves you time and money.
Time because you do all your shopping and planning at once. And money because you will be less likely to eat out.
If you are new to meal planning then just pick what looks yummy and easy.
As you become more skilled at food preparation and planning, you can get more organized in your recipe selection.
For example, use basic ingredients that are easy to find and work for a variety of different kind of meals. This includes easy to find ingredients like broccoli, carrots, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, and beans.
All of these ingredients work in a salad, an Indian curry, or even chopped up raw and dipped in hummus.
Planning recipes for the week with the same ingredients for different tasting meals saves you time running around for more ingredients and it can be less wasteful.
If you have a recipe that only requires 1/2 head of broccoli make sure you incorporate the other half into your next meal so it doesn’t get left unused and rot.
Choose a Day to Shop and Prepare.
After you plan your meals you’ll need to go shopping.
Choose fresh and organic ingredients. Try to avoid anything pre-prepared in a box or a can. Most cans are lined with plastic and thus most likely contain BPA. Boxed ingredients tend to have more preservatives and are full of ingredients that are difficult to pronounce. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it!
Exceptions to this rule are foods like pasta and rice. It is still very important to choose the organic versions to avoid pesticides.
Prepare as Much as You Can in Advance.
You can also save time preparing some parts in advance. For example, I prefer buying fresh lettuce at the farmers market. It always lasts longer when I wash it, spin it, and store it in a plastic bag with a few paper towels. I wash and reuse my bag weekly.
As a side note, I tried using a terry cloth bag designed for storing lettuce and it made the lettuce rot faster. I’m not thrilled about the plastic bag, but it keeps my lettuce fresher and lasting longer.
If you work full time it makes sense to wash and chop your veggies so they are ready to go in a salad or stir-fry after a long day at work. This will save you time and make it less likely to resort to take-out or eating out if some of the work is pre-planned.
Turn Fresh Salads into Full Meals with Ingredients You have Pre-prepared.
Here are are some things you can do in advance on your shopping day.
- Grill or roast your meat.
- Chop your veggies.
- Grill or roast your veggies.
- If you are vegetarian you can easily add chickpeas, lentils, black beans etc. To avoid plastic lined cans you can pre-cook your lentils, chickpeas, and black beans in a crockpot or pressure cooker like an instant pot. You can also pre-cook them and then freeze them in meal-sized containers for later.
Prepare Whole Meals in Advance and Freeze Them.
Make meals in advance that freeze well like soups, stews, lasagna, quiche, etc. Before you put them in the freezer divide them up into the right number of servings for your family. That way you are only unthawing what you need.
Make Your Crock Pot Your New Best Friend.
Crock pots are a very easy way to make sure you are getting yummy meals. I like them because I can throw all the ingredients into my crock pot in 15 minutes or less at 9 am and not worry about what we are going to eat for dinner.
This has been really important for me.
One of the biggest blocks we have personally to eating well is that I’m home alone with three boys aged 2 to 8. My husband gets home at 7 pm or later and most of the time my youngest has little to no ability to let me do anything after 5 pm.
A crock pot solves this problem. I prepare everything in the morning when my youngest is most amicable and it’s ready for dinner time without causing a big headache.
Here is a recipe for what’s in my crock pot right now.
- 2 chicken breasts
- 4 chicken thighs
- 1 jar of artichokes
- A handful of basil
- 3 cups of potatoes
- 1/2 of chicken broth
- A dash of salt and pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- All of the above ingredients are organic. The artichokes are from a glass jar.
Here are the instructions:
- Spray olive oil on the bottom of your crock pot.
- Place the chicken down first.
- Chop up basil and sprinkle it on top of the chicken.
- Sprinkle the chopped artichokes on top of that.
- Put about 3 cups of chopped potatoes on top of that.
- Pour 1/2 cup of chick broth over all of these ingredients.
- Sprinkle garlic powder on top of that.
- Lightly salt and pepper. I prefer pink salt. Consider not salting at all. You can always add more later but you can’t take it away.
- Cook on low heat for 7 hours or more.
I get mine together at about 10 am and we eat around 6 pm.
Prepare 2 Meals at Once.
I like to make a main dish that works for 2 dinners and then change the side. So if I make a beef stew, the first night we might have it with fresh steamed green beans and a side salad. The second evening we will have it with a different fresh veggie and a salad.
Plan Your Recipes Out for the Week.
I always try to plan out my meals in advance as it makes life easier when I am organized. I recently discovered a website called www.positivehealthwellness. com that has many easy recipes to follow. Here an article dedicated solely to greek yogurt. YUM!
Get Your Kids Involved in Meal Planning.
This can be invaluable for many reasons.
- First, you are teaching them how to prepare delicious, healthy, and whole food meals.
- Second, they are more likely to eat the meals because they had a hand in preparing the food.
- As they get older you can delegate meal preparation to them. Teaching them to cook when they are young can take more time, but will pay off for both you and them in the long run!
- And you are preparing them for life outside of the nest!
What Do You Do At Home to Prepare Fresh Meals?
I hope you like all of my suggestions.
Please comment below with any other suggestions that work for you and your family.