The Best Time Saving Tips for Simplifying Meal Prep

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Most weeks are just downright crazy around here. Between homeschooling, Junior’s therapies, various doctor’s appointments, and trying to keep up on housework, I don’t get to spend as much time in the kitchen as I would like. I would love to be all June Cleaveresque; up before the sun making a hearty breakfast, getting a healthy lunch planned, and doing a 5 course dinner that is loved and admired by all who gather around my dinner table.

But lately, most mornings have been rushed with cold cereal, lunches are too often coming from the frozen food section, and dinners are usually a reliable quick standby–the less prep the better. But, I love cooking. I really do. I like to show love to my family by cooking them wonderful healthy and hearty meals. But, by the time Monday morning rolls around, I dig into the Trenches, and don’t have time to breathe, much less make gourmet meals.

So, I have come up with a solution…weekend prep for weekday meals. So far it’s been a huge success–I have been able to get healthy and satisfying meals on the table in less time than it would take to run to a drive thru, because all the prep work was done.

Here are my best tips for prepping your week, so you can spend less time in the kitchen, but not have to sacrifice the quality meals you want to serve your family.

1. Plan Your Menu
This is the first thing you need to do before you can prep your week. Plan your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Try to create a menu that incorporates some of the same ingredients so you can cook/chop/prepare in bulk, making your prep time more efficient.

2. Chop and Portion Produce
You will be amazed at how much time you can save by washing, chopping, and portioning your fresh produce at the beginning of the week.

  • Hearty veggies like carrots, celery, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and bell peppers can be washed, chopped, and stored to use throughout the week.
  • Potatoes can be cut up to 24 hours before you need them, but you will need to store them in water or else they will turn brown.
  • Lettuce and spinach can be washed, but don’t chop them until they’re ready to be used, or else they will get red and wilted.
  • Mushrooms, cabbage, cucumbers, and zucchini can also be washed but not chopped right away, since they have a high liquid content and will become watery.
  • Melons and citrus can be cut up for the week. Apples should be washed, but not cut up until eaten so they don’t turn brown. Grapes and blueberries can be washed and stored. Fragile berries like raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries shouldn’t be washed or cut until you’re ready to eat them.
  • Portion everything for individual meals. I love using glass Snapware to store all my prepped ingredients!

3. Precook Pasta
This is one of my all-time favorite time saving cooking tips. I usually cook up a pound of pasta at the beginning of the week, and reheat it as needed for meals. Here’s the step by step on how to do this…I promise it will not taste like leftovers if you do it right =)

4. Cook Rice
Like pasta, you can precook rice for meals. To reheat, simply add cold rice to a steamer basket, and steam until hot.

5. Cook Some Meats, Prep the Rest
Depending on your menu, you can precook some meats to use for the week.

  • My Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken is an invaluable prep strategy when I’m making Chicken Noodle Soup, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Enchiladas, Nachos, Tacos, Chicken Sandwiches, or Chicken Casseroles.  
  • Chicken pieces do not save well. Only precook the chicken if you’re planning to use the meat in another dish, not as is.
  • Brown ground beef with peppers and onions for spaghetti meat sauce or chili, or with taco seasoning for Mexican dishes.
  • Bacon can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated to use in sandwiches, on baked potatoes, or in omelets.
  • Do not precook or brown other types of meat before you are ready to cook them, but you can trim, cut into pieces, and portion for meals ahead of time.

6. Make Breakfasts for the Week
I make one big batch of breakfast food for the entire week, and heat them up every morning.

  • Pancakes, Waffles, and French Toast are the standbys. We make a big batch of one of them over the weekend, and reheat them in either the toaster or the microwave in the mornings and serve with fresh fruit.
  • Sometimes I make Breakfast Cookies or No Bake Energy Bites for a more on-the-go snack if we have early morning appointments.

7. Portion Out Snacks
Like most kids, my kids love to snack during the day. But, on the run options are usually fruit leathers and granola bars, which can start to get expensive, not to mention not being as healthy as other things they could be snacking on. Portioning out snacks into individual baggies or containers at the beginning of the week ensure that no matter how busy you are, there will always be a healthy snack at the ready. Some of my kids’ favorite “snack packs” include:

  • Homemade mini muffins
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • Hummus and carrots or sugar snap peas
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Dried Fruit
  • Trail Mix
  • No Bake Energy Bites
  • Dry cereal

With just a little bit of prep work on the weekends, you can set yourself up for success in the kitchen all week long.

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