The Best Time Saving Tips for Simplifying Meal Prep

timesavingtips

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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Top 10 Posts of 2015

It’s somehow 2016, and I know I say this every January, but how on earth is last year already over?

Our family had a pretty good year altogether–if you don’t count a rocky December, but I’ll talk about that in another post. Our year consisted of several road trips, lots of school, and some pretty exciting milestones from Junior.

Here are my Top 10 Posts of 2015…which post was your favorite?

10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8.

7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.
Niagara Falls and Upstate NY with Kids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3,

30 Minute Chicken Tortilla Soup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.
10 Reasons Having a Child with Cochlear Implants is Awesome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
1. Sharing Secrets…A Look Back at Diagnosis Day

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10 Things I Always Keep in My Freezer for Quick Meals

freezer

It’s been hot and humid this week. And, of course, my air conditioner chose now to conk out. So, while we’re waiting for the AC repairman to fit us in, the last thing on EARTH I want to do is heat up my kitchen. Thank goodness for my stocked freezer of ready to eat and low prep meals! Here are 10 things I always have in my freezer.

1. Chicken Soup
Of course everyone loves chicken noodle or chicken and rice soup when they’re under the weather. So, instead of waiting until someone gets sick, I make a big batch of chicken soup and freeze it in 6 C increments. (2 adult servings plus two little kid servings)

Do not freeze noodles or rice in the soup. Cook these up as you’re reheating the soup.

 

2. Chili
Whenever I buy ground beef, I plan to make at least one batch of chili. Often, I double the recipe so I can have some to freeze. It’s perfect to reheat for a quick but hearty meal.
Read my post: <<5 Things to Do With Leftover Chili>>

 

3. Black Beans
Surprisingly, cooked beans freeze really well! I freeze in 2 C increments if using as a side or in soup, and 4 C increments if using for a main dish.
Read my post: <<5 Ideas for Leftover Black Beans>>

 

4. Pizza
Homemade pizza dough actually freezes quite well. Simply pull it out to thaw and let it rest before rolling out. Although, I have to admit that I typically store a few Trader Joes Organic Cheese Pizzas for a quick meal.

 

5. Frozen Fruit
When it’s 102 and humid out, frozen fruit is my lifesaver. Smoothies are one of our favorite light suppers (serve with PBJ sandwiches, soft pretzels, or French bread.)

 

6. Frozen Veggies
I always have organic broccoli, organic corn, and organic peas on hand to throw in soups or cook up as a quick side dish.

 

7. Organic Chicken Breasts
I love throwing chicken into my crock pot for a simple meal shortcut that doesn’t heat up the kitchen. Since we choose to spend money on organic meat, we have to make it go a little further. So shredded meat for soups, stir fries, salads, and pasta dishes allows us to enjoy quality meat with the most bang for our buck.
Read my post: <<Kitchen Hack: Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken>>

 

8. Organic Ground Beef
I usually buy the 4 lb. packs (three individually wrapped packs of 1.3 lbs) of organic ground beef from Costco, and keep at least two sections in my freezer at all times. I make tacos, meatballs, burgers, and chili.

 

9.  Wild Salmon
My kids love salmon, and I always keep some wild salmon in the freezer for a quick grilled meal with rice and veggies. It’s super healthy and super quick to prepare.

 

10. Meatballs
I cook up 4 lbs of meatballs at a time (makes about 40), and freeze them in increments of 8, which is perfect for one meal plus leftovers.
See my post: <<10 Ideas for Leftover or Frozen Meatballs>>

7 Ideas for One Pound of Ground Beef

 7 Recipes for 1 Lb Ground Beef

Ahhhh, yes. It’s Thursday at 4pm, you need to make dinner, but all you have left in the fridge is a single, measly pound of ground beef. How could that possibly feed a family? Here are 7 delicious, quick recipes that stretch your ground beef while still satisfying that meat craving.

1. Fajita Burritos
A pound of ground beef probably won’t feed a hungry family on Burrito Night if it’s the only filling. In these Chipotle-esque burritos, fill a tortilla with 1/4 lb of seasoned Ground Beef, Beans (check out my recipes for Slow Cooker Black Beans, Slow Cooker Refried Beans, and 10 Minute Black Beans) Rice, Sauteed Bell Peppers, and whatever Salsas, Guacamole or Cheese you have on hand.

2. Hobo Packets
Check out this delicious and simple Baked Hobo recipe from The Stay At Home Mom Survival Guide, using a pound of ground beef with potatoes and veggies cooked in foil. An all-in-one meal that requires little prep, and even less clean up! 

3Organic Lime and Cilantro Chili
I love the bright and fresh flavors from this Organic Lime and Cilantro Chili from Mommy’s Slice of the Pie (it uses 1.33 lbs of ground beef, but you can use 1 lb if that’s all you have.) Added bonus: instructions to make this a freezer meal so you can prep ahead and eat later!  (See 5 Recipes for Leftover Chili )

4. Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
This meal couldn’t be easier! Simply brown a pound of ground beef with a half diced onion, 3 cloves of chopped garlic, and salt and pepper, and stir into your favorite spaghetti sauce. This stretches the meat further than making meatballs, but you still get that extra heartiness.

5. Sloppy Joes
My favorite Sloppy Joe recipe is a definite crowd pleaser and it fills at least 4 happy tummies! Serve with Baked Fries and a Salad.

6. Quick Enchiladas
I brown up a pound of meat with taco seasoning, stuff about 1/4 C of meat into a large flour tortilla, sprinkle 2 tablespoon of cheese, and roll them up. I top with Enchilada sauce (jarred or homemade), more cheese, and olives, and bake at 375* for about 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Delish!

7. Burger Sliders
There’s something about mini food that makes me eat less, even when I think I’m eating more. Form 1 pound ground beef into 8 mini patties, sprinkle with seasoning salt, and cook on a grill pan. Serve 2 sliders per person, along with Onion Rings and a Fresh Fruit Salad.

Recipe: 10 Minute Black Beans

Black Beans done in 10 Minutes! So simple and perfect for a side dish or main dish with rice.The most popular recipe ever on my site has been my Frugal Black Beans. Slow cooked with seasonings, peppers, and an onion, these beans are a perfect addition to soups or chilis, make a wonderful side dish to slow cooked chicken burritos, or can be eaten with a simple bowl of white rice for a cheap and filling meal.

But, sometimes I forget to plan ahead, and at 5:15pm, I look at the taco meat that’s simmering and realize I don’t have a side dish! Obviously too late to cook beans from scratch, I turn to canned beans. But, they always leave something to be desired…but, after many trials and error, I think I’ve finally found a way to jazz up canned black beans to where they’re loved even by my picky kids who are used to the delicious slow cooked variety :)

When I was first experimenting with this recipe, I used actual onion, but my family likes the flavor without the texture of onion, so I turned to dried onion. If you prefer to use an actual onion, use 1/4 C and chop it finely.

10 Minute Black Beans
recipe from Sara at Save Money, Live Joyfully
serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main dish

  • 1 (15 oz) can Black Beans
  • 1/2 tsp dried onion
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 TBS fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Drain black beans, and pour into a small saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Mix in onion and garlic and bring to a boil.
  3. Turn beans down to simmer, and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in cilantro and allow to simmer for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve hot and enjoy!

Check out my ideas for Leftover Black Beans!