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.

*This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting this site.

Follow Me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter

Saving Money on School Lunches

 

Saving Money on School Lunches

Back in the “old days” when I was a kid, every morning my mom would fill up my Ghostbusters lunch box with a peanut butter and jelly or baloney sandwich, an obligatory piece of fruit that usually ended up squished and uneaten, a cookie, and a juice box. It was pretty boring basic. But, it was inexpensive and easy. Now, times have changed, peanut butter isn’t allowed in classrooms, and lunch foods are becoming much more expensive. A pound of good lunch meat will set you back at least $10, a loaf of bread another $5, and that doesn’t even include sides. You could easily spend $100 a month just on school lunches for a couple kids! So, how can you save money on school lunches, while keeping them healthy and fun?

1. Give Leftovers a Chance
As a kid, “leftovers” were my least favorite food group. It wasn’t until I got married and had to start paying for my own groceries that I realized leftovers weren’t that bad if done right. Leftover soup or chili can be brought to boiling in the morning and placed in a quality Thermos (leakproof!) in an insulated lunch bag and should still be warm by lunchtime. Leftover chicken can be turned into chicken salad, and leftover homemade pizza is really good eaten cold.

2. Rethink Protein
Many schools have banned nut products from classrooms, which means the standby protein source of peanut butter is out. But lunch meat is so expensive! Cheese, beans, and eggs are all inexpensive proteins that can be used. Think pita chips and hummus, hard boiled eggs or deviled eggs, and cheese sticks.

3. Homemade Lunchables
You can make your own homemade Lunchable Pizzas by packing separately one or two sliced English muffins, a small container of pizza or pasta sauce, and a handful of cheese, to be assembled by your child at lunch. You could make 10 pizzas for the cost of 1 purchased Pizza Lunchable. You can also make your own Lunchable Nachos by serving tortilla chips with separate containers of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and homemade black beans.

4. Pack Better, Not More
Things like chips and cookies fill space in the lunch box, but they are empty calories that will keep your child from getting full. Pack intentional side items that contain protein and fiber. You will save money by packing less, and your child will be full quicker. Some ideas include: Fruit with Cottage Cheese, Oatmeal Cookies, or Apple Slices with caramel sauce (there is a lot of fiber in apple peels.)

5. Make it Fun
You’re probably thinking, “My kid won’t eat that!” But, if you change the presentation and make it fun, he can’t help but want to eat it! Turn cheese and fruit into kabobs. Cut fruit or vegetables into fun shapes with Veggie Cutters. Make foods DIY (like the homemade Lunchables or veggies with several dipping sauces), or serve everything in a Bento Lunchbox.
(Affiliate links)

What are your favorite ways to save money on lunches? Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, and find more ideas on Pinterest!

20 Organic Foods You Should Buy at Costco

20 Organic Foods to Buy at Costco

Sometimes, when it’s been a long day, I’ll wait for my husband to come home and take off for Costco. There’s something therapeutic about walking the aisles alone, and although the samples are a far cry from what they once were, a churro and a soda always make for good aisle-wandering companions.

One of the things I love about Costco, besides their seasonal “clearance” and 8 Great Finds, is their vast selection of organic foods. Although options and brands vary, there always seem to be a lot of great choices at great prices.

Here are my 20 Favorite Organic Foods to purchase at Costco.

What are your favorite Costco buys? Comment below!

1. Salsa
Organic SalsaWe go through salsa like water. Seriously. My husband’s snack/meal/appetizer/breakfast of choice is usually chips and salsa. Not only does this stuff taste good, but it’s much less expensive per ounce than comparable organic salsas. (With price per ounce, you would need to find a 16 oz jar for $1.60…not going to happen!)

 

 

 

 


2. Macaroni and Cheese

009This is a great item to keep in your pantry for quick lunches and even emergencies. Often, they will be on sale, bringing the price down to $0.81 each. Even not on sale, the price is about $1 each, much less than the $2.29 you would pay at Sprouts.

 

 

 

3. Canned Beans
011I use canned black beans when I don’t have time to make up a batch of my favorite Slow Cooker Black Beans. Whether I put them in Chili or as a quick side dish, they are a go to ingredient. At $0.85 a can, this is one of my pantry staples.

 

 

 

 

 

4. Pasta Sauce
012When I have time to make homemade spaghetti sauce, I try to make a huge batch so I can freeze some. But, when I don’t have any frozen or want to throw some sauce over Meatballs in my crock pot for a simple prep dinner, I like to use whatever brand organic pasta sauce Costco carries. It is often on sale, as well.

 

 

 

 

 

5. Kid’s Snacks
003 006 004
Dried fruit, GoGo squeeZ, and cheese sticks (which my kids don’t like, but they do have organic string cheese), are always healthy snack options for kids. Costco has a lot of healthy snacks (they also have Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks, ClifKidz Fruit Ropes, and organic granola bars, not pictures), so this is my go-to for filling the snack cabinet.
6. Strawberry Jelly
005
Barring an allergy, who doesn’t love a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich? While I’m not a fan of the Costco organic peanut butter (it doesn’t incorporate well, and is always separated despite my best attempts at stirring), the Strawberry Jam is something I always have on hand. Using Costco’s price per ounce, you would need to pay $2.65 for a 16 oz jar elsewhere. At our local health food store, organic jelly is about $5 per jar.

 

 

 

7. Pasta and Olive Oil
008 007018

I’m Italian. We eat a lot of pasta and olive oil. Enough said.

8. Canned Tomato Products
013 015 014

Canned tomatoes are so versatile, and you really can’t beat the price for these organic beauts.
Tomato Paste: $0.56/ea
Diced Tomatoes: $0.52/ea
Tomato Sauce: $0.67/ea

I use them for Chili, Tortellini Soup, Lentil Soup, and Minestrone Soup
9. Tortilla Chips
020At just $0.11 an ounce (that’s $1.76 for a 16-oz bag), these Tortilla chips are our favorite for chips and salsa, side dishes for tacos, and NACHOS!!!

 

 

 

 

 

10. Frozen Fruit
027 028 029 030

My kids LOVE smoothies. Junior pulls out the blender every morning in hopes that I’ll make his favorite Fruit Smoothies.

So, we always have a bunch of frozen fruit on hand, and I love the organic selection Costco boasts. They also have organic mango chunks and a berry blend.

 

 

 

11. Tortillas
023$6.99 for 36 tortillas…these are one of my favorite tortillas. EVER. You cook them yourself, so they always taste fresh. I can’t even buy grocery store tortillas anymore. I guess I’m a tortilla snob. Thanks Costco.

 

 
12. Chicken
033 032 034

 

 

 
When it comes to meat, I try to buy organic chicken whenever possible to avoid hormones and all those other nasty things chicken is known for. Costco has the best price on organic whole chickens, breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, though they do seem to switch suppliers every so often.
13. Chicken Stock
010I know, I know, I should make my own stock. But, I don’t because: 1.) I can never get it right. 2.) I can never get it right. 3.) I can never get it right. I’ve tried. And, so in the interest of saving time (which costs something too!), I purchase the organic chicken stock at Costco.

 

 

 

 

 

14. Ravioli
031This is one of those really random products, but it’s really tasty. Tater doesn’t like cheese, but she makes an exception for these ravioli.

 

 

 

 

 

 

15. Butter
021No, organic butter isn’t cheap. But this is a little less than anywhere else I’ve seen at $4.15/lb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

16. Frozen Veggies
024 025 026
I especially love having the broccoli on hand for dinners, (as a side for Baked Potatoes, pasta, or fish), but they also have organic corn, edamame, and vegetable medley.
17. Flour
017The asterisk means that they won’t be reordering this product…I bought 40 lbs for my pantry…

 

 

 

 

 

 

18. Fresh Fruit
037 I’ve noticed that this varies greatly with each local Costco. Some have great produce and some don’t. But, we happen to have gotten very lucky with great organic deals on seasonal berries, bananas, and pomegranate seeds.

 

 

 

 

 


19. Fresh Veggies

039Same issues as the fresh fruit, but the organic spinach, mixed greens, and baby carrots are my favorite buys here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

20. Ground Beef
035Inevitably, the price of beef has risen quite a bit over the last year. Even this 4 lb pack of ground beef has jumped from $18.99 to $21.99. So, I like to make sure I get my money’s worth out of it by getting a bunch of meals out of each pack. But, I have seen organic ground beef go as high as $12/lb in the stores, so $5.50/lb really isn’t that bad.

 

 

 

 

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!



One of My Favorite Kid’s Snacks…GoGo squeeZ Applesauce

Pouch_Line_up-12_flavors[1]My kids are grazing eaters. Which means I hear “Mommy, I want a snack” at least 5 times a day. I try to keep healthy, simple accessible snacks out for them, which is why we love GoGo squeeZ Applesauce Pouches. In addition to always keeping GoGo squeeZ on hand in our “Healthy Snack Bin”, I also throw a couple pouches into my purse when we head out and keep some in the car for when I hear the “I’m hunnnnnngry” voice. (You moms know what tone of voice I mean!)

GoGo squeeZ is a non-GMO (plus they have a growing organic line with 7 flavors), no sugar added, allergy friendly, BPA free snack for kids of all ages. Literally Goodness on the Go!POUCH-RAW-apple[1]You would have thought it was Christmas morning the way my kids tore at the box GoGo squeeZ sent me to try out last week. We received a pack of AppleApple, ApplePineapple, Great’Full Grape (which is actually a fruit and veggie mix), and a coupon for a free pack of any flavor GoGo squeeZ. (Tater’s favorite is Apple Peach, so we got that.) There are 12 flavors in all-including 4 Fruit and Veggie mix flavors. I wasn’t sure if Junior would like the ApplePineapple flavor, since he’s a bit picky about his fruit, but he ate three of them in one sitting, so it was obviously a hit.

046It makes me happy that GoGosqueeZ has really put the effort into making these snacks health and allergy friendly. I love that the regular flavors are non-GMO, and that they are offering organic choices as well. (We have purchased the organic AppleApple pouches at Costco, and they’re just as good as the original.) Also, keeping BPA out of their pouches (which are always gluten, nut, and dairy free) is another reason I choose these snacks for my family.

You can also freeze GoGosqueeZ pouches, then use them like an ice pack for your lunchbox. By lunchtime, they’ll be ready to eat! With all of Junior’s appointments and Tater’s sports, we eat a lot of GoGosqueeZ, but the kids never get bored of them because there are so many flavors to try!

We have a "healthy snack" bin...GoGosqueeZes are always in there!
We have a “healthy snack” bin…GoGosqueeZes are always in there!
Perfect size to stash some in your purse or lunchbox…and they’re resealable, so they won’t leak once opened.

 

I received some free products from GoGo squeeZ to try out in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way. We have been big fans of this company for years, and my kids truly just love their products.