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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Super Bowl Sunday Sandwich Bar

super bowl

I love football. I really do, and I always have. But, I love food even more. So, how wonderful is Super Bowl Sunday; the beautiful marriage of football and food?

When you’re hosting a Super Bowl party, the meal you serve should be just as important as the game itself (and the commercials!) Menus that are buffet style with lots of serving options are the best bets: Chili, Nacho and Taco bars, and meals made of appetizers are always big hits. But today, I’m going to share my new favorite Build Your Own meal…

The Sandwich Bar

My family loves going to delis and sub shops, because everyone can order exactly what they want, and even picky Junior can find something he likes. With the sandwich bar, everyone can come up with their favorite combination…there are endless choices! If you’d rather do a simple sandwich bar, pick just one or two different options for the bread, meat and cheeses. Everyone can still build their own, and it will be easier on your wallet.

Bread
A good sandwich begins with good bread. Make sure your bread is as fresh as possible, and preferably purchased from a bakery or deli.
French Rolls
Sourdough
Sliced White
Whole Wheat
Croissants
Gluten Free Bread


Meat

Roast Beef
Turkey (various types if desired)
Ham
Bacon
Italian Meats (Pepperoni, Salami, Capicola, Soppraseta)
Meatballs


Cheese (sliced thin)
Swiss
Cheddar
Pepper Jack
American
Provolone
Mozzarella

Veggies
Lettuce
Tomatoes
Onions (sliced, red and white)
Banana Peppers (in a jar in the condiment aisle)
Bell Peppers (sliced, green and red)
Jalapenos
Pickles
Avocado Slices
Cucumber
Roasted Red Peppers

Spreads
Mayonnaise
Mustard (Yellow, Deli, and Dijon)
Horseradish Sauce (in the refrigerated section)
Cherry Pepper Relish (in a jar in the condiment aisle)
Mashed Avocado


Finishing Touches

Crushed Oregano
Red Wine Vinegar mixed with Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Hmmmm. I can’t decide between a Turkey-Bacon-Avocado Sandwich on Sourdough with Pepper Jack, Lettuce, Red Onion, Cherry Pepper Relish, and Oil and Vinegar OR a Meatball Sandwich on a French Roll with Provolone. Oh, wait, maybe a Roast Beef with Cheddar, Green Bell Peppers, Pickles, Jalapenos and Deli Mustard on Whole Wheat.

I. Just. Can’t. Decide. But, boy am I hungry! Yay Football Food!

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Delightfully Delicious Greek Salad

greek salad

My sister-in-law is half-Greek. Her dad was born and raised in a little town in Greece, and he came to the United States as a young man. She has taught me a great deal about Greek culture and cooking. Like, did you know that real Greek salad has no lettuce?

It’s true! Authentic Greek salad is made up of vegetables, feta cheese (usually sheep’s milk), and a tangy vinaigrette.

This is one of my favorite vegetarian dishes…you can serve it as a side dish, or as a main dish with some fresh warm pita bread. It would also be great as a make-ahead lunch for the week.

Delightfully Delicious Greek Salad
Serves 4-6
(adapted from Ina Garten)

  • 1 cucumber, cut into 1-inch quarters
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 C grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 C Kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 C feta cheese
    Vinaigrette
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp deli or brown mustard
  • 1/4 C red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of sugar

Put veggies in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together vinaigrette ingredients until well combined. Pour over veggies, top with feta and toss to combine. Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes. Serve as a main dish with warm pita bread or as a side dish.

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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.

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

8. Canned Tomato Products
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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
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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
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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
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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.