We have all had those hectic days, when the dinner hour rolls around and we find ourselves faced with a hungry family and no idea what to make. And although we may have food in the fridge we do not have a meal planned. Sometimes we dash out to the grocery store in search of a quick – and often packaged or frozen – meal, or we may just order takeout.
While these options solve the immediate problem, they can be costly and time consuming. But with a little bit of time and effort, a shopping list and a prepping plan, meal time can be quicker, more nutritious and most importantly, less stressful.
Planning is the key to a successful week of meals, spending time now to save time and money later. Committing to a couple of hours one day a week to organize a menu, prepare food and do some light baking makes food preparation much simpler during the week.
Begin by making a weekly menu and going grocery shopping. Printable fun template menus/lists are available at Kriscarr.com or make your own with a blank sheet showing the days of the week, meals and groceries needed. Decide what you want to serve for these meals, including any new recipes that you may want to try. If you are looking for a simple recipe source, allrecipes.ca is one of many free sites that offer thousands of meal ideas.
It is important to pick recipes that work with the time and resources that you have available, and reading recipes twice will help you to make sure that all ingredients are accounted for on the grocery list. Nobody wants to make that dreaded dash to the grocery store for a missing item!
When making your meal plan, don’t forget to consider the leftovers. They can be a real life saver when time is tight or you just don’t feel like cooking. And they are especially handy when you know that you will have a hectic day in your week. Plan for them and be creative. By adding fresh steamed vegetables or a colourful side salad, any dish can become more interesting and appetizing.
Choose a day that you have a few hours available to do some preparation for the coming week. Put on some music, relax and know that by doing this now, you are saving precious time during a busy week. If your schedule allows, aim for the same day and time weekly so that you get into a habit of prepping.
During this time you will chop and prep any vegetables for upcoming meals such as soups, stews or casseroles, wash and clean salads to keep in the fridge for easy eating, cook up any meals that can be frozen such as soups, stews and pasta dishes, bake batches of cookies, muffins or baked goods, and boil eggs to keep in your fridge as a quick snack. Vegetables for immediate use can also be put into sealed containers with a little water to keep them crispy. They will encourage healthy snacking during the week.
While preparing any dishes, consider doubling up the batches of baked goods and meal items such as beans, quinoa or rice to add to a meal over the week. Or roast up a second chicken so that you can use it for sandwiches or in another dish a couple of days later. Soups, stews, sauces and pasta dishes can all be doubled and freeze well for at least a month. Cookies, muffins and other baked goods are also excellent candidates for the freezer as they can stay fresh for up to a month or so and make great lunch items and after-school snacks.
Unplanned events and craziness happen in everyone’s household and as a mother of three, I understand this all too well. But with some preparation and planning, meal times can be just a little less trying. And although takeout food can have a place in our diet from time to time, freshly prepared home-cooked meals, whether from our fridge or freezer, are always the better choice for our health and wellbeing.
Sheila Ream is a certified nutritionist in the Beach – firstname.lastname@example.org