Since many schools are starting this month, everyone is looking for ways to make dinner a little faster and a little easier. Enter meal prep. I’ve looked through my recipes and found a few ways to make meal prep for dinner go smoothly.
I’m sure you’ve all seen those 30 minute meals where the meat is perfectly patted dry, the vegetables are already cut to the perfect size, and the ingredients have already been measured out, or brought to the perfect temperature. Reality is a little messier.
Most of the meals I cook don’t start with a plan. They start with me scrounging around the kitchen looking for what’s ready to go. But when we are busy or getting used to a new schedule, it really helps to have a plan.
Make a plan before you go shopping
This isn’t the fun advice you were hoping for. But planning out your dinners really does help. Ideally there are 7-9 meals you can make with relative reliability that will please most members of your family.
Before the start of your week (whatever day that might be) make a list of the meals you’d like to make. This week, mine looked like this:
Sunday: Carne asada tacos (because hubs can BBQ)
Monday: Frozen pizza and salad (Because Monday)
Tuesday: Leftover carne asada stir fry (Leftovers plus fresh veggies that cook fast)
Wednesday: Stuffed green peppers (The midweek pick me up)
Thursday: Mushroom tarragon chicken (OK, we can turn on the oven)
Friday: Frozen potstickers and carrot, mint salad with rice (I’m done, let’s party)
Saturday: Spaghetti with meat sauce (Easy, with lots of leftovers for emergency)
Chicken, ground beef, rice, and noodles, milk, butter, tomato sauce, and parmesan we buy in bulk so I don’t need to buy them. The only thing I need are fresh vegetables and a few outside items. If I had nothing else in the house, the shopping list would be as follows:
1 pkg pork chops
3 lbs carne asada
1 loaf of bread
1 block cheddar cheese
1 bunch green onions
4 green peppers
2 regular onions
1 head broccoli
1 head of cabbage
1 package of button mushrooms
1 bunch of carrots
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch mint
1 bunch tarragon
Make rice or noodles ahead of time.
Rice and pasta can be made and stored in the freezer. I will often make 6 cups of cooked rice. For my family, that is three evenings of meals once it is divided. Frozen rice will store for months as long as it is in freezer-safe containers.
I use a rice cooker so my rice is always perfect and I don’t have to watch it. Frozen rice is great for fried rice, stews, and casseroles.
For pasta, cook dried pasta until it is “almost” completely cooked. It should have a bit of bite left, perhaps even a little crunch in the center. The idea is that the pasta will continue to absorb and cook with the second process.
Simply take out the pre-measured rice or pasta as you gather all your ingredients. By the time you are done chopping vegetables, they should be easy to work with.
Choose quick cooking or raw vegetables that don’t require small cuts
There is a reason most meal prep kits opt for green beans, broccoli, and zucchini. These are very fast-cooking vegetables that will keep for at least a week in the refrigerator and are very quick to cut and cook.
For example, because these vegetables are just as good raw as it is cooked (maybe even better) you can cook it for less than 10 minutes and it will be very tasty.
To break up broccoli cut just under the head and break up large pieces with your hands. Then trim and cut the stems and stalk. If you still find you don’t have time to brea, for about twice the price, you can buy a precut bag of broccoli.
Green beans are similar. After washing, line up the green beans and one end and chop the ends off. Turn it around and do the same to the other side. You can also cut them width-wise down the middle to make the pieces smaller and easier to eat.
Zucchini cooks very fast. I like to cut it into half moons, usually around 1/4 inch thick.
Each vegetable can be seasoned simply with a little bit of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, even after it has been put in a hot pan. Put a little butter in a saute pan and add the vegetables once the butter melts. Alternatively, if you’ve made a steak, pork chop, chicken breast, or other meat, you can cook the veggies in the same pan. I love doing this because you get a deeper flavor with the pan juices.
Add the seasoning and mix with a wooden spoon and let the food rest on the bottom of the pan to get some char—no more than a few minutes.