How to start preparing meals before a busy week
Unfortunately, because humans are not like alligators and eat multiple times a day, we inevitably spend a lot of our time preparing meals.
One way to spend less time in the kitchen is to prepare meals, which basically involves preparing all or part of a meal in advance so that it’s easier and faster to cook when you need it. .
There are a number of different approaches you can take, from making one or two recipes at a time, to making everything you’ll eat for a month at a time. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you want.
Preparing meals 101
Before you start preparing your meals, you will need a few things.
A place to store your food
A freezer is your best option. Set at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit to inactivate bacteria, molds or yeasts and prevent them from spoiling your food. According to Julie Garden-Robinson, professor of nutrition and food safety at North Dakota State University, freezing is one of the best ways to preserve foods, helping them to retain more of the color, flavor, texture and flavor. original nutrients.
[Related: The best way to freeze fresh meat]
Like many meal preps, I have a dedicated freezer around the house, but your fridge freezer will work fine as long as you manage the space. If you don’t have and don’t want to have a freezer, then storing the extra foods in your fridge works too – you just need to make sure you eat them before they go bad.
On the same note, always make sure to thaw foods safely by thawing them in the refrigerator, cold water or microwave rather than just leaving them on the counter where bacteria can thrive.
Food safe packaging
You will need to make sure your packaging is food safe and freezer safe. My wife and I find gallon-sized freezer bags to work wonderfully, as do freezer-safe food containers. We’ve also invested in a vacuum sealing system, which maximizes space but also keeps food fresh when frozen by removing air that can lead to freezer burn.
For smaller items, like diced jalapenos or garlic, we’ll actually freeze them in ice cube trays, creating individual servings to take out of the freezer and straight into the pan.
Label your dishes and prepared ingredients
Frozen foods are sometimes difficult to identify in the packaging. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost part of “is this spaghetti sauce or chili?” That’s why it’s crucial to label every container you put in your freezer.
But don’t just write down what the food is, be sure to include the date it was frozen so you can eat the oldest foods first. If you want to keep things even more organized, you can also keep an inventory of what you have so that you don’t have to dig through your freezer once a week to remember. A list on your refrigerator door or a spreadsheet that you can access on your phone can be helpful.
Dual Cook Freezer Compatible Meals
The easiest meal prep is making two identical dishes at the same time and freezing one, which I do most often. The goal is always to save you the most labor-intensive parts of the kitchen in the future, so that your second meal doesn’t require much beyond thawing.
Usually, doubling the volume of a recipe only requires a little more time and a few more ingredients, but you don’t have to limit yourself – you can make as many batches as your heart desires. Just keep in mind that the more meals you get out of it, the more ingredients you will need and the longer it will take to prepare them.
An easy meal to double is meatloaf. Most of the work in this recipe involves mixing everything together and forming the bread in the pan, so just mix four pounds of meat instead of three and bake two loaves instead of one. The only real extra time is chopping extra vegetables.
Freeze the second raw meatloaf in a heat-resistant baking dish lined with parchment paper (you can skip the sauce because it’s easy to make and best fresh). When you want meatloaf again, mix the sauce, pour it over the frozen bread, let the pan reach room temperature, and put it in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 to 60 minutes. The easiest meal you can cook.
It’s also a great idea to line up the chili and spaghetti sauce, which you can cook completely before freezing them in rigid plastic containers. When you need them, you can thaw them in the microwave or, as I prefer, in a pot on the stovetop.
Finally, for meals that require a lot of measured ingredients, you can double the spices or prepare sachets of sauce. For recipes like butter chicken and Asian lettuce wraps, for example, it can take up to fifteen minutes to peel and dice the garlic, grate the ginger, and measure out various other spices and liquids. If you have already prepared the packages, you can thaw them and throw them along with the meat and vegetables while cooking. If you’re using a multicooker, you can even just walk away until it’s ready.
Other meals that we commonly double or triple are:
Prepare common ingredients or tasks
Another strategy is to focus on the breakdown of ingredients and common tasks rather than specific meals. Chopping vegetables, for example, is one of the most time-consuming parts of most meals. But once you’ve done that, adding a few carrots and onions isn’t a big deal. My wife and I will be spending a few hours on Sunday afternoons making all of our cuts for the week at the same time while watching football.
You can make this even more efficient by using a food processor or blender – you’ll be doing a lot of it, and you’ll only have to set up and clean the machine once.
[Related: Best food processor: Chop your way to easy meal prep]
You can also do this with meat. If you eat tacos and spaghetti in the same week, for example, you can brown several pounds of turkey or ground beef and season them appropriately when you need to reheat them. Likewise, you can grill a few pounds of chicken breast that you can eat as is, chop to use later on a chicken salad, or shred to add to chicken in tacos.
The advantage of this method is that you have an impact on more meals and you don’t necessarily need a freezer space to do so, as you are only storing portions of chopped vegetables, browned meat or spices for a few days. However, it does require advance planning and reserve time that you wouldn’t otherwise use for cooking.
Bundling up tedious chores for the whole week can make cooking each night a lot easier to tackle. With a little planning, you can take the pressure off while still having a delicious home cooked meal.