Ryan and I have found that we end up making our worst food decisions when we’re too busy to cook for ourselves.
Prepping meals can be hard! Usually these busy periods last for days at a time, so we have adopted a new way to prevent eating out on impulse or out of necessity: cooking for the week on the weekends.
Granted, you have to set aside time to make this happen, and between a full-time job, a part-time job and a full-time broth business, we’ve got precious little time to spare. But our health is worth the few hours to plan meals, go shopping and prep things in advance of an insane week. Ultimately, it saves us so much time and stress in the long run.
We’re not the only people with crazy schedules, so I thought I would share some of our tips and tricks to what I assure you is a significant life hack.
Step 1: Make a plan
Nothing is more daunting than walking into a grocery store or farmer’s market to buy your food for the week without a plan. Take an hour and sit down with your favorite cookbook or just a list of the meals you want to eat this coming week, and plot out what you need to make those meals happen.
We’ve found that planning two dinner meals and two lunches works pretty well for us, and then a frittata or two for breakfasts. We just cook enough of each thing that it covers several meals. (I promise to share one of my frittata recipes with you later this week.)
We do this early on Saturday mornings so we can get it out of the way and get on with our weekends.
This is also where Ryan’s chef training comes in handy: One secret that sets a chef aside from the average cook is that the best chefs tend to “re-use” ingredients, or use the same ingredient in multiple dishes on any given night to minimize waste.
So if you’re planning to make beets, consider using the greens in a salad or a sauté. If you’re making a sweet potato mash, get a couple of extra potatoes to grate and throw into a frittata or breakfast hash. Making spaghetti? Use the leftover ground meat to make a paleo stroganoff.
You get where I’m going here? The possibilities are endless, and it’s all about maximizing your efficiency. It’s much easier to work with one ingredient five ways than to work with five different ingredients.
That said, don’t sacrifice flavor, variety or your preferences. After all, the goal with prepping meals is to make food that you want to eat!
Step 2: Get your supplies
With your list, make a visit to your kitchen and see if you already have some of the things you need, and to ensure you have enough of the basics, like salt, pepper, herbs, oils, etc. If you’re running low on something, go ahead and add it to the list. Nothing sucks more than having to run to the store for avocado oil in the middle of a cooking marathon. I also recommend adding masking tape and a Sharpie to your list. You’ll see why.
As soon as you have your complete grocery list, do not stop go, do not collect $200 — head straight to the supermarket, farmer’s market or wherever you get your real food. Stock up on everything you need.
By the way: The earlier you can do this in the morning, the better, especially if it’s a weekend. You definitely want to beat the masses to the stores.
Step 3: Mise en place
Before you start cooking, prep the ingredients for the meals you plan to make. Grate sweet potatoes, roast spaghetti squash, chop tomatoes, wash kale, etc.
Start with the stuff that takes the longest — roasting, marinating, etc. Then move into chopping veggies and fruits, and setting aside your spices.
If you’re not planning to make the meals immediately, no big deal. Go ahead and get the ingredients ready so you can put the meal together at a moment’s notice when you’re ready. The goal here is to be able to throw everything into a pan, bowl or whatever and, without thinking, finish making the meal.
It’s worth investing in a few tiny sealable plastic containers to toss your spices in so you don’t have to go sifting through your spice cabinet when it’s time to cook. Label the containers with the meal they’re intended for.
Step 4: Cook up a storm
We prefer to go ahead and cook as much as we can, then store it in single-serving containers that make it easy to grab and go.
This is where the masking tape and Sharpie come in handy. Use them religiously, even if it seems totally unnecessary. Trust me: After a few days of running around like a chicken with your head cut off, you’ll appreciate not having to think about it.
If it’s beginning to look like you won’t be able to eat all your meals by the end of the week, stick what’s left in the freezer and thank yourself later. Coming home after an extra-long day and enjoying a nutritious, homemade meal without having to actually make it is one of the best feelings in this world.
- Plan your meals and make a list
- Stock up on supplies, including your basics
- Get everything in place and ready to throw together
- Cook as much as possible in advance; label it all
- Freeze anything you don’t eat