I’ve been a real foodie for over 6 years now, and I’m also a busy mom. Through the years there have been a few times when I tried meal planning (like maybe a week) and honestly I found it very frustrating. There was just too.much.planning involved. I’m a mom: some days I hardly have enough time to fix my hair, let alone set aside an hour to fill out a chart of theoretical meals, collect recipes and make up a custom shopping list. Besides that, I’m a very spontaneous person. Meal planning is not.
That being said, I cook all my meals at home. My family typically eats out (for fun, not necessity) once a week. That means I’m responsible for 20 home cooked meals, and roughly 14+ snacks each week. But I don’t meal plan, and I can throw supper together (or breakfast or lunch) in 20 minutes. I do not use processed foods, and the only pre-made items I buy are a few condiments and sandwich bread. The key to making my system work is simple. In my fridge, at all times, I have prepped:
- A vegetable (usually two) fully cooked. For example: a pan of cooked beets, a pan of cooked squash, a jar of mashed potatoes, baked black beans in the bean broth
- A meat, fully cooked and ready to go -or- a thawed fish. For example: a roast chicken, seasoned ground beef, a marinating fish
- A starch, also fully cooked. For example: mason jars of cooked white rice, cooked and rinsed gluten free noodles, par boiled potatoes for hash browns
- A bone broth. I keep these in quart mason jars.
These staples can be cooked whenever life allows it, but not usually at meal time because that tends to be when life gets hectic. After the kids are asleep, in the morning when the baby is napping, or in the mid afternoon when she is napping again is when I tend to pop into the kitchen and get this simple prep work done. But whenever they get cooked, the key is to cook a whole lot more than what one meal might call for. As an example:
- cook the whole bag of potatoes:for hash browns I par boil the potatoes whole and store in a covered casserole dish in the fridge
- boil all 6 beets (whole! no chopping, just cover with water with lid on, until tender)
- roast the whole chicken and store in a covered bowl
- brown the whole package of beef, season and store in mason jars
- roast the squash (whole! no chopping! add an inch of water to the bottom of the pan so it stays moist)
- I cook 10 to 12 servings of rice at a time and bottle in mason jars
- cook the whole box of noodles, rinse in cold water and store in mason jars
This method has saved me time and time (and time) again! With so many of the ingredients already prepped and cooked, even my husband can throw together supper when the baby is fussy.
Other extra things I like to keep prepped in my fridge if time allows:
- a jar of hard boiled eggs for the little ones snack time, or for a quick breakfast
- jars of salad (washed and shaken greens, and cut vegetables, omitting the protein and cheese. It takes me 30 minutes to make 6 quart mason jars of pre-made salad for the entire week. I don’t fine chop the veggies, more like coarsely chopped or match-stick style. The mason jars keep everything fresh and crisp.)
- salad dressing
- cut up pineapple
- a pitcher of drink (iced mint tea, homemade lemonade or cranberry juice)
In order for this to work, the one item you must have plenty of is wide-mouth glass quart jars. They are roomy enough to store all the extra food, they stand upright so they don’t occupy too much fridge space, and they keep the food fresh, especially key for storing salads.
Oh, and one more thing. For prepping salad greens, I do not use a salad spinner. They just never work correct for me and they take up so much cupboard space. I just put a dinner plate over the colander, pinch the plate down with my thumbs while holding the colander handles and shake the excess water into the sink.
What about you? Do you have a great tip for streamlining your time in the kitchen? If so make sure to share in the comments!